International Translation Day took place on 30th September. Translators are the unsung heroes of our globalised world – they help make everything from news articles to academic papers, public health messages to shopping websites, accessible to everyone. Without translators, huge numbers of people can simply be left behind.

The internet connects multiple parts of the world, but in reality, most of that content is concentrated in a very small number of favoured languages.

Contributors across the world are changing the script, by localising the web. Translation contributes to a process called ‘localisation’ by bringing content such as Common Voice Platform into the context of the speakers; for example, you might make UI adaptations for the script direction of a language, or date format changes for different calendar types.

On Mozilla's Common Voice team, we're passionate about language representation, especially in voice tech. To celebrate International Translation Day, we asked Common Voice Contributors and Mozilla staff “Why is localisation so important to internet health?” We’ll also highlight how you can get involved in localisation, and leave no one behind.

Why is translation so important to internet health?

There is a hierarchy or aristocracy of languages that provide their speakers with a king's grade of opportunity: choice, permission and ability to freely access and benefit from what is available on the Internet.

Jack Rueter, Contributor for Erzya on Common Voice

Jack Rueter, Contributor for Erzya on Common Voice shares:

In many countries, lots of people had to learn to speak the local majority language and then even a second majority language - for example Russian- on top of their first language - for example Erzya. They may have access to the web through their learned, second or third language - but it is a hindrance; website searches are not as intuitive.

By localizing more of the web, we're not only making it accessible but also providing first-language speakers opportunities to feel proud of their languages. We are showing them that information can and actually should be expected in their own languages.

We are providing them with what is like the first steps taken by a toddler and that toddler's first words uttered. We are making these people proud of their "baby" ... their own language heritage and showing them that they too can contribute and lay claim to the opening frontier.

When a language community, such as the Erzya, learns that their language, spoken by less than a million, is, in fact, just as important in an international project as a majority language (actually, even more important), they become more enthusiastic about contributing to Web content.

And this leads to further, more diverse propagation of their language on the Web with a push for participation and perhaps organization of their own projects. Localization is a gatekeeper to shared knowledge ... Let's open the gates.”

Too often, online translation is thought of as something that begins with English and branches out.

Solana Larsen - Editor, Internet Health Report

Solana Larsen - Editor, Internet Health Report

“To me, the internet is at its healthiest when it is used to build knowledge and understanding between people, locally as well as globally. Translating words and meanings is a big part of this, but so is enabling people to create or adapt software and code to address local needs. Too often, online translation is thought of as something that begins with English and branches out. When translation centres other languages, it can bring even more power and agency to linguistically underrepresented communities worldwide.

How many people speak a certain language currently has little bearing on how well that language is represented online. The internet isn’t really global, nor does it belong to us all, so long as this is true. "

How can you support a truly global internet?

Become an open-source contributor! You can help make the web more accessible by localising open source projects such as Common Voice.

Collaborating in open-sourced projects gives me a sense of accomplishment that I do not get elsewhere!

Paulina, Contributor for Spanish langauge on Common Voice

Common Voice is a Mozilla initiative to collect voice data that can be used to train voice-enabled technologies such as virtual assistants. Contributors enable new languages to take part by localising the Common Voice Platform on Pontoon. Pontoon connects pieces of website texts which are known as “strings” from the platform to be translated into another language.

Hear from Paulina, who shares with us why she contributes to Common Voice and Pontoon.

“While I’m a native Spanish speaker, I am fortunate enough to know English from a young age. However, knowing that not every Spanish-speaking person can access the same resources in English because their education didn’t contemplate a bilingual approach was motivating enough to start volunteering at Pontoon.

Collaborating in open-sourced projects gives me a sense of accomplishment that I do not get elsewhere! Web localization has been a source of inspiration when I had many self-doubts about my skills and abilities. Just knowing that my contributions help close the knowledge gap due to language barriers is super satisfactory. Nowadays, I check Pontoon and Common Voice as often as my workload allows me to review new submissions.”

Join our community of contributors

Contributing to the community with others helps to build on each other’s strengths.

You can meet members of language communities on the Common Voice Community Chat on Matrix or introduce yourself on#CommonVoiceNewbie discourse topic.

Learn more about the communities of Common Voice and how we contribute check out the Common Voice Community Playbook.

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