Formal or Informal Voice

Many languages have a formal or informal voice. You might be familiar with a few:


Informal Formal
English You have You have
German Du hast Sie haben
French Tu as Vous avez
Italian Tu hai Lei ha
Spanish Tú tienes Usted tiene


When deciding to localize your app, you need to be clear to the translator or localization agency who your target audience is. Is your app a game or social networking chat app? Or is it a financial stocks and shares tracker?


It gets difficult where the tone is not so obvious. For example a photo sharing app. You audience is likely to be both young and old and you’ll probably want your app to be both capable and approachable to as many people as possible. In these cases, speak with your translator. They will know the national environment better than you. For example, something that may be informal in Italy may still be formal in Germany. Get this clear before you start.


If you don’t specify a voice

If you don’t specify a voice, most translators will decide for you. It’s not an easy task later to change every verb so if you do have a preference, say before the project starts.

If you are a translator, you may want to look at competing products in the market. Think about services you use that are similar and check out what tense they use. For example, if the app is heavily focused on social media and networking, head over to Facebook or Twitter and check which voice they use. Of course you can always err on the side of caution and use the formal tense.


English is no exception

It’s easy to be fooled into thinking we don’t have something similar in English. While we don’t conjugate words differently like many other languages, we do add tone to our language in other ways. Consider the following two paragraphs:

Mr & Mrs Jones have lived in London for many years, but have never explored outside of the city. Next weekend they have decided to take a train to Wales, where they will meet some old friends. The rail employee, whom they spoke to on the phone, informed them the train would depart on time from platform 3.

The Joneses have lived in London for many years, but never explored outside the city. Next weekend they’ve decided to go to Wales by train, where they’ll meet some old mates of theirs. The rail employee, who they spoke to on the phone, told them the train would leave on time from platform 3.

The first paragraph is clearly more formal than the second. In English we use contracted forms, drop relative clauses and change relative pronouns (although grammatically incorrect, this has crept into English and is now widely accepted). We drop auxiliary verbs and often use phrasal verbs in our text.

It is therefore important when writing content for your own apps to consider the voice you are writing in. English is a very flexible language and the rise of the internet has certainly “lowered the tone” in everything we write. Common sense applies: financial apps should probably steer clear of colloquialisms, whereas Games would do well to adopt some.


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One Response to “Formal or Informal Voice”

  1. Starting out as an App Translator « Knowledge Base

    […] Make things short and to the point. Some useful KB guides: – What is an app? – What is iOS? – Formal or Informal – Text editing tools for translators (OSX & Win) – Testing apps on your own […]


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