A Gentle Introduction

The purpose of this short guide is to offer a simple, practicle guide to getting started with Pootle. Pootle is a sophisticated piece of software whose purpose is to make translations easy. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that Pootle is much easier to use than any regular word processor. All you do is type your translation and press Ctrl+Enter. That’s it!

The following guide will take you step by step so you can get started.


Logging In

The first page you’ll see is a log-in page. Create your account. We'd prefer if you use your real name. And please use a strong and unique password to help us avoid getting hacked. Once you have done this, contact the SuttaCentral team at https://discourse.suttacentral.net/ and we’ll assign you the appropriate privileges.

Navigating your Project

The first page you see when you log in is the Projects page. (http://pootle.suttacentral.net/projects/) This is the Home page for the site. You can see a list of Projects. A project is simply a collection of texts for translation. So each project consists of a collection of source texts and (hopefully!) various translations.

Normally you’ll be working by translating all or part of a Project. For this tutorial, we’ll take the Therigatha (thig) as an example. This is part of the Khuddaka Nikaya (kn), so it belongs in that project. Click it!

  • Note: On Pootle we use the same system of abbreviations that we use on SuttaCentral. It’s helpful to get familiar with these.

The next page shows you the list of translations for that Project. Currently under kn we have an English translation. Click it!

Next you’ll see the list of texts to be translated. Currently it includes Theragatha (thag) and Therigatha (thig). Click thig.

Finally we see a list of actual texts. Here we can begin to translate. Above the list of files there’s a green button that says "View all". Click it!


Now we’re at the translation pane, and can start translating. Notice that the text is broken up into segments. In thig, each segment is a line of verse. In prose, we break the segments on major punctuation. You will translate segment by segment. Pootle will remember each segment you translate, and if you come to one that has already been translated, it will suggest it for you.

So begin by translating "Therigatha". I call it "Verses of the Senior Nuns". Write that in and press crtl+enter or use the green "Submit" button. That will submit your translation for that segment and move to the next segment. Congratulations, you’ve made your first translation on Pootle!

And that’s pretty much it.

Navigating on a Text Page

Pootle uses infinite scrolling, so the text will simply keep on going until the end. Normally you just go segment by segment, so you don't need to do anything else.

But sometimes you want to check a previous passage, etc. Pootle will display a certain number of segments by default. Scroll as normal to get to the top or bottom of these. To go further, just click near the top or bottom as appropriate and it will load more rows. Repeat as needed.

  • You can change this in settings. Go to your user name in the top right, and click settings. Adjust the number of rows as you see fit. More segments means you can move up and down more easily, but it requires more processing and rendering power. On a large screen, I use 30, for a small screen less would be fine.

There’s another useful trick for navigating. If you want to go further than just a few rows, you can go directly using the row numbers as found in the top right. It has a pair of numbers, something like 4 / 2433. That is, you’re on row four of 2433. If you want to jump somewhere in the middle of the text, just click on the first number, and write what you want there. (Hint: That’s the method I use to get back to where I left off last time when I start a new session.)

Translation Memory

As you continue, more and more previously translated segments will be suggested for you. This is called Translation Memory (TM). Note that these don’t just come from your project, but from any project. So if anyone has translated that Pali line previously, it will be suggested to you.

You don’t have to accept the suggestion, obviously, but usually it’s a good idea to do so, unless there’s some reason not to.

The suggestions are fuzzy, so it will suggest lines that are similar, but have changed grammar or other details. The differences between the current text and the suggested segment are highlighted, so take care to make any changes that are needed.

While this technique is very powerful, it’s not magic. It won’t keep track of every phrase that you translate, only ones that are segment-length. So you’ll still need to keep your terminology straight.

To see an example of TM in action, go down a few lines to “Namo tassa …” Pootle automatically suggests translations for this. (Actually they’re all the same, there’s just some trivial differences in the source files so it makes multiple suggestions.) Find the one that is right, and click it. Bingo!


Pootle has a powerful search engine, so use it. I use search all the time to help locate previously translated passages that escape the Translation Memory. In fact I use Pootle with two windows open on my screen all the time, one for translation, and one for search. (It’s a big screen!) For searching, best keep Pootle open at the Projects page to search all the projects at once. (For more on this, see the section on the hierarchy below.)

Normally Pootle will do fuzzy search, so you don’t have to write in the diacritical marks. It will show a list of segments with your search term.

