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Sugar framework
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Localizing an XO
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Localization (l10n)* is the process of taking software or content and adapting it for local use. It involves fonts, script layout, input methods, speech synthesis, musical instrumentation, collating order, number & date formats, dictionaries, and spellcheckers.

Localization is the process not just of translation to a local language, but of adapting content to other local requirements, whether of law, culture, or custom. In order to localize software, it must first be internationalized. That is, any assumptions derived from the language, culture, and customs of the developers must be removed. Much content can be written in a neutral international manner, but there are specific items that must be programmed so that the local equivalents can be easily substituted.

We need translators in many languages, including local scripts and dialects. At the moment, the laptop is 100% English, 98% Spanish, 96% German, 95% French, 65% Japanese, and 56% Portuguese. Many other languages are 5% done at best. Translating is fun, quite easy and the rewards are great: here's how you can get started.

You don't have to wait until XOs are announced for your country to start localizing GNU/Linux, Sugar, and Activities into your languages. Remember you can create a Live CD in your language to run on any x86 computer, including Macs. If you support a language well, you also support people learning your language.

Programmers in the US and Europe for decades were able to assume 1 character = 1 byte, but this is no longer the case. The most common character encoding today is the variable-length UTF-8 form of Unicode. We cannot assume that money is in US dollars. We cannot assume that people have family names, or area codes, or ZIP codes. Even when people have family names, the family name is not always the last name. And so on.

OLPC got caught out on this with the first batch of prototypes delivered to Spanish-speaking students. It turns out that the initial login text field was programmed to accept only 7-bit ASCII, so the children with accents in their names were not able to enter them correctly. This in spite of the presence of 8-bit Latin-1 letters on the keytops.

* l10n and i18n are abbreviations for the terms localization and internationalization, where 10 or 18 stands for the number of letters between the first and last letters of the term, respectively. i18n was coined at Digital Equipment Corporation in the 1970s or 80s[1].

Why it matters

OLPC's target population of schoolchildren live in nearly 200 countries, where more than 6,000 languages are spoken. The 100 most common languages would suffice for reaching 99%+ of children in first or second languages, but hundreds more would be needed for education in traditional cultures and languages of large populations. OLPC can play a large part in recording and preserving thousands more languages before they would otherwise disappear forever.

Getting started

You don't need to be a geek or hacker to help translate. You need to know two languages, and be familiar with computers. It helps if you try out Sugar, and it helps if you can think like a child.

To start with, there are user interfaces: Sugar and other XO Activities.

If you're a bit more technical: before a program can be translated it needs to be prepared by doing Python internationalization (for sugar or activities).

Read Wikipedia's definition and Ethnologue's language list

In addition to reading this page, you can join the localization mailing list and find us on the #olpc-content IRC channel and the Library mailing list.

To start a new language project on Pootle, the person volunteering to be the project administrator should first be registered on

Localizers should also do the same once a project for their language has been started.

Anyone working on Localization for Etoys should subscribe to the Etoys mailing list.

Then the administrator can open a ticket on Trac and provide the following information:

  • Language and country in the ticket title
  • Component: Localization
  • Who else is volunteering
  • Data on the language
  • Why this project is starting, which may be that shipments to that community are being scheduled, or just that the community wants it for its own use.

Finally, for script experts, there are keyboards and guides for customizing your own keyboard language if it is not already there. (NB: on recent developer (Joyride) builds you can use the sugar-control-panel to set language. Otherwise, use setxkbmap at the command line in the Terminal.)

Recruiting localizers

For any given target language in wide use, there are likely to be a variety of organized groups interested in helping to get software into their languages. The same goes for Content. Here are some of the places to start.

You should also talk to User:Mokurai, who is recruiting language project administrators and localizers.

In addition to localizing material ourselves, we want to find dictionaries, repositories of literature and other content in the language, sources for textbooks, and so on.

Let us pick a language, say Khmer for Cambodia, which had more than 10,000 XOs committed through G1G1, but no Pootle project as of 2008-2-24, and see what we can find. Ethnologue, Google and Wikipedia are your friends, as are the social networks, but first things first. So User:Mokurai created a ticket for Khmer, following the instructions above, and Sayamindu expeditiously created the Khmer project on Pootle.

