Reflections on my time in Lima

This week I returned from Lima, Peru, where we held a localization hackathon and invited active members of the Mozilla localization community in Latin America to attend. Being in Lima with these Mozillians was like getting together with a group of old friends, even though I was meeting some of them in person for the first time. We laughed, we joked, we had deep discussions, and best of all, we worked. We translated strings, reorganized community translation workflows, tested localized versions of Firefox, and planned for upcoming releases of new localizations. It was maravilloso!

Latin America holds a very special place in my heart, as with other regions of the world that I’m regularly involved in. Being a Spanish-speaker, the more I’ve learned about the cultures of Latin America, the more endeared the region is to me. I do whatever I can to help and mentor the localization communities within the region. I visit whenever possible, translate projects when needed for both Mozilla and other open source projects (sorry Fuser, I’m part of the reason there’s never anything to translate for the es-MX iOS project ;-) ). I also recruit new volunteers for Mozilla l10n communities in LATAM and work to improve my cultural understanding of the region as a whole and as individual areas by maintaining my Spanish, learning Brazilian Portuguese, and reading A LOT.

Part of my responsibilities in mentoring localization communities, especially if you’re looking at it from a region-by-region perspective, is to bootstrap new localizations of Firefox. What does that mean? It means that when a new language community comes on the scene and announces their intentions to launch Firefox in their language, I mentor them through the process and help them get up-and-running as quickly as possible. I file bugs, I track and measure progress, I answer questions and market their work, I help them create translation resources (e.g., style guides, glossaries, etc.).

For years, a group within Mozilla known has Mozilla Nativo has been working to bootstrap localizations of Firefox for Android into languages within Latin America with little-to-no standardization or resources. These are languages like Zapoteco, Maya Kaqchikel, Purépecha, Guaraní, and others. They rely on using Spanish as their source language, since many of them do not understand English. The lack of standardization and resources makes software localization into these languages extremely difficult. Not only do Mozillians need to translate technical terms into the equivalent in their language, but often they’re coining new terms for those languages. If you’re curious about how a volunteer community does that, read the piece The Economist published about it and listen to my interview with Ibrahima Sarr, Fulah localizer extraordinaire.

This week I took a look at past Firefox l10n tracking bugs to see where old l10n efforts fell flat. I was curious to learn if some of these Mozilla Nativo languages had been attempted before. It was very interesting to read about efforts from 5-8 years ago within bugzilla. I found bugs for Zapoteco, Cherokee, Quechua, Manx Gaelic, and even Latin, Lojban, and Pirate (yep, you read that right, Pirate). I found it not only amusing but even fun to read through comments from my current co-workers about why some localization communites were successful and launched Firefox in their languages and why others were not.

Sometimes these efforts fall flat. Localizing Firefox from scratch is not an easy task. It requires a particular disposition and a wide skill set. If I could distill the what it takes to complete a new localization of Firefox down to two primary elements, I would say that it takes a self-driven desire to learn and the determination to see a project through to the end. You don’t have to be technically inclined when you start out, but by the time you’re done, you should be. You don’t have to start as an amazing translator, but by the time you’re done, you should be.

Sometimes these efforts a successful. When they are, they benefit that area of humanity who needs to have the Web available to them in a language they understand. They not only need Web content in their language, but they need a browser that helps them understand how the open Web works and fights to preserve it. Nearly 90 localizations of Firefox have been successful in breaking down that language barrier, and behind each of them has been at least one person who wasn’t afraid to learn something new and was driven to complete what they’d started.

Back to Lima, while there we had members of the Guaraní, Zapoteco, and Maya Kaqchikel localization communities present. Guaraní (both Bolivian and Paraguayan) are working hard to launch their first ever localizations of Firefox desktop. Zapoteco is closing in on Firefox OS. Maya Kaqchikel has testing builds of Firefox for Android publicly available via FTP. Each of these communities has at least one person who fits the my distilled profile of a successful localization bootstrapper: they’re driven to learn and determined to see these projects through to launch and beyond. In Lima, it was fantastic to hear insights from the experience communities as well, like Brazilian Portuguese, Mexican Spanish, Chilean Spanish, Argentine Spanish, and Esperanto. Each has passed through the bootstrapping phase the new communities are currently in the thick of. Each experienced community is now regularly releasing localizations of Firefox that contribute to helping people in their parts of the world access the Web in a language they understand. It was impressive to see these experienced communities discuss their successes, their tips, their challenges, and be exemplary communities to the new localizers in the room. I’m really lucky to get to know such great groups of people :-)


The Mozilla LATAM localization and QA communities from our hackathon in Lima, Peru. Thanks to Juan Eladio Sánchez for the fantastic group photo.

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