UI Localization for Thailand and the Thai Language

Our modern world is quickly shifting in terms of technological developments with concepts such as user interface localization (UI localization) coming to the fore. We now have Google as the world’s largest search engine, followed by websites, and their corresponding mobile applications. 

All these can make our online experiences either easier and more convenient or harder and more cumbersome. When it comes to UI localization, it’s important to understand what it is and how it applies to organizations seeking to penetrate the Thai market. 

Let’s explore this in some more detail below. 

What is UI localization?

UI localization or user interface localization is a concept that can be broken down into its two constituent parts: the user interface (UI) and localization

When it comes to UI, we’re talking about what a prospective customer sees on your website or mobile app and the ease with which they can navigate and interact with it. This is generally divided into three major fields: input controls, navigational components, and informational components.

Regarding input controls, organizations and their designers and developers will be required to pay special attention to things such as checkboxes, radio buttons, drop-down lists, list boxes, buttons, toggles, text fields, and date fields.

Regarding navigational components, factors to consider include breadcrumbs, sliders, search fields, paginations, sliders, tags, and icons.

Lastly, when it comes to informational components, there are things like tooltips, icons, progress bars, notifications, message boxes, and modal windows to consider. Of course, there are also the so-called “accordion” structures to factor in as well.

Next up, we look at localization. This is a critical term in the translation industry because it goes beyond a source language to target language translation. Localization takes into account cultural and linguistic differences and nuances and creates a finished product that is usable, useful, desirable, valuable, accessible, credible, etc. 

Putting UI and localization together then, we get a website or mobile app that is not only strategically created to maximize the user’s experience with your site (although user experience differs from UI). And in addition to this, every linguistic element that appears on the interface is localized for accuracy and for cultural differences.

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Why is proper UI localization for websites and mobile apps important for Thailand?

Thailand is known as a major tourist destination. But despite this, English proficiency in the country remains low. This makes sense because there are over 70 different language groups spoken in the country in addition to the Thai language. 

However, technologically speaking, Thailand is a major economy in Southeast Asia. As such, its mobile penetration, levels of internet use, number of mobile phones owned, social media usage, etc. are considerably high. 

Organizations seeking to enter the Thai market must be prepared to take these technological advances into account in order to better cater to the Thai people’s evolving technological needs. In fact, recent research stated that of the 69.24 million population in the country, a whopping 57 million of these are internet users (with mobile subscriptions exceeding the population size). 

Consequently, taking into account UI localization when entering the Thai market is crucial. But there are significant challenges in terms of Thai localization and user interface localization that should be considered. These are explored in more detail below.

Which parts of the Thai language and culture can be a challenge for localization and translation?

If we don’t factor in the 70 additional language groups or “living languages”, mentioned above, and focus on the Thai language only, we still face challenges when it comes to UI localization.

These arise owing to the complexities of the Thai language, which can make UI localization a more arduous process. Nevertheless, if an organization wishes to reach the Thai people where they are (namely, online), then catering to their internet, online, and mobile phone usage habits is a must. 

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But with this comes the need for taking into consideration what is specifically applicable to the Thai language. Here is a brief snapshot of some of the most important ones: 
UI localization for the Thai language

  • The Thai language generally does not use spaces between words. Instead, there are certain “markers” that indicate when a word ends and a new one begins. In terms of website or mobile app creation processes, this can be highly challenging. Text and user interface elements need to take into account these spacing obstacles and attempt to overcome them for a greater overall user experience, with the Thai target market in mind.
  • There are also complex spacing rules when it comes to words. While we mentioned above that Thai generally does not use spaces between words, there are exceptions to this aspect. For example, we identified at least nine rules or exceptions when it comes to spacing. An example of this is placing a space before and after English words, which are included and used together with Thai.
  • Of course, there’s also the need to consider personal pronouns. In English, we have it quite easy: there are general pronouns with their first, second, and third-person variations. With Thai, on the other hand, while there certainly are pronouns, there are numerous variations that take into account a person’s social position, cultural factors, age, and more and this can cause confusion for a non-native speaker as well as complications in translations and localization.
  • Thai uses two number systems. The first is the Arabic numerals and the second is Thailand’s own number system. As an organization, which one should you use? The answer to this question will be “it depends” on factors such as who your segmented target audience is.
  • Thai people also use two calendars: the Gregorian one and the lunar calendar, which is heavily based on the Buddhist principles and practices which underpin the social structures of the country. Keeping this in mind, organizations will be well-positioned to carefully study their target market and ensure that they are using the right date formats in their given case because they could end up alienating a huge chunk of prospective customers. With this being said, Thai also uses two number systems: the 24-hour clock and 6-hour divisions of the day. As such, this is another influential factor that must be taken into account. 
  • Finally, although by no means is the last aspect to consider, is the length of the text. It may make sense that because of the lack of spacing in the Thai language, one would find shorter texts in Thai. However, Thai texts are usually 15% longer than English texts. This means that page and line breaks will be challenging to deal with and this is where professional UI localization specifically for Thai localization comes to the fore. 
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The bottom line

Strong UI localization is a necessity when localizing the Thai language!

When it comes to UI localization for the Thai language, it’s critical to consider the language peculiarities and cultural nuances that make up this nation of smiling and happy people. 

The bottom line is that without UI localization, organizations risk alienating a major portion of prospective customers who are online. 

Whether you have an e-commerce store or a shopfront for a brick-and-mortar location online, every single element of your website and mobile app need to be fully optimized to take into account Thai people’s reliance on technology. 

In addition to this, it’s crucial to consider the nuances of the Thai language in your UI localization efforts because the two go hand-in-hand and cannot be viewed as separate elements.