Translating Ushahidi into French

We launched the alpha version of Ushahidi a week before we began deploying the platform into the DR Congo. We knew there were things that needed to be fixed, processes that had to be refined, etc. What we hadn’t yet considered was the fact that few people read English in the Eastern Congo. We needed a French version ASAP.

Users read Ushahidi in their own language

The most important part of the site to have translated first is the front-end (the part that everyone sees), the admin area is also important, but not nearly as urgent. We couldn’t just go in there and change the words out, what we needed was a programmatic way to do this so that any other future translations in any other language could be done fairly simply (and much faster).

The first step was to pull all the English text content from the site and put it in a flat file document to be translated into French. Kaushal and Ory worked particularly hard finding people to do that translation and then to create a process, using Google spreadsheet docs, so that the next time we have to do it the transition will go a lot smoother. Once those text fields were all finalized we simply funneled that back into the platform and made an option to access it by clicking on a French flag in the site’s header.

For the administrators

It’s important that the administrators are able to translate incoming English reports into French (or other languages in the future). When on the “reports” page of the administration side, you’ll see this new button:

Click here to translate

Once clicked, that button takes you to the following page where you can select the language you would like to translate the report into, and begin translating each section:

Translation page in Ushahidi


We’re about 80% of the way done. One area that has proved to be particularly challenging is categories. Those are set by the administrator. This means it’s dynamic, not static like the rest of the content on the front-end. We’re working on a way to for administrators to add their categories in multiple languages.

Some languages take more characters (or words) to say something than others. We’re trying to figure out how to make sure that type of change doesn’t break our formatting completely.

Lastly, we’re trying to decide where and when the right time is to use automated computer translation of content. Requiring administrators to translate and retype reports, news headlines and local help organizations is neither efficient or time-saving. We’re interested in figuring out a way to programmatically help administrators manage this.

Thoughts on ways we can do this better?

8 Responses to “Translating Ushahidi into French”

  1. There’s no way to really handle the text flow issue other than to set hard limits on user input, absolutely know what’s going in there, or set hard widths for display and hide the overflow which is probably an undesirable method. We’re sitting on five languages now with Maneno and I’ve done multi-lingual work before on multiple sites. It’s nasty, nasty business. Good to hear you’ve gone the flat-file route. That’s really the best. I know the site is running in UTF-8, but is your database as well? Those foreign character accents will play hell with it, if it isn’t.

    Your Google docs method sounds pretty good. I use a combination of a couple of things all based on SVN version control. Maybe a combination of the two might be a better way as localization is one angry stepchild in web development.

    Above everything else, is that you need to have a lingua franca which the site always defaults to no matter what happens. In our case, this is English. I assume that would probably work for you as well.

    I’ve talked a bit with the localization folks at Google and they have all the same problems. It’s not easy and it’s somewhat comforting to know that despite having all the money in the world, they still have the same problems as our two projects.

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