One, two, short, long

How do you translate most quickly for the biggest impact? If you look at a GUI application you will notice that most strings are relatively short. Menu items are between one and three words long. Error messages are more descriptive at perhaps 5-10 words. So in general the items that users see in normal operation are relatively short.

Therefore, if you can initially focus your translation on the short strings then you can make a quick visual impact. Afterwards you can follow up with longer and longer strings until the application is fully translated.


The problem with this method is that you lose context in that you are not sure in what situation the single word string was used. Did “Manual” mean “configure manually” or the “operations manual”.

Using pogrep to select messages

Use pogrep to extract messages that are a certain number of words long:

pogrep --search=msgid -e '^\w+(\s+\w+){0,3}$' -i templates -o short-words

This will extract between 1 and 4 words from templates and place them in short-words. Once these strings have been translated you would use pomerge to combine them with the full PO file.

Use the following regex’s to extract specific word counts:

Words Regex
1 "^\w+$"
2 "^\w+\s+\w+$"
3 "^\w+(\s+\w+){2}$"
4 "^\w+(\s+\w+){4}$"
1-4 "^\w+(\s+\w+){0,4}$"

Another way might be to look at all messages shorter than a certain number of characters:

pogrep --search=msgid -e '^.*{,30}$' -i complete -o short

This will extract messages that are up to 30 charactes long, but not longer than that from complete and place them in short. Once these strings have been translated you would use pomerge to combine them with the complete PO file(s). This way it is sometimes possible to translate more than 60% of the messages by translating less than 40% of the words. Use pocount to see how much work has been isolated by pogrep – this will help you to plan your time.

Example of the potential impact

As an example Mozilla 1.7.3 contains 32217 words for translation. However, breaking it down into the number of words in short strings you get the following:

Words Word Count
1 1853
2 1774
3 1371
4 796

Or in total 5794 words, which is 17% of the original total.