Localization strategy

The Ultimate Market Guide to Russian Translation

Russian translation is key to successfully expanding business to Russia. Learn more about what it means to translate for the Russian market effectively.
Localization strategy blog category featured image | Phrase

With 146 million inhabitants, a growing online economy, and an expected 78.97% penetration rate of smartphone usage in 2025, Russia offers great potential for market expansion.

If you haven’t claimed your share of the Russian pie yet, know that Russian translation will be key to your approach. To understand this target market and help you decide on your localization strategy, let’s look into four main aspects:

  • What does it mean to do business in Russia?
  • Is it a must to work with a Russian translation agency?
  • What is the best English to Russian translation app?
  • How can you most effectively translate content from English to Russian (and vice versa)?

What does the Russian market look like for doing business?

Let’s dive into the most relevant aspects of Russian business reality. Between traditions and modernity, what should you expect?

Patience will get you far in the Russian business culture

You will need it when navigating the heavy Russian bureaucracy as it produces a lot of red tape that slows business down. It will also be helpful when waiting for your counterparts to show up at business meetings: arriving late is often used as a negotiation tactic, and Russians like to test each other’s patience.

Besides, you can still feel the heritage of communism, and individuals won’t easily take initiatives as it puts them at risk of failure. Senior management ultimately makes the decisions, and this strong sense of hierarchy can also cause delays.

As you can imagine, in such a culture, relations and networks are critical as the right connections may help you reach the desired outcome faster, especially as a foreigner.

Learning Russian is a great way to build and nurture these connections. In any case, you will need to learn to balance out the formality expected in business interactions, including in the way you dress, with the warmth of the following celebrations. Vodka will for sure make an appearance because some clichés exist for a reason!

Russia boasts the fifth-largest market by app downloads worldwide

Not all clichés are true, though, and any old-fashioned vision of Russia would make you miss the fact that the modern online economy has been steadily gaining ground there, even booming in 2020.

In Q2 of that year, the Russian market hit the fifth position in the world ranking of app downloads per country, with 1.5 billion downloads. Android largely leads the market, so launching an app there means targeting Google Play first. There are alternative Android options, though, and Yandex.Store is the first of them. Expanding into local stores will be critical to your app’s performance.

It’s also worth noting the average daily mobile time rose by 40% in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, and the time spent on gaming apps certainly played a role there. During the lockdown, the number of app games played monthly increased by 30% compared to 2019.

Yandex is the leading search engine in Russia

Russian consumers favor homegrown search engine Yandex, which accounted for nearly 60% of total user visits from October to December 2020. The second most visited search engine in the country is Google, whose share of visits decreased over that period. In the third position comes another national provider, Mail.ru.

Keep in mind the Yandex domination for your SEO strategy because its parameters are not identical to Google’s. For instance, Yandex highly prioritizes geo-targeted searches, whereas Google users from different parts of the country will see more or less similar results.

The changing Russian social media landscape

A couple of years ago, Russian-based social media VK largely dominated with a 62.37% market share, far ahead of Facebook at 9.89% (July 2019). However, Western social media apps have been growing significantly in Russia since then. March 2021 figures showed VK and Facebook neck and neck at respectively 20.36% and 19.99%.

Twitter has gone from 6.43% to 22.52%, and Instagram has also grown from 2.28% to 13.66% over the same period. With such growth numbers, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Russian social media landscape to assess how to reach your users best.

English is not fluently spoken in Russia

According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Russians have a moderate English proficiency level, and the country ranks in at the 41st position in the world. Another useful indicator is the fact that English-speaking TV programs and movies are dubbed. With that in mind, it’s clear the successful adoption of your products or services in Russia will rely on Russian translation.

Russian translation is a legal requirement

English proficiency stats aside, Russian translation is often a legal obligation anyway. Under the Federal Law On the State Language of the Russian Federation, Russian translation is mandatory for an extensive list of areas. Among other principles, this means the following:

  • All advertising in the Russian Federation must be either in Russian or in the particular state language of the individual republic in which the advertising appears,
  • Consumers should be provided with clear and accessible information in Russian about the manufacturer, the operating mode of its work, and the goods (works, services) produced or sold,
  • All media is expected to be in the Russian language,
  • Russian is mandatory while receiving education in all educational institutions. This could apply to you if you offer educational products, for instance.

Company names must also be either in Russian or expressed in Russian transliteration. Don’t ignore this because a company whose name is inconsistent with the law’s requirements may be refused registration.

Is it a must to rely on a Russian translation agency?

As a rule of thumb, you should always work with local experts when entering a new market. There are many examples of marketing gone wrong due to an ill-chosen name or packaging that had not been adequately adapted. Words, colors, images, fonts, symbols, etc., may have different meanings in your target market.

How to make sure you get quality Russian translation services

Working with a Russian translation agency is a great way to ensure your app or marketing collateral will be translated into Russian by a native speaker who has the required linguistic skills.

Whether the agency works with in-house translators or freelancers (they often do both), they should have vetted their translators by checking whether they have translation training, degrees, accreditations, and by asking them to perform a translation test.

Their pool of professionals and vetting system will also ensure they always have enough resources to allocate the right professionals to each project. This is important because technical translation and marketing translation call for different skills and many industries also have their specific terminology.

To maximize your chances of getting quality work, ask translation agencies about their resources and vetting process. This is part of the value they offer, and they should be able to give you the information you need.

What is the best English to Russian translation app?

Machine translation is a growing trend, and when it comes to online translators, Google Translate has become the go-to option for many over the world. But Russia also offers another solution, Yandex.Translate.