  • The Ethnologue entry for Khmer says that there are about 13 million speakers of Central Khmer, and lists several countries with large Cambodian immigrant populations. "Also spoken in Canada, China, France, Laos, USA, Viet Nam."
  • Ethnologue also gives a link to an English-Khmer medical dictionary.
  • Google finds about 277,000 hits on a search for khmer dictionary. There is even a Khmer computer dictionary.
  • The Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has a plan in development for computers in schools, centered on KhmerOS. The Web site is in Khmer, but unfortunately not in Unicode.
  • Although there is an OLPC Cambodia page, no Cambodians are active on it.
  • A search for GNU/Linux User Groups in Cambodia turns up Open Forum of Cambodia, "Building Cambodia through Information Technology", and the KhmerOS project to create a version of SUSE Linux localized into Cambodian. We can mine their localization for ours, and invite their people to work with us. And of course, whatever we contribute upstream in Khmer will be available to them, or we can contribute to KhmerOS directly.
  • The place to look for NGOs is Wiser Earth, which lists well over 100,000 NGOs worldwide for every purpose. This is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • A search on LinkedIn turns up more than 500 people with links to Cambodia, including a number of Cambodians. LinkedIn lets you post questions to your network, so we can ask for help with our Khmer project.
  • Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists, although evangelical Christians active in refugee and reconstruction work are making converts. The Buddhist scriptures in Pali language, Khmer script, and Unicode encoding are available on CD-ROM and online. There are Cambodian Buddhist organizations in the US, such as WattKhmer — San Jose [CA] Cambodian Buddist Society, Inc.
  • A cursory search did not turn up any Web sites for teachers based in Cambodia, but the Teachers Across Borders Cambodia Project has the information.
  • CulturalProfiles.net has a summary article on education in Cambodia.
Royal University of Fine Arts (reopened 1980), the Institute 
of Technology of Cambodia (1981, formerly the Higher Technical 
Institute of Khmer-Soviet Friendship), the Royal University 
of Agriculture (1984, formerly the Institute of Agricultural 
Engineering), the Royal University of Phnom Penh (1988-1996, 
now incorporating Faculties of Pedagogy, Law and Economic 
Sciences, Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry and Business) and 
the Vedic Maharashi Royal University in Prey Veng Province 
(1993). In 1995 the Royal School of Administration was 
re-established under the control of the Council of Ministers.

Cambodia still has a low participation rate in higher education, 
with just 1.2 per cent of the population enrolled, compared 
with an average of 20.7 per cent in all the ASEAN countries.
  • There are a million or so Cambodians outside Cambodia, mostly refugees from the Khmer Rouge regime. Southeast Asian Refugee Action Council says, "The largest communities of Cambodian refugees are located in Long Beach, California, and in Lowell, Massachusetts. Sizeable communities also exist in Washington and several other states." SEARAC also provides links to statistical data from other organizations and to a large number of NGOs.
  • The Khmer language is taught in a few universities and in government training institutions for military and diplomatic purposes. Center for Khmer Studies has several directories. (Use the site map for navigation. It is impossible to find many of their resources through the menus and links otherwise.)

Well. That's just a start, but you can see that a moderate amount of work can give you plenty to begin with. More than you can handle, in fact. The next step, therefore, is to contact organizations that have prior contacts with others in the community, so that they can put the word out and invite people to join us. Tell them about, and invite them to participate in,

Make a page for the country, if necessary, and the language, if necessary, and get someone to keep them updated. Make pages for the groups you recruit to the cause, and get them to fill in more information about themselves. Let us know how you are doing via the mailing lists.

Then have at it, and remember to prod people to invite more people from time to time, for this and other education projects.

Now we just need to make a template for all of this, gather the information, and send out invitations for all of the languages in Pootle:

Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, Aymara, Basque, Bengali, Bengali (India), Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (China), Chinese (Hong Kong), Chinese (Taiwan), Czech, Danish, Dari, Dutch, Dzongkha, English, English (South African), English (US), Finnish, French, Friulian, Fula, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hausa, Hindi, Icelandic, Igbo, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Kinyarwanda, Korean, Kreyol, Macedonian, Malayalam, Maltese, Marathi, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Punjabi, Quechua, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Slovenian, Sotho, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu,Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Wolof, Yoruba

and a few others that we know we will need for current target countries, such as Mongolian (Traditional), Hazaragi and Aimaq for Afghanistan, Tigrinya for Ethiopia, and so on, and then the principal languages of any further countries that buy in or receive large donations.

Internationalization (i18n)

Preparing software so that it can be localized

To help others localize bundles and code efficiently, they need to be prepared so that anything which might need localization (strings, images, sounds) is separated out and organized for translators and localizers. This is internationalization (or i18n).

There are specific scripts and tools that help represent and compose the languages spoken, taught or used in various countries: these are internationalization tools.


