Guide to Translating Web Pages on
Translating gnu.org with its many articles and keeping them updated
is a complex task which requires careful organization. Translators are
grouped into teams, one for each language, and each team normally has a
coordinator. However, there are some languages for which no team has
been formed yet, and sometimes a team lacks a coordinator.
Team Coordinators use software tools to update pages efficiently for
partial changes. One of these tools is a program called GNUnited
Nations (GNUN) that makes it very easy to maintain and keep
track of translations that need to be updated; it was developed ad hoc
by our current GNU Translations Manager Yavor Doganov.
The Translations Manager is the person in charge of the overall
organization of teams and is generally involved in training new Team
As a Team Member, you can contribute to translations without knowing
anything about GNUN, but you can help at more levels if you know how to
Who can help
All teams are always looking for new volunteers. Basically, there is
a task for everyone in the translation process: we need people with good
language skills, as well as people with good technical skills or willing
to learn some simple technical skills.
If you have a deep understanding of written English and a rich
command of your native language, you can certainly engage in
translation, or do proof-reading. Writing good English is not
If your understanding of English is not first class, or if you
don't know English at all but have a good mastery of your mother
tongue, you can help review other people's translations to make sure
they read well and have a good style.
If you are a native English speaker, and you can read another
language, even if not quickly and easily, you can still help improve
translations in that language. Translators sometimes misunderstand
English idioms and expressions and write translations that are
misleading or even incorrect. These errors are obvious to the native
English speaker—you can indicate possible errors and explain
the intended meaning, and others can retranslate that part.
If you are inclined or willing to go for the more technical
side of the translation process, you can help further; for example,
by preparing translated texts for publication.
How to Participate
- As a Team Member
- Please read the General Guide for
Translations below and then contact the relevant
translation team. Each team has its own
system of organizing the work. Thus, to join an existing team, you
need to get detailed information from that team. The Team
Coordinator will be able to guide you through their specific
methods. If you don't get an answer in two weeks,
write to the Translations Manager <email@example.com>.
- As an Occasional Contributor
- If you just want to submit a new translation and are not
interested in collaborating regularly, follow the
General Guide for Translations below
and then send your translation to the appropriate
Team Coordinator if there is one, or to the Translations
if there is no team or coordinator for your language.
- As a Team Coordinator
- If there is no team established for your language or a new Team
Coordinator is needed, we will be grateful if you undertake that task.
As a coordinator, you will need to follow both the General Guide for Translations and the more
specific Guide for Team Coordinators.
General Guide for Translations
Here are our specific goals for our translated pages.
With few exceptions, the pages we translate are addressed to the
general public. Before working on a page, please look at the original
and ask yourself whether it is addressed to programmers or to the
general public. Then aim your translation at the same audience.
In pages meant for the general public, please avoid words that are not
found in common dictionaries, except for our special terms such as
"GNU" and "copyleft" (see the list below).
In order to produce a translation which is accurate and faithful to
the original, you need to be familiar with the basic concepts of the
GNU Project and the specific terminology used in gnu.org.
Please study the philosophy of the free
software movement, so that you can present it properly and clearly.
The following articles will be particularly helpful:
These terms and files need special attention:
Copyleft. This is a term that can be difficult to
translate in some languages. It is a pun on the word
“Copyright” based on the two meanings of
“right”: ethical and directional. You can read the
article What is Copyleft? to
learn more about it and see how it has been translated into other
languages. You will see that in most cases it has not been
translated at all, so if you can't find a good translation for it in
your language, the only option may be to use the English word.
Free Software. Most languages have a word
for free-as-in-freedom and another word for gratis (zero price).
In gnu.org we generally use “free” only to refer to
freedom, and we say “gratis” when we mean zero price.
Thus, please translate “free” using the word that
means free-as-in-freedom, not the one that refers to price.
However, in some old pages, such as the GNU Manifesto and the
initial announcement, we did not yet make the distinction. In
translating these pages, you may need to think carefully about the
proper treatment of each occurrence of the word
“free”. You might choose to leave the word in
English, followed by the explanation of its meaning in that
occurrence: either freedom, price, or ambiguously both.
However, even in these old pages, the word you normally
use to translate “free” in “free software”
should be the one that refers to freedom.
See the Translations
of the Term “Free Software” in several languages.
Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). This is what
we use in gnu.org to avoid the propaganda term “Digital Rights
Management”. It means that digital techniques are used to impose
restrictions on the user, and these restrictions apply not only to
digital but also to physical objects.
However, there is a subtle ambiguity in the English term
“Digital Restrictions Management”. It can be interpreted in two
- Digital Management of Restrictions.
- Management of Digital Restrictions.
In many languages these require different wording. The correct
meaning is the first one, so translations should make this clear.
Likewise with “rights” instead of
Should. In regard to an ethical issue,
“should” means it would be wrong to do anything else. For
instance, the page entitled “Why Software Should Be Free”
explains why it is wrong to make software nonfree in the actual world
we live in.
Therefore, please translate “should” using a verb
form that implies a strong ethical obligation. Don't translate it
in a way that means “it would be preferable for software to
be free” or “in an ideal world, software would be
free”. Those are not strong enough.