Is a free translator the best option for your business?

Both Google and Yandex online translators have the potential to provide effective translations for simple texts. Suppose you want to translate words to get the gist of an article you are reading online—in that case, these free translators can be good options, as long as you are not relying on them to provide completely accurate translations which read well consistently.

While machine translation works well for simple sentences, it has a hard time with specialized terms, creative text, and non-standard situations like mistakes in the source text. So if you decide to use Google or Yandex to translate your website, app, documentation, or marketing material, make sure you hire a Russian translator to post-edit the output. This will be indispensable for professional translations.

Why is a translation management system important for business?

Using a combination of automation and human resources will only get you so far if you are not investing in the right technology. You should go beyond free online translators and look into smart translation and localization technology—in other words, you should invest in a translation management system (TMS).

A TMS will help you set up the right processes for your localization, and this will, in turn, ensure that:

  • The quality of your Russian website, app, or content will show your Russian customers you care about their needs and wishes (something weakly translated content won’t achieve),
  • The credibility you will gain will give you a competitive edge compared to other companies not willing to invest in (quality) translation,
  • This will drive your products’ adoption and ensure you grow revenue, not only in Russia but also globally, if you decide to expand to other markets.

What are the benefits of a translation management system?

A TMS automates your localization and integrates it into your company tools and processes, ultimately maximizing translation quality and ease of doing business.

More specifically, a TMS helps:

  • Reduce translation costs by providing machine translation engines as well as translation features such as translation memory,
  • Manage translation in various file types such as DOC, .HTML, .PSD, .INDD, .PDF, etc.,
  • Integrate localization with the systems and tools used by all your internal teams (developers, marketing, sales, etc.).

A translation management system like Memsource also enables you to:

  • Choose your translation method, whether you decide to work with machine translation, a Russian translation agency, or even hire your own Russian translator,
  • Scale your usage internally by allowing you to start with one team and expand to new departments and branches,
  • Manage multiple vendors in a centralized platform. This means it will also help you in your expansion to other markets.

How to effectively translate content from English to Russian (and vice versa)

Let’s review the key aspects to consider when localizing and how Russian specificities impact them.

Integrate localization as early as possible in your Russian go-to-market strategy

This is especially relevant if you are working on web and mobile projects. If localization comes too late in the app lifecycle, issues appear at a point where there’s little flexibility to address them. Why? Because designers and developers are not necessarily aware that content will look different from one language to the next.

Bringing design and localization together is key. Here are a few specific examples to illustrate why:

  • In English to Russian translation, be prepared for the text to expand. This will be a problem with buttons and menus, for instance. Make sure to leave ample space in your design for all texts to take more space and not build a tight menu where the longer Russian words will never fit in.
  • The Russian language uses Cyrillic script, so make sure the Latin font you are using on your website or app has a corresponding Cyrillic font. Otherwise, any text in English will stand out in a way that will poorly impact your Russian product’s look and feel..
  • If you are following American English standards, know that the date format is different in Russia: instead of month/day/year, it will read as day/month/year.

Use a Russian translation memory and a glossary, but go for flexible quality assurance

A translation memory will help speed up the localization process and increase the consistency and overall quality of your translated output. Also, providing your translators with a glossary will ensure they understand the terminology in use, something beneficial when new words need to be coined for a technical topic for instance.

However, when performing the translated text’s quality assurance, and especially if you don’t speak Russian, don’t expect the Russian translation to match perfectly with the entries in your glossary.

Why? While English nouns have only singular and plural forms (like dog/dogs), Russian nouns have 12 variations depending on how they are used in a sentence. And while English verbs have five variations (like do, does, doing, did, done), there’s a higher number of variations in Russian because the ending depends on the verb tense, gender, mood, and amount. All these factors combine to create a highly context-specific word form.

So keep in mind that the entries you see in a glossary are just one of many possible word forms, and trust your translator to use the correct variation based on the context.

Give your Russian translator the context they need

Your translator is key for making your product sound local and familiar to your Russian customers, so give them the complete picture by providing them access to product demos, user manuals, and knowledge databases in general.

They should also understand where the text they are creating is going to go so they can provide the correct translation. In Russian, this means a translation with the right variation and the appropriate text length if there’s limited space for it, like for a button or a menu. So make sure to give them visual context.

A great example of the importance of context is the English word ‘email’ which has a different Russian translation depending on whether it refers to:

  • The label on a button to send an email,
  • The communication technology,
  • An email address, etc.

Ensure brand consistency thanks to a style guide, but be aware of the local culture, too

Communicating to your translator a series of guidelines defining aspects such as the tone of the translation, the types of words to use, the punctuation, the language style, etc., will be great for brand consistency. Given that the consistent presentation of a brand has been seen to increase revenue by 33%, a style guide is an investment.

Keep in mind, though, that the Russian copy will have a more reserved tone of voice than the English source text. While English will easily use a colloquial and metaphorical style, Russian will sound more neutral. This is a linguistic reflection of Russian culture and, while it may sound boring to an American ear, for instance, it is perfectly normal for Russians.

For example, most metaphors that look natural in English need to be put in quotation marks or translated descriptively because they sound out-of-place in more formal Russian copy. In fact, finding raw metaphors in a Russian text is a sure sign it is a literal translation.

So, which road will you take with your Russian translation strategy?

Working with skilled translation professionals and adopting the right tools will be key to your success. Know that a TMS like Memsource allows you to seamlessly include localization right from the design phase, and offers capabilities such as translation memories and glossaries, style guides, an in-context editor feature, and much more.