    • Cultural and national neutrality
    • Unicode
    • Writing directions
    • Stretching and shrinking of text
    • Locales: Formats for numbers, times, dates, currency, names, addresses, phone numbers
    • File names
    • Grammar issues: gender, number, phrasing
    • Punctuation
    • Style and usage
    • Switching languages in activities
    • Mixing languages in documents

Translation and pootle

Sugar and core activities

The basic procedure to translate activities is to sign up, enter the https://translate.sugarlabs.org Pootle server and work in the available projects. Back in 2007 these included:

  • XO-Core — activities or components that are central to XO
  • XO-Bundled — activities that are currently being bundled or included in the builds
  • Packaging — other material that needs to be localized
  • Terminology — support translation glossary

Translators basically have two ways to participate:

Other, more committed roles are possible, including the ability to make off-line translations with whatever tools you are used to, but that needs to be coordinated with the people in charge.

If you are not already subscribed to localization@lists.laptop.org we encourage you to do so.

To add a new language, please file a request in the trac system under the component localization.

See also:

  • For more detailed information on the functionality of the translation server and its usage, see Pootle.
  • For a list of the language teams / administrators see Pootle#Sign-up.

Languages of G1G1 Target Countries

Other Languages

Translation project have begun in Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, Aymara, Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Chinese (China), Chinese (Hong Kong), Chinese (Taiwan), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, English (South African), English (US), Finnish, Friulian, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Hausa, Hindi, Icelandic, Igbo, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Maori, Maltese, Nepali, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Quechua, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbian, Slovenian, Sotho, Swedish, Thai, Tongan Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Wolof, Yoruba, pseudo L10n

Support for Language Learning

Having an alternate GUI language on an XO is an excellent way to get used to a language, particularly if you can refer to Pootle or to a printout as a bilingual reference. Or even two XOs side by side in the two languages. Making a language part of your daily routine imprints it on your brain in a way that no amount of class time or formal practice can do.

Having friends to talk to in the language is of course the best way of all to learn it, and look! the XO lets you do that, too, all over the world.

Localization process

Keyboarding in your language

What good is seeing the interface in a particular language if your keyboard is in another?

  • Use My Settings to set keyboard preferences.
  • Terminal commands for keyboard used with specific languages are at Keyboard layouts.

Testing your localization

Translating is a pleasure when you can check the results right after you finish. See Localization/Testing on how to test the localization on virtual XO.

Basic Localization Topics

Character Sets

Unicode is fully supported in “modern” applications and toolkits used in free software. Legacy character set support also present, but modern applications use Unicode.

Collation order (the text sorting order) is generally well supported in the C library.

See also: Category:Fonts, Unicode.

Script Layout

OLPC uses the Pango library, which is able to layout most of the “hard” languages, including: Arabic, the Indic languages, Hebrew, Persian, Thai, etc. It has a modular pluggable layout engine and supports vertical text, as well as supporting bi-directional layout. Overall, some issues remain – but overall Pango can handle most scripts already; if it cannot, modules can be built to handle new scripts as documented in Pango's reference manual.

See also: Category:Languages (international)


To share content and preserve cultural heritage OLPC's goal must be and is full coverage of all the world's languages. By using the Fontconfig system Linux has a better concept of language coverage of fonts than other systems. Fontconfig is used to configure the font system and determine what set of fonts are needed to cover a set of languages.

The formats of fonts supported on Linux include OpenType, TrueType and many others: see Freetype for details. Most of the font formats supported by Freetype are obsolete, and by far the best results on the screen will be had from OpenType and TrueType format fonts, particularly if they are hinted well. Type 1 fonts are useful primarily for printing; the renderer for Type1 fonts in Freetype we have today is not very good, and Type 1 does not support programmatic hinting for low resolution screens.

The OLPC XO-1 has a high resolution screen. High resolution helps OLPC considerably, particularly in grayscale mode at 200DPI. Wikipedia as usual, is a starting point for free fonts. "Font foundries" are companies who will contract to produce fonts.

See also: Category:Fonts, Fonts, HIG-The Sugar Interface/Text and Fonts

Free Fonts

Free fonts are available for most scripts in the world, though some fonts are licensed incorrectly for completely free redistribution.

Need for Screen Fonts

Applications and content should be usable on other screens everywhere, not just on OLPC's high resolution screen. Therefore the OLPC community needs to work together on extending the coverage of high quality screen fonts. The "DejaVu" font family (derived from Bitstream Vera) covers most Latin alphabets and some other languages. This family has in general good "hinting" for screen use. The Red Hat "Liberation" family recently became available to help substitute for the Microsoft family of fonts, but does not yet have very wide coverage.

SIL International also builds fonts for a number of additional languages of local interest.

Helping with these or other efforts to build fonts or to increase coverage of existing fonts is greatly appreciated. Pooling efforts on hinting glyphs, which is boring but important work, and/or donations and buyouts are also being investigated.