This can be a very powerful technique. You can see at a glance all the times you've translated a particular word or phrase.

If you want to see more context for the search result, click on the result, which will open the segment. Then click again on the Unit number you’ll see in the black top bar of the segment. That will open up the whole text that contains the segment. Use the “back” button on your browser to get back to the main search results.

Navigate on a search page in the same way as a text page.

Pali Lookup

We have hacked Pootle to add a Pali lookup. This is similar to the one available on SuttaCentral, with some extras. For most terms it will show results from multiple dictionaries. It's pretty good at recognizing different forms and breaking up compounds, but it won't get everything.

You can train it. Hover above sammāsambuddhassa and it doesn't give a result. Click on the word, and a white box appears. Highlight to the start of the word and there are some suggested meanings. Click the “tick” for the right one. You can use this to assign multiple meanings for compounded words.

In future, this will appear for all users. Eventually we'll export it back to SuttaCentral, too!


Glossary of terms

Pootle provides a terminology feature. This suggests a list of regular renderings of technical terms. I have started compiling such a list, but I gave up. Basically I didn't find it to be useful. So while the terminology suggestions are still there, these are not up to date with my current renderings.

Other Features

Pootle has a number of other features which can be useful.

Under the text entry field there’s a few symbols. The useful one is the middle one for comments. This allows you to leave comments or notes for this entry. Use it to explain difficult or doubtful passages, give references to meanings for terms, and so on. I think of it as marginal notes to help subsequent translators understand why I made my choices.

From your User name, you can click on statistics, which will give you an overview of how much work you’ve actually done. This helps to keep you on track. I try to keep a target for each day (and usually fail!)

To the right of the text field there’s a “Needs work” button. Use this sparingly. Be decisive!

To the top right of the text field there are two functions. Rather confusingly, they have nothing to do with each other—but they are both useful! First is "Report a problem with this string". This sends an email to the Admin, which identifies the exact segment together with your comments. Very handy! Next to it is a small "copy" icon. This copies the literal content of the original string into the translation. This is very useful for things such as Pali names with diacriticals, or UI elements that contain code.

More on the Hierarchy

Note what you've done so far. You've navigated the hierarchical tree structure of Pootle to arrive at the actual files. Each file has the extension .po. This is the file format that we use for translation. Each po file corresponds with one text page on SuttaCentral, which is usually one sutta. All the higher level structures that we have navigated through are simply folders that are collections of po files.

While I have taken you through the simplest and most direct route to your text, this hierarchical structure means that you can navigate and start translating at any level, giving you a lot of flexibility.

Come back to the Project page. (Click on the Pootle icon at the top left.) Have a look at the navigations and functions bar, which we've mostly ignored so far. The first row gives some options for browsing. Then there's a line that indicates what's completed. Finally there's a search box, and the options “review suggestions”, “fix critical errors” (you can ignore these), and “view all”.

This bar remains the same for every level of every project. That means that at any level you can opt to “view all” or to search the texts at that level. On the Projects page, that means you will search or view all texts in all projects. If you click through to, say, Khuddaka Nikaya, you can view or search all texts at that level. And so on.

How you use this is entirely up to you. You can use it to limit your searches. For example, you might want to know how a particular term is used in the Khuddaka Nikaya only. Actually, however, it usually works the other way around. There you are, translating the Therigatha, and you want to search for a word. But if you search on the same page, it will only search in the Therigatha. Worse, you’ll lose your place in the text. This is why it’s best to have Pootle open in two windows or tabs, and keep your searches separate from your translation.

Incredibly Helpful Tip: edit with a good font!

Pootle will use your default sans-serif font, which on most systems is either Arial or Helvetica. This is bad. These are poor fonts for editorial work, as they fail to make elementary distinctions between letterforms. This is just asking for trouble. Look at these three glyphs: I, 1, l. Do they look similar? If so, change your font. I recommend Source Sans Pro for this kind of work. It’s beautifully designed, and clearly distinguishes between letterforms. Install it on your system and set it as your default browser sans-serif.

What Happens to the Translations

We put our Pali texts through a processor that prepares them for Pootle. When the translation is ready, the process is reversed, and we produce files that are ready for SuttaCentral. You don’t have to worry about this, it’s all automatic.

The files we make for SuttaCentral are simple, valid, semantic HTML. As well as being used for web pages, we can convert them to epubs for ereaders, and LaTeX to make PDFs for book printing. If you want to use the files in another way, just let us know.