Open Translation Tools


There are many ways you can contribute to the Open Translation Movement. You may think, for example, that if you know only one language that you cannot contribute to the translation process. However, in this case you could make yourself very useful proofreading translated content, or if the material is about a topic you know a lot about you could fact check the content. If you are a designer you may be able to contribute to the open translation process by localising, or translating, text within images.

So there are many roles within translation and finding a way you can best contribute is not always clear.

Here is a brief outline of some of the ways that you may be able to contribute :

Translating Content

Translation of content is probably the most obvious role! To do this you would need to know both the target language (the language you are translating to) and the source language (the language you are translating from). It is generally considered better if your mother tongue (your 'first language') is the same as the target language. If you are translating from French to English, for example, the better results will generally be achieved if your mother language is English (although it is common practice in the translation industry to also work with translators whose mother language is the same as the source language).

It is also beneficial if you know something about the subject you are translating. It is very difficult, for example, to translate a book on a highly technical subject if you have to first look up that topic in Wikipedia. Although you can probably translate some material, such as trivial non-technical content within the larger work, it is possibly better to leave translation of this type to people that know more about the subject or to work closely with someone who knows the subject.

Lastly, if you are volunteering for a Open Translation project then ideally you should be passionate about translation or the subject being translated. Volunteering can be very rewarding if it brings you into contact with new people, or is working towards a good cause, or enables you to learn more etc. However sometimes it can be a long and lonely road and you will have to find the energy within yourself to continue. In either case it helps to be excited about the job at hand!

Localising Content

Some content may need to be localised by replacing currency, date formats etc. with the appropriate local equivalent. If the person translating the content has done a good job then it is quite likely that the localising of the content has already been done, however proofing localisation issues is always a welcome role.

Translating Images

Images might need to be localised or translated. Localising an image means changing the image to suit the cultural context of the content. For example, if an image within an educational essay shows school children of mixed sexes, it may be necessary to change that image to represent a single sex school depending on the country and culture of the target audience.

Hence photographers or illustrators can contribute to Open Translation. Additionally if you are proficient with an image editing software you may be very helpful making images which have text and reworking the image with a translated text.


Reading through translations and correcting errors is a very well established and extremely important role in translation. Reading through content and checking accuracy, grammar, and spelling will not only improve the quality of the content but it can also be a very good moment to provide feedback to the original translators so they can improve their practice.

While a good knowledge of grammar for the target language is useful it is not always necessary. Reading content for 'readability' or accuracy within a domain is also the role of a proof reader.

Domain Knowledge Expertise

If you know a lot about the topic being translated you may be of great use to an Open Translation project without translating a single word. Many subjects require expert knowledge that is not always available to the translators, but this information can be provided by others with expertise. Helping to create the appropriate definition of technical terms is just one example where those with an area of expertise can assist translation.

Tool Creation

If you are a software developer then there is plenty for you to do! Find other developers working on Free Software tools for translation and join the movement. Additionally, you could always add to the documentation of a free software tool.

Community Management

Open Translation is often community based, and communities do not just 'grow themselves' - they require a lot of careful attention, management and leadership. Finding or becoming a good community leader is rarely easy. People often 'find' themselves in this role without applying for a position or having an ambition to be a community leader. If you find yourself in this position then there is very little we can tell you about the role as each context requires a unique mixture of skills and personality, established connections, domain knowledge, language and communications skills, and luck.

Project Management

Unlike the commercial translation industry, there are very few cases where Open Translation communities or projects work with Project Managers. However, occasionally Project Managers may get involved, in which case you may find yourself in the position of having to establish and manage toolsets and workflows, manage quality control, manage paid staff and volunteers, recruit paid and volunteer translators, preparing budgets etc.

A word to Project Managers that are looking to build a team - while you cannot control the skills of a volunteer translator, it is helpful to know what skill set a good translator might have.

  • Mother tongue speaker, or similar skill level in the target language
  • Passionate about translation
  • Computer experience, in order to use translation tools

There are other nice qualifications to have:

  • Graduate qualifications: Linguistics, language, translation studies
  • Knowledgable in the domain being translated

Mother tongue speaker - A person who speaks the target language as their mother tongue or in proficient at that level is the 'ideal' translator.  It is important though to remember that there is more to translation then being able to speak the target language.

Many people say they are proficient in multiple languages.  Some people are, most people aren't.  The problem with people with multi-language skills is that they often do not have access to a deep
understanding of either language.  And a deep understanding is what you need if you want to transpose the ideas and language from the source document into the target language.  So treat the polyglot with caution until proven otherwise.

Passionate - This may seem redundant but a person who is passionate about their language, the source material, and/or the target audiences is more likely to be able to sustain the effort needed for translation.

Computer Experience - Someone who has no computer experience will have difficulty using computer translation tools.  You need someone who can comfortably use a computer and other online resources.

Graduate Qualifications - This is a nice skill to have as it helps to have a deeper understanding about language, the objective of translation and skills that can be used to find and develop equivalent terms.

Domain Knowledge - Someone with knowledge of the domain being translated has the advantage that they are able to understand the source terms and ideas so that they are better equipped to adapt the text and find equivalent terms.