OLPC Keyboard layouts document OLPC's currently available keyboard layouts: further layouts are a modest amount of work if there are existing designs for those languages. People with local expertise will need to work with OLPC staff to generate new layouts.

See also: Category:Keyboard, HIG-Input Systems-Keyboard

Input Methods

An input method is software that allows typing of scripts with many more characters than keyboard keys. Examples include languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Free software systems now are using SCIM - Smart Common Input Method Platform. SCIM is replacing older input method systems.

Knowing what languages are taught as “foreign” languages, as well as are native in an area is needed to design keyboards that are most useful in each country. For example, the Nigerian keyboard is designed to allow easy entry of English, Hausa, and Yoruba, which are common languages in much of Nigeria. The "US/International" covers most of the western European languages.

Some issues remain in our base technology. For example: Arabic ligatures could present problems: by avoiding putting them on the keyboard we avoided the need for an input method. However, such workarounds may not be feasible for your language.

See also: Input methods, HIG-Input Systems

Accessibility and Usability

Speech Synthesis

Speech synthesis has a set of complex tradoffs of synthesizer size versus fidelity versus effort to localize a new language. See Speech synthesis.

See also Category:Accessibility

Music and Sound Samples

We want much more than dead white male western instruments for dead white male composers!

Clean samples of your musical instruments and music needed!

Samples need appropriate licensing terms.

See also TamTam: Sounds

Dictionaries and Spellcheckers

There is existing support for most major languages.

Spelling, Hyphenation, Thesaurus dictionaries may be needed for different parts of Linux, which may or may not apply to OLPC directly; for example you can check:

Of these, the first three are most immediately interesting to OLPC: we use versions of these codebases as part of the Sugar environment.

Character Recognition

Stroke/character recognizer localization is of some interest with the pen/tablet: in the future (Gen 2) when we have a touch screen they will become essential. xstroke is one such individual character/stroke recognizer, sufficient for alphabets of up to about 100 characters.


Current Shortcomings

There are some real shortcomings where help is needed. These include:

  • Non-Gregorian calendars
  • Non-Latin digits (Roozbeh Pournader has patches, but these are not yet integrated and may need help).
  • and the sheer scale of the localization problem will eventually require changes in free software projects.

Localization Techniques

It only takes a small team to localize Linux for a language: e.g. Welsh, Icelandic, which are relatively small languages, have been pretty fully localized by small teams.

You can do the work yourself, hire the work out, or find volunteers among universities (worldwide), the world wide internet and free software community. Add to existing projects whenever possible. By checking with some of the major free software projects (e.g. Gnome, OpenOffice, Mozilla, KDE), you can often locate people already at work in your language.

Work directly in the software and content projects whenever possible. This makes your work available worldwide, while lessens the ongoing work. If you keep your localization work local, others cannot benefit from your work and effort and your software and content will be that much harder to localize.


Some example tools include pootle, kbabel and rosetta. Most software uses the GNU “gettext” libraries and standard .po files, including Sugar; Firefox and OpenOffice have their own systems for historical reasons. Wordforge is a good place to get plugged into tools and the community efforts.

The cldr project is worth watching, though OpenOffice is the first major project using this.

Remember, contribute your translations to the “upstream” projects to minimize long term effort: share your work with the world. Do not presume that if one Linux distribution has your effort that you are finished; some Linux distributions are not good about working with the community that builds and distributes the original software.


Translated strings will often be useful among many projects, not just the the project you are working on translating, therefore, since the MIT/BSD (3 clause) licenses are usable by all projects, these are the safest licenses to use for translation to enable widest sharing.

The SIL OFL license recommended for Fonts. An often overlooked issue with fonts is that they are incorporated into documents themselves (for example, into PDF documents) and that therefore licensing needs to be considered carefully.

See also Software licensing

Next Steps

Localization is by nature local: but languages often cross borders. Please contact Jim Gettys and Mokurai to identify issues.

We need to identify people/organizations responsible for language, translation, keyboards, and speech synthesis, as well as effective free software community leaders to help with local deployment and "on the ground" knowledge.

Sugar Localization

Sugar and Sugar applications use standard .po files, and can be localized using the usual tools. Sugar_18n goes into the details of the localization process.

General GNU/Linux Localization

By looking at the gnome, mozilla, OpenOffice, KDE projects, you can get plugged into translating other GNU/Linux software of general interest.

Localization of Python

See Python i18n for details and a step-by-step example.

Current l10n projects

library exchange



The school server uses DansGuardian for web filtering. DansGuardian accomplishes filtering using keyword lists. These lists need to be translated.

See Also

Why localization is important?