Open Translation Tools

Community Translation

Community translation integrates the concepts of online communities and social media models to establish collaborative networks focused on creating, curating and sharing translations for various types of web content. Open knowledge projects like Wikipedia have proven that people will contribute to systems like this for a number of reasons, whether it be a passion to share, a need for the final product, or a desire to attain online stature within a community.

There are two fundamental ingredients in community translation projects: networks of individuals ready and willing to do the work, and platforms available to support the workflow. This chapter considers the roles and motivations of those participating in social translation projects, as well as the nature of the platforms that support such networks.

Incentives For Participation

There are a wide variety of incentives for people to participate in community translation networks, both for monetary and non-monetary reasons. People will often participate in content creation purely for fun and personal satisfaction.

Altruistic / Non-Monetary Incentives

Users contribute translations for a number of non-monetary reasons, among them:

  • To make information and knowledge available to broader audiences
  • As a hobby
  • To share translations for interesting pages with friends or family
  • To improve their language skills
  • As homework
  • For charity or voluntary organizations

Indirect Incentives and Compensation

In many cases, users are not motivated entirely by altruistic reasons, but can be compensated indirectly. There are many ways for publishers and community operators to pay translators without paying them directly. Translators can:

  • Serve or sell ads in part of the pages they create.
  • Promote their translation services or agency via bylines for the translations they create, via leaderboards, etc.
  • Earn credits against other services (e.g. a travel website might offer translators substantial discounts on travel packages
  • Receive free subscriptions, travel and other in kind payment in return for meeting quality or quantity goals

Direct Incentives and Compensation

Direct payments and incentives are another tool publishers and content creators can use to increase translation quality, and improve response times. While this can include direct payments to translators, there are a number of ways to provide compensation:

  • Direct per unit or per job payments, sent via online payments services like Paypal, MoneyBookers, etc.
  • Payment from friends and family for helping them with translations
  • An employer pays a translator to translate part of a website so co-workers can read it
  • Sharing ad revenue from the translated pages they create

Employing Different User Skill Sets

While both amateur and professional translators play important roles in translation communities, there are a number of other services that non-translators can provide that are equally valuable. Truly proficient translators are scarce, and should spend their time working on challenging texts. Even monolingual users can contribute to a system like this if it is organized properly. 

Monolingual Users

Translations always involve a 'source' language, from which content is being translated, and a 'target' language to which that content is translated.

People who only speak the source language can participate in translation communities in multiple ways:

  • By submitting and curating source material to be translated
  • By disambiguating or explaining difficult sections in source texts

People who only speak the target language can participate in translation communities in similar ways:

  • By scoring translated texts, not for translation accuracy, but for mastery of the target language's grammar, style, etc, something only native speakers can do.
  • Detecting and flagging obviously bad or malicious edits, spam, and other posts.
  • Curating translations, to help decide what the day's most interesting translated articles are.

Students and Amateur Translators

Students and amateur translators can participate in a variety of ways, by scoring translations into their languages, and if their language skills are good enough, by editing and translating easier texts (for example, by cleaning up draft translations generated by automatic translation systems.

Machine Translation Systems

Machine translation systems are often employed in translation communities to quickly and cheaply obtain draft translations for newly published source documents. These translations are not necessarily intended to be of high quality or for dissemination. If an article or text is important, people will probably begin translating and editing it. If not, few people will be reading the translation anyway, so it will be OK to leave it as is with a machine translation.

Workflow and Process in Community Translation

Different social translation communities utilize different tools and platforms. The primary capabilities and characteristics of distributed translation systems include:

Ad hoc workflow

People create, edit and share translations via an ad hoc workflow, versus the project-oriented workflow in conventional translation systems. Someone encounters an article they like, translates it, shares it, and then others jump in to score it, contribute more edits, and so on.

Adaptive review and reputation analysis process

Distributed translation systems can invite readers to score translations, from this data identify which translators are consistently good or bad, and thus decide how much review to require for each contributor. They are geared to publish first, correct later, and often combine pre-publication review with a fast recall mechanism wherein users can quickly report bad translations, spam, etc.

Discussion and community

There is no such thing as a perfect translation, so people will often disagree about the "best" way to translate a given phrase or sentence. These systems can create forums and "back channels" where users can discuss the translations, share tips, and coach each other.

Rapid response time

Distributed translation systems are usually designed to minimize turnaround time because Internet content ages quickly. A typical system may obtain a rough draft translation from a machine translation engine, and then invite users to edit or replace these rough initial translations after their publication.

Social Features and Translation

Social translation systems often emphasize the fun and social aspect of translating, as well as encouraging people to practice translating web pages as a teaching aid. This is in contrast to professional translation networks that generally require that translators be thoroughly vetted and credentialed, and are more closed to outsiders.

Features of a Social Translation System

A number of features are required for a platform to properly support distributed translation efforts.

Intelligent Search

A well designed social translation platform will include search tools that enable users to:

  • Recommend source texts to be translated
  • Search for source texts that someone wants translated
  • Add a translated text to the search index (the translation may have been created locally, or may be an external resource such as a blog post)
  • Search source or translated texts by keyword, tag, language, category or user
  • Search for other users and translators

Collaborative Editing

The distributed and collaborative nature of these systems demands that editing tools enable people to work on translations in parallel. Wikipedia and similar systems have thoroughly explored the concept of collaborative, unmoderated content creation and editing. Similar processes can be employed in translation systems so that several translators can work concurrently on pieces of a larger document and also edit each other's work.

Translation Memory

Translation platforms typically include some form of translation memory that stores translations and their revision history on a per sentence, paragraph or document level. The details of how translations are stored and indexed will vary depending on factors that include the type of content hosted on the service and the desired translation workflow.

Reputation Metrics

Reputation is an important element of community translation systems, both for quality control, but also because it is a form of currency among users. People translate for these systems for a variety of reasons, one of which is to establish a reputation as a good translator which, in turn can lead to other work opportunities.

Online Community

Social translation systems are also, as one might expect, online communities that provide many of the features available on other types of community sites. Some are fairly simple online communities with a web editing environment and a message board, while others are sophisticated social networks and online job search tools.

Active Community-Oriented Translation Projects

Der Mundo / Worldwide Lexicon

Der Mundo ( is a social translation hub developed by the Worldwide Lexicon project. It is an open system, and is open to any language pair. It consists of a translation search engine and a social translation portal for RSS/ATOM news feeds.

Eco-Team (Economist in Chinese)

Eco-Team ( is an ad hoc group of Chinese students and businesspeople who translate the widely read Economist newsmagazine into Chinese for online and print (PDF) distribution.

Global Voices / Lingua Project

A global, multilingual blogging community where contributors share news and commentary from their countries. Lingua (, part of Global Voices, is a translation community where volunteer translators contribute translations for the most interesting Global Voices news and commentary to and from almost two dozen languages.


Meedan ( is a web 2.0 community focused on translating news and social media (e.g. Twitter feeds) between English and major Middle Eastern languages (e.g. Arabic)


ProZ ( is an online community for professional and freelance translators. While it is not a translation community itself, it is one of the oldest and largest translation communities on the Internet.


QRedit ( is a web 2.0 community focused on translating content primarily to and from English and Japanese.


YeeYan ( is a web 2.0 community focused on translating content primarily to and from English and Chinese.


TranslatorsCafé ( is an online community where you can reach out for translators and agencies and ask for quotes by posting jobs. It includes discussion forums as well as tips and tricks for translators.


GoTranslators ( is a directory where to find professionals by language and specialisation.


CloudCrowd ( is an online crowd sourcing application on Facebook, where translators work on small translation and editing tasks, and get paid for each task.