Contextualization for Software Localization

Localization industry has been revamping and coming up with lots of improvements these days. Number of languages getting increased in most of the projects’ portfolios. Many good news around! At the same time there are number of challenges yet to overcome. e.g. Data encoding, file formats, machine translations, online translation tools, translation memory, spell checkers, meta data, insufficient information/reference about translation messages, and you know there are many more to this list…

My focus in this blog post would be to emphasize and overcome the issue of Insufficient information/reference about translation messages or in other words Context for the translation messages. Lack of Context for translation messages is really a critical issue for the localization industry today, not just for translators! e.g. How would you translate the message “Empty Trash” in your native language. Would you translate it like whether the trash is empty or make the trash empty? Unless you see the actual source message in the user interface and use the functionality you wouldn’t be able to translate these kind of ambiguous messages correctly!

Projects like Deckard are of great help for such instances, however I think that’s not the only or real solution to the problem we are facing today!

During the Open Source Language Summit organized at Red Hat office Pune, I got a chance to meet all awesome members from Wikimedia Language Engineering Team. I came to know that Siebrand Mazeland, takes care of reviewing almost every message of the source material that comes to before it goes to translators. We call it i18n review. Hat’s off Siebrand! Not an easy job! Certainly, this is very much helpful to translators.

For localizers translating various open source projects, where nobody takes care of reviewing translatable messages nor provide context it becomes the most challenging translation job at times!

How can we fix the problem?

Another, not an easy solution, though I would like to give it a try!

Concept: Review and modify the source code of software applications in order to add comments or references or context for the translatable messages in order to make them more meaningful so that it could be easily understood by translators that will help us get the best localization in the industry!

Skill-sets required:

  • Software Engineer – to help us create patches for software source code and communicate with mainstream developers about it
  • Quality Engineer – to help us understand the functionality of the software functionalities and better understand the usage of the translatable messages
  • Technical Writer – to help us write better translatable messages


  1. Form a group consisting of people with each of the skill-sets as mentioned above!
  2. List out various important open source software projects that come from Fedora, Gnome, Kde, Firefox, LibreOffice, etc.
  3. Start approaching them with the concept and idea behind the initiative
  4. Figure out contextual information for each and every translatable message
  5. Accordingly, provide software source code updates or patches whatever is possible
  6. Ensure that the contextual information goes into the translatable file formats provided to translators
  7. Translators do get the contextual information in the form of translation formats
  8. And we receive good quality translations!
  9. That’s pretty much all I guess!

Though I believe there is always a scope of further improvements and changes in the strategy or approach we may come to conclusion as soon as we form a group.

If we are able to convince even a single software application and it’s developers about the idea and get a buy-in, I think we have a ray of hope for the movement that can begun!

Got an interest to do something for the software localization? Got another idea better than this one? Have suggestions to make? Please please do provide your comments and let’s work together to start fixing all software localization issues one by one!

Thank You for reading!
Ankit Patel


  1. Sebastian says:

    Context is everything, especially in terms of quality. It’s important to keep this on the agenda for software developers. All too often, missing context will unnecessarily increase overhead because back-and-forth messaging between product management and translator is required to clear misunderstandings.
    We’ve been putting a lot of work into this based on our experience as well, at and we’ve been trying to tackle it from some similar angles you did: we allow extensive commenting, and also screenshot uploads. These can actually also be supplied already from within the files, or via an API, to make the experience even smoother. I am not sure if you’ve thought of it, but what also can be put into source files is meta information such as character length etc. Love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Cheers

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