GNU's Not Unix. When translating
“GNU's Not Unix”, please ensure that the translation
remains recursive. If a recursive translation cannot be conceived, use
the following format (this is an example for Swedish):
“GNU's Not Unix (
GNU är inte Unix)”.
Exception: The page philosophy/words-to-avoid.html is an exception
to our usual policies about which terminology to use, because it
presents examples of what not to say. For instance, in
general we shun the term “Digital Rights Management”.
However, we cite that term in philosophy/words-to-avoid.html in
order to advise others to shun it.
As a translator, it is best if you follow the English text.
Where the English text says “Digital Rights
Management”, translate that. Where the English text says
“Digital Restrictions Management”, translate
Surveillance. This word has false-friends in
roman languages because of its latin root. In English, it specifically
means the close observation of a person or organization under
suspicion of wrongdoing; this makes the surveillee unsafe. In some
roman languages on the other hand (for instance in French), the
false-friend of “surveillance” is used more widely; it
may describe the benevolent watch of a shepherd over his sheep or of
a teacher over her students.
When translating “surveillance,” please make sure you
don't use a word which could be interpreted as “benevolent
watch.” If there is no specialized term, the word which means
“spying” may be adequate in the context of proprietary
For more info, see
Before installing or before submitting your translation for
installation in gnu.org:
- Have your translation reviewed by as many members of your team as
possible. Peer review is crucial for the quality of the translation
process. Too many errors are just missed (especially if they are
obvious) when the translator does a final review of her own
translation. One common technique to performing such reviews is to
send the translation to the team's mailing list: members comment on
specific parts, quoting them appropriately. The result is better
quality of the translation, since more people looked at it.
- If there is no team established for your language, show your
translations to friends who are not experts on free software or GNU,
to see if they understand the translation clearly.
Licensing of Translations
A translation page should be licensed just like the original page.
If the original page carries a Creative Commons license, use the same
Creative Commons license. If the original page says it is in the public
domain, the translation should say the same thing.
For specific rules, see
Distribution Terms in the GNU Web Translators Manual.
What to Translate
All essays and articles in the following directories should be translated
in all available languages, but you should first browse our
Again, please coordinate with your language team before starting any work,
to get clear instructions on how to proceed and to avoid duplicating efforts.
Note: The material in the
software/ directory pertains to individual GNU packages. If you
would like to translate something in that directory, please talk with the
maintainers of the package to see what they would like to do.
You may also want to read the
GNU Web Translators
Manual if you wish to have a better understanding of how our
translation system works. But please talk to the team first; most
probably you will not be required to read it in order to start helping.
Guide for Team Coordinators
The following is an explanation of what a Team Coordinator does
specifically. In addition to what has already been described, a Team
sees to it that all texts to be published are faithful to the
original and respect the terminology used in our website. All
translations submitted by team members or by occasional contributors are
reviewed and approved by the Team Coordinator before they are
understands thoroughly how our translation system works, and
knows how to use the tools that we have adopted. In the following section
we explain briefly how it is done.
We use .po (Portable Object) files to process and maintain translations.
A .po file contains the original text and its translation, divided in
paragraphs. This is how we do it:
When a new article is published in our website, GNUN, the
program we mentioned at the beginning of this page, generates a .pot file
(.po template) from that article. The .pot file is renamed to .po to be
translated. Once it is translated, the .po file is committed. Then
GNUN checks it, and if there are no errors in the code, the translated
HTML version of the original article is automatically published in the
Whenever there is a change in the original HTML article, the
.pot and .po files are regenerated by GNUN to merge the changes, clearly
showing the strings that have changed. Translators then update the
translation of only those strings in the .po file. When the updated .po
file is committed, the HTML version of the translation is automatically
updated on the website.
.po files can be edited by using any .po file editor.
Note: Some team members or occasional contributors may find it
difficult or inconvenient to translate using PO files. However,
contributions submitted as plain text format should not be rejected.
To encourage the use of PO files, coordinators can provide those
contributors with a simple guide aimed at people with little
Here is an
We have also implemented notification tools to keep translators
informed of changes in the original pages. In any case, a Team
Coordinator needs to subscribe to our www-commits
mailing list to keep an eye on pages that are modified. You may also
make report TEAM=LANG” if you
have GNUN installed.
The following manuals explain in detail the translation process that
we have briefly shown above. It is necessary that a coordinator reads and
becomes well acquainted with them:
After you have read this entire page, if you intend to volunteer and
be listed as the Team Coordinator for your language, please inform the
Translations Manager <firstname.lastname@example.org>
of your decision. Start reading at least the first two manuals and ask
the Translations Manager for assistance if you have any doubts.
Volunteers to establish new teams are more than welcome and will be
assisted during the learning process.
In the following list, the language code is followed by the name of the
language, and by the name of the Team Coordinator.
Note: English (
en) is a special
case. The bulk of the site is written in English, which is the de-facto
language of the GNU Project. We occasionally need to
translate to English original documents written in other languages. It
is best to notify the Team Coordinator of that language if you volunteer. If
there is no team coordinator and you are willing to help with this, please