Tools of the translation trade

I begin with a caveat – I am a dilettante translator and hence the tools of my trade (these are the tools I have used in the past or, use daily) or, the steps I follow might not reflect reality or, how the “real folks” do translation. I depend to a large extent on folks doing translation-localization bits for my language and, build heavily on their works.


I used it only infrequently when it was around in Fedora (it is still available in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5) but once I did get over the somewhat klunky interface, it was a joy to work with. Seriously rugged and, well formed into the ways of doing translations, KBabel was the tool of choice. However, it was replaced by Lokalize (more on that later) and so, I moved on to Lokalize.


This has so much promise and yet, there is so much left to be desired in terms of stability. For example, a recent quirk that I noticed is that in some cases, translating the files using Lokalize and, then viewing it using a text editor shows the translated strings. However, loading them in KBabel or, another tool shows the lines as empty. The Kbabel -> Lokalize transformation within KDE could have perhaps done with a bit of structured requirements definition and, testing (I am unaware as to whether such things were actually done and, would be glad to read up any existing content on that). Then there’s this quirk for the files in the recent GNOME release – copying across the content when it is in the form Address leaves the copied form as empty space. The alternative is to input the tags again. Which is a cumbersome process. There are a number of issues reported against the Lokalize releases which actually gives me enough hope, because more issues mean more consumers and hence a need to have a stable and functional application.


I have used it very infrequently. The one reason for that is that it takes some time to get used to the application/tool itself. I guess sometimes too much sparseness in UI is a factor in shying away from the tool. The singular good point which merits a mention is the “Help” or, documentation in Virtaal – it is very well done and, actually demonstrates how best to use the application for day to day usage in translation. This looks to be a promising tool and, with the other parts like translation memory, terminology creator etc tagged on, it will have the makings of a strong toolchain


I had been initially reluctant to use a web-based tool to do translations. This however might have been a factor of the early days of Pootle. With the recent Pootle releases, having a web-based translation tool is a good plus. However, it isn’t without its queer flaws – for example, it doesn’t allow one to browse to a specific phrase to translate (or, in other words, in a 290 line file, if you last left it at 175, the choices are either to traverse from the start in bunches of 10 or, 7 or, traverse from the end till one reaches the 176th line), the instances of Pootle that I have used don’t use any translation memory or, terminology add-ons to provide suggestions.

I have this evolving feeling that having a robust web-based tool would provide a better way of handling translations and, help manage content. That is perhaps one of the reasons I have high expectations from the upcoming Pootle releases and, of course, Lotte.

Irrespective of the tools, some specific things that I’d see being handled include the following. I hope that someone who develops tools to help get translations done takes some time out to talk with the folks doing it daily to understand the areas which can do with significant improvements.

  • the ability to provide a base glossary of words (for a specific language) and, the system allowing it to be consumed during translation so as to provide a semblance of consistency
  • the ability to take as input a set of base glossaries across languages (for example, a couple of Indic languages do check how other Indic languages have handled the translation) and, the system allowing the translator/reviewer to exercise the option of choosing any of the glossaries to consult
  • provide robust translation suggestions facilitating re-use and, increasing consistency
  • a higher level of handling terminology than what is present now
  • a stronger set of spell checking plumbing
  • store and display the translation history of a file
  • the ability to browse to a specific string/line which helps a lot when doing review sprints or, just doing translation sprints

Update: Updated the first line to ensure that it isn’t implied that these are the only tools anyone interested in translation can use. These are tools I have used or, use daily.

Update: Updated the “wish-list” to reflect the needs across tools as opposed to the implied part about they being requested only in Pootle

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14 thoughts on “Tools of the translation trade”

  1. I have not used Rosetta. However, I did do a cursory look-see into gnome-translate. Since I have not used it ever in my workflow, I felt it would be a bad idea to try and comment on it. The tools mentioned are the ones I have used or, use daily.

    The last time I used gnome-translate I recall having a bit of problems putting in the team information for the language I work on (bn_IN). But that was trivial and, I am sure that I could give it a try sometime soon.

    Thanks for dropping by Corey.

  2. Thanks for the update. I know Pootle grabbed a lot of marketshare due to it being Free while Rosetta was not. Even now I don’t think it is that easy to just install Rosetta and not the whole LP stack.

  3. @corey: You probably mean gtranslator. gnome-translate is a frontend to various machine translation services, while gtranslator is a PO editor.

    I also share the same kind of KBabel legacy. Its the only tool that was worth using for a very long time.

    I now code on Virtaal and I’m pretty excited about what it does. Uncluttered is what I’d call it, sparse sounds like it doesn’t have any features 🙂

    I’m not sure what everyone loves about translation panes that are mostly whitespace; set too large because you might get a large unit and always too small when a large unit actually arrives!

    And I’m also baffled by what is to love about dockable TM and glossary windows that spend most of their life empty (wasting space) or hopelessly to small when you get any hits (you made them small as they took up too much screen space no they’re too small to use).

    Click click off you go with your mouse to resize things which must count as the best way to slow down translation.

    One of the developers claims that he’s translating measurably faster now that he uses Virtaal almost exclusively for translation. Hey so I love Virtaal, so trust that last statement only after you’ve tried it yourself!

  4. Oh ! I am giving Virtaal a workout. Lokalize isn’t making the cut when it comes to my daily stuff. Which doesn’t leave me with too many choices on the desktop. I guess coming from the multi-pane UI of KBabel and Lokalize it just takes some time getting used to Virtaal.

    The upside to using Virtaal has been the snappiness and, the crisp response of the application. That is just too good to ignore.

    And, thanks for correcting the gnome-translator/gtranslate bits. Mea culpa ! I should have checked up myself before responding to Corey.

  5. You should really give Virtaal another try, I’ve long been a KBabebl user then switched to Virtaal and never looked back. I’ve never been as productive before, really Virtaal 0.4 is incomparable, heck I now translate more than 3000 words a day 🙂

  6. The last time I checked Transifex does “translation content management” and, Lotte was proposed as the web-based translation tool. Did I miss something ?

  7. I recently played a bit with the Facebook Translations app. It has some nice features that might serve as inspiration for Pootle or Rosetta. (I especially miss the ability to search for a known-wrong translation in Rosetta. I’m assuming they haven’t added that feature since I last checked.)

  8. I clarified at the very beginning – these are the tools that I have used in the past or, use regularly now. I have not used Poedit. In fact, I was never aware of Poedit before you pointed it out. I’ll give it a try.

    For me because of the way I do translations, web-based tools seem to be a perfect fit. I need a rudimentary desktop application, for which Virtaal seems to be a fit, in case I intend to do off-line work.

  9. Ahh ! Now that would be a good thing to have. Thanks for pointing out the Facebook Translations Application. Although when it comes to Facebook, they should make it a bit more intuitive to suggest alternative translations for already present languages.

  10. I am using Virtaal a bit more now. However, I find web-based tools more conducive to the way I work. And, I agree, Virtaal has some immediate upsides.

    Thanks for dropping by and, taking time to comment.

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