WooCommerce in German: Seeking Support for the Translator Community


It really is obvious in the latest WooCommerce versions: The German translation is full of gaps and inconsistencies. How can that be improved? We spoke to software developer Jens Nachtigall, who is one of the people working as a pro bono translator for the community.

Note: The WooCommerce translation project now can be found at http://translate.wordpress.org/locale/de/default/wp-plugins/woocommerce (More background information can be found here). Anyone wanting to help is very welcome there. The challenges wee touched on in this interview still apply.

A team of pro bono helpers ensures that WooCommerce is translated into other languages How is that working out for the German version? Do you know the other translators and how do you communicate?

No, I don’t know the other translators. Unfortunately! The translation project is running on the Transifex platform. It is a web-based translation platform used for all WooCommerce languages, and it is quite popular in the Open Source translation community.

Basically, anyone can register and start translating immediately. There also are several roles available for quality assurance: Translator, Reviewer and Coordinator. Everyone starts as a translator. The reviewers can “review” existing translations, which means a second pair of eyes reads and corrects them.
German WooCommerce users keep finding inconsistently translated terms or phrases or that they differ from one version to the next, are not translated correctly or are missing altogether. How does that happen?

The fact that some translations are missing are simply down to the fact that none of the – much too few – translators got around to translate the section in time.

The lack in consistency has a different explanation. Here is an example: The term “sale” is used in a variety of contexts in WooCommerce, and has multiple meanings in the English original. A sale could be about “sales” or “turnover numbers” or it could be a product that is “a special offer”. Transifex – and other translation tools like Poedit aren’t any better – unfortunately only displays the sentence for translation, which means the context is missing. It gets really easy then to mix up “sales” and “special offer” products in the translation.

transifex dashboard
The Transifex dashboard shows the current status of the translation.

Another translator might even translate “Sale!” as “Promotion!” and not as “Special Offer!”, or could simply say “On Sale!”. Sometimes it can be simply a matter of style. So you see: the chaos is complete if everyone translates what they think is correct, and especially if the wrong meaning slips in there from time to time. I could name other examples as well: “rate” can mean the “tax rate” or the rating of products.
What do you think is needed to minimize these types of mistakes in future or to improve the translation process in future?

It helps to have the relevant page displaying the text open in the browser in front of you. German translations are as a rule longer than the English original – which means it also makes sense to have a look and see if the translation will fit into the layout. Of course it will take a bit longer this way, than simply translating one string after another.

Another problem is that we don’t have an actual active translator community. I mean active in the sense of the process you were talking about. Aside from my own self, there are four other reviewers, which aren’t getting very much done (or at least I don’t see much of it) – it is, after all, a question of time.

We are of course really happy about individual translators contributing their work – unfortunately, these translations are often not that great in terms of quality: On the one hand people don’t always check if a term was differently translated elsewhere, creating the “consistency” issue. And on the other, a lot of translations are done word for word and don’t reflect the actual meaning. The result will then sound pretty wooden. You’ll basically have a sentence with the English syntax using German words.
Who then could contribute towards a better German version? Where can people register?

Anybody can go right ahead and register with Transifex. It takes no more than two minutes and you’re ready to go. The point is that it is not really helpful to do a little bit here and there. The translator needs to develop a feeling for the translation, an overall understanding – again we are talking about “consistency”.
What linguistic or professional capabilities would be needed to contribute to the translation?

Jens Nachtigall
Jens Nachtigall
Well, obviously you would have to be fluent in English. But that alone is not enough. Translation is after all a recognized profession, which means that not everyone who speaks English will automatically be a good translator. But you can definitely learn!

It would be a definite plus to know what you are writing about, i.e. understand the functions of WooCommerce. And since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it wouldn’t hurt to know a thing or two about that too. One example:Here’s an example: I only recently noticed that you can “show” WooCommerce products, while you “view” pages or blog posts. And you also have the option of “displaying” them. Confusing!

I think it would be great if the WordPress translator community took on the WooCommerce translations. Since WordPress 4.3 there is an option to differentiate between the formal and informal German address. WooCommerce already has numerous translations in both the formal and informal sentence structures. These are, however, still completely independent of any WordPress settings, although it would be technically feasible to do an integration. But then that would be an issue for the software developers …
How much time should a translator be able to invest on a regular basis? Do you think some small bits of translation here and there would be helpful too, or would you then not have the necessary insight to use individual terminology consistently and logically?

A new WooCommerce version is released about every 6 months. That is when translations are needed – there really isn’t much to do in between. A team of four or five people, who all give between 4 and 8 hours for a release would make things real easy. It is definitely too much for just one person.

I would advise against doing small translations here and there. It really is not helpful, and especially not if these are done by newcomers. That can be different inf the person involved is experienced and knows the translation process.

Another option for participation could be a kind of sponsoring of the translation. In the German-speaking region alone are a few thousand online shops using WooCommerce. If just some of those – or some service providers who earn their money with these shops – got together, then it should not be a problem to pay a good translator. I am not sure exactly how that could be organized, but I thought I’d put the idea out there.
What was or is your own motivation for getting involved pro bono in the German WooCommerce version?

It all began with a Berlin-based coffee roasting company I knew needed a webshop translation in the informal language format. Back then, we had the WooCommerce-de plugin by David Decker, but we couldn’t really use it for technical reasons. Plus there already was a German translation available as an integral part of WooCommerce – albeit in the formal language format and in part of questionable quality.

The coffee roasting company claims were sustainability, transparency, direct trade, etc. It therefore became clear pretty quickly: If we went ahead and created an informal language format translation, then we would also correct all the existing errors in the formal version. Plus we would of course give the result back to the Open Source community. After all: we too were benefiting from WooCommerce. It turned out to be a lot more work than anticipated, but we thought it important to get it right.

What do you think would be the best way to optimize the translations, and how could more people be found to help? Could you imagine yourself being involved? It would be great to see a discussion of the future of German language versions of WooCommerce developing in the comments.

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Editor at MarketPress. Passionate blogger, corporate blog expert and book author (e.g. "Blog Boosting"). Co-organizer of WP Camp Berlin.

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