Translation in Wikimedia Projects

One of the sessions I attended at Wikimania was Translation in Wikimedia Projects by Aphaia and Arria Belli. I knew Arria through Wikimedia Commons where she is a cheerful and helpful admin.

This session had two parts. In the first, Aphaia talked about the challenges in “official translation” (translating foundationwiki & official information, esp. for community elections, also Commons documentation and POTY information; software translation would have been covered by Gerard), and Arria talked about her experience in the informal “content translation”: where contributors create or improve articles by translating articles from other language projects.

This is undoubtedly a huge kind of undercurrent of activity within Wikimedia. There are no estimates anywhere about how much of this kind of work is done, how it is carried out, what role it tends to play in a young vs older project, how such material is treated by other project contributors, etc etc….

Open Translation Tools (google cache) was an event held in Zagreb, Croatia in December 2007. It was all about open source translation tools and just completely and utterly the kind of event that we (Wikimedia) should have had a presence at. We are probably – are there any other contenders? – the largest informal translation network and community on the web. Or ever in existence? There is no doubt that “the wiki way” of translating permanently unfinished works is a new era for the world of translation.

And yet we are hampered by poor tools that lead to awkward methodology relying on manual maintenance. No wonder we can’t keep track of what we’re doing.

Anyway, Arria surveyed some of Wikimedia’s “underground translators” to find out what they do, how they do it and why. I love surveys :) so here’s some of my favourite charts cherry-picked from her presentation. I think there were around 50-60 respondents in total. (Full set of questions is on meta)


How long have you been translating on Wikipedia? Well, if you’re responding to a survey on a mailing list, it’s not a surprise that you’ve been around Wikimedia for a fair while.


What languages do you translate from? Looks like roughly half of article translation is EN->other, and half is other->other or other->EN.


How do you choose the articles you translate? Most people use more than one method, and while “by interest” is unsurprisingly high, the cumulative popularity of the other reasons is good to see — that’s the “altruism bug” that Wikipedians get, where you suddenly find yourself researching and writing articles on topics you have never had an interest in, just because someone listed it on a TODO list somewhere, and you like helping tick things off. :)


Have you ever translated text in images? Nearly half said “yes” which is great. I hope all translators are aware of the excellent SVG Translate tool, which hides all the scary image-file part of the translating.


Have you translated at your real life job? About a third said yes, which is not too surprising — multilingual people are just so useful. :) It’s not clear how many of those are people employed as translators, although I’m guessing not nearly as many (if, in fact, any).

Surveying people: fun, easy, interesting and useful! Try it today. :)

Arria also showed off the Cross Lingual Wiki Engine demo screencast of TikiWiki. (It is mentioned here that they aim to extend this capability to Twiki and MediaWiki too, although I don’t know of any work that’s been done for it for MW.)

Looking to the future, I was very pleased to read this week that a MediaWiki extension called Translate is being developed. I think this will be basically for the “official translation” side of things.

Coming up in about a month, too, is WikiSym, which is having a Babel Wiki Workshop. Now if we Wikimedians don’t have some people at that, it will be quite criminal.

Some useful links for further exploration:

03 August, 2008 • , ,

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