Translating Telegram

Language is an integral part of design and should not be taken lightly.
We rely on volunteers for translations (as well as many other things), hence this guide.
You will find how to contact us at the end of the doc, but please read this thing first.

A need for beautiful translations

We‘ve worked pretty hard to make our English version as smooth in terms of language as possible. We’d love it to be just as smooth when it comes to localized versions, but — alas! — there are many languages out there and we don't know half of them. Well. Much less than half, in fact. Ok. Three! We know three… And to translate Telegram into the other 6,906 or so we need your help.

Telegram is not a commercial organization, so we rely on volunteers for many of the things we do — translations is one of them. So if you‘re a linguist, pro translator or language geek and would like to help us get closer to perfection, we’d be very grateful.

This style guide describes what we need from a translation. It‘s a bit more demanding that the usual ones, but we find all of this extremely important. Please contact us if you share our views — you’ll find all the relevant info below.

Style guide

As seen by the Telegram team, a good translation needs to be:

1. Consistent

All the same things need to have the same names everywhere. Not just inside one of the apps, but ideally on all platforms. Telegram features should have the same names on Android, iOS, WP, etc. For system features, use platform defaults.

2. Natural

Don‘t be a slave to the master language. Any interface is already a translation — a translation of the machine’s capabilities into human language. So don't translate the English language of the app, that would be a double translation, and you know how bad these usually are. Instead — describe in your language what the app can do.
But don't get carried away:

3. Default

It‘s no longer 2001 and our users have seen many other apps. It will be much easier for them to use Telegram if familiar concepts have familiar names here. Whenever you’re looking for a word, look at the defaults first: what does Apple use in this case? what does Google use? what do Telegram's main competitors in your region use?

4. Beautiful

Use good language, that would make the app look as if it was built in your region. Respect your language's grammar and style. Avoid abbreviations. Try to find ways around gender problems instead of going for things like o(a), etc. In most cases it's possible to find a way of saying anything without hurting the language. Sometimes you need to look to other strings and change them, for the problematic one to work.

An example: the German team couldn‘t make the secret chats description fit into the lines on an empty chat page. The English text says: ’A user has invited you to a secret chat. Secret chats:‘ then comes a list, and among the list items is this one: ’use end-to-end encryption‘. The maximum length for these list items is 25 characters. The problem with German is that the term for end-to-end encryption is ’Ende-zu-Ende Verschlüsselung‘ and is 28 characters long even without the ’use‘. An anglicized version would have been ’End-to-end Verschlüsselung' — and still too long at 26 characters.

The German team found a way around. They went and changed the first string, so that it now says ‘A user has invited you to an end-to-end encrypted secret chat. Secret chats:’ and then they came up with a new list item to replace the encryption that was moved to the top, where the length of the string would allow it.

5. And, yes, it must fit

This last one is a bitch and will cause you the most problems, as you've just seen above. But fit it must, hence a special note on


Typography

What we're looking for is not just linguistic, but also typographic and aesthetic correctness. The text is inseparable from design. Text is design and we need to make sure it works. So approach the text as a magazine editor would.

  1. Everything must fit into its allotted space. So always check in-app after editing. Strings that are too long will be automatically cut (Like thi…) or contracted (Li..is) — we can't allow this to happen. In other cases the text may flow over into the next line.
  2. Text must be kept from spreading over two lines where the original only had one line.
  3. Same with double lines, don‘t let them spread into triple lines. Although this is a less strict requirement — it isn’t too bad if you let the double-line descriptions in Settings become triple lined.
  4. But we must be consistent. If one element of a kind takes three lines, all other elements of the same type need to take three lines too.
  5. If you‘re going to talk to Markus about translations, don’t forget to tell him how many times the number 3 appears on this page. This may convice him that you‘ve actually read this text. And before you ask — no, this is not a joke. It’s a nasty trick we use to filter requests.
  6. We need to avoid hanging words — when there‘s just one or two words left on a new line. (Example: see the paragraph ’And, yes, it must fit‘ above. ’Special note on' is hanging).
  7. We need to avoid gaps in the text, for example when the top-right space is empty before the line-break. A good way of avoiding this is to use shorter words, so that they wrap easily. When short words are not an option, put your long ones at the beginning of the line, then add short words as padding.
  8. There will be times when making things fit will seem impossible. My experience shows that it never is. Several determined people focusing on a string and the strings around it will always find a solution after a few weeks, or even earlier. After all, it's just words.

Call this fascism, we call it language design. It takes a lot of effort, but it really makes you proud when you're done.


Applied typography

On the whole, we've worked hard to make the English version as typographically sound as possible. So as a rule of thumb, if your string is of the same length as the English one, it will fit well. If it is shorter — not too much of a problem, but beware of hanging words and gaps. Exactly two lines is always better than 1,5 or 1,2 lines.

iPhones are less permissive in terms of length due to their narrower screens, but bear in mind that earlier generation Android devices are just as narrow sometimes, or worse. So it is best, when your Android strings are not longer than the iOS ones.

I‘ve tried to include notes and character restrictions to the strings on Transifex where possible, but you should always check how things look like on your devices. And that’s about it.


How do I get in

If you think that Telegram in your language doesn‘t look at all like what you’ve just read above. And if what you‘ve just read above doesn’t fill you with supernatural fear, drop me a line at +4242 (four digits) in Telegram, I‘ll be more than happy to have a chat and add you to the translation teams (some of the translations were accepted early in the game by developers who weren’t quite looking at the quality, so yes, there may be a mess in the versions that do not come officially packaged with our apps). Please tell me a little about yourself, so that I know who you are, what you do, which devices you use — and that the app is in good hands. Also, include the tag #translation and a tag for your language (e.g. #dutch).

Let's bring perfection to localized versions of Telegram together.

Sincerely,
Markus Ra
Head of whatever
@telegram