Open Translation Tools


A standard is defined by an authority or by general consent as a general rule or representation for a given entity.

Standards impact translators in a number of places.  The first set allow for resources to be shared between applications.  The second group define important aspects related to language that allow computers to store, display and work with languages, locales and scripts.

Standards can also include aspects related to the language itself such as spelling rules, orthography (the accepted writing system) and terminology.  These could be conventions in which case they are the accepted way of doing something, or they could be official standards or resources ratified by a national language board or similar body. 

Applicable standards

These are standards that are of interest to translators.

Standards for linguistic variants:

  • Terminology (standardised terminology for a language or domain, compare computadora vs. ordenador in Spanish)
  • Orthography (different spelling conventions etc. e.g. -ise vs. -ize in English)
  • Writing systems (languages may have one or more writing system in wide use, e.g. Latin and Arabic for Azerbaijani)

Standards for translation resources:

  • Sharing translatable work: XLIFF (XML Localisation Interchange File Format)
  • Sharing translation memory: TMX (Translation Memory eXchange)
  • Sharing terminology: TBX (TermBase eXchange), OLIF (Open Lexicon Interchange Format) 
  • Sharing segmentation rules: SRX (Segmentation Rules eXchange)

Standards for language information:

  • Unique language codes: ISO-639
  • Writing systems (e.g. Latin, Cyrillic, etc): ISO-15924
  • Characters: Unicode, UTF-8
  • Document and content tags for languages, dialects and scripts: RFC 4646bis
  • Locale information: sorting, dates, times. etc: CLDR

Advantages of standards

Standards allow translators to use different tools and still share resources.  A standard such as XLIFF would allow a translator to translate offline in and XLIFF editor, while the reviewer could be using an online tool that itself and understand XLIFF.  Once complete the completed translations could be stored in a TMX file and reused by any tool that can read the format.

The language related standards ensure that content creation and rendering tools are all able to clearly understand the conventions that are required by the language and ensure that the text is correctly displayed on all platforms. 

Issues with standards

Standards need to be widely deployed and used to gain value, if they are not then they are of limited value.  Standards are sometimes not implemented because their is no compelling reason for the standard, it is not easy to access, costly or difficult to implement.

Some parts of certainly commercial localisation are dictated by de facto standards such as the use of the Trados tool and insistence on the TTX format.