Twitter has added functionality for right to left (RTL) languages such as Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic and Urdu – but how did they get it to work?

Rather amazingly, Twitter is now available in 28 world languages. Most recently, the social networking site added functionality for RTL languages such as Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic and Urdu. Unlike other languages, these in particular posed a problem for both Twitter’s translation and technical teams. For the first time, Twitter’s dedicated translation volunteers were required to work alongside the technology and design wizards to ensure full functionality for RTL languages, including the addition of hashtags (which before Monday were unavailable).

Laura Gomez, who manages Twitter’s translation and localization teams, talked to the LA Times about the challenges that this project brought:

How did you recruit the translation team?

Twitter is translated by a team of volunteers organized through the Twitter Translation Center. Anyone with a Twitter account can volunteer to be part of these groups of translators across the globe. Currently we have nearly 500,000 volunteers, and 13,000 of them helped make right-to-left languages a reality on Twitter. We also work closely with a select group of volunteer language moderators, who help us maintain the quality and accuracy of the translation.

Did they work off an English Twitter template?

The Twitter Translation Center is designed to help our volunteers translate English text and strings. We encourage them to use style guidelines, glossaries and other tools to create the best “Twitter” in their language.

The different language communities also learn from one another.  Some languages face similar challenges (pluralization, gender, grammar issues, etc). We constantly encourage translators to use informal language and familiar phrases to localize the site for their language and culture.

What exactly got translated?  Not actual tweets, right? My understanding is that people were already able to tweet in these languages, but now the framework of the site can be displayed in Urdu, Hebrew, Arabic and Farsi.

Correct. We translated the user Interface of Tweets were not translated. People could tweet in their languages before, however, these Tweets were aligned in the same way English Tweets are (from left to right).  Now they will read and behave correctly right to left.

Any interesting details you can tell me about the challenges of showing text right to left rather than left to right?

Prior to this launch, we couldn’t support hashtags in right-to-left (RTL) languages. We’ve added this support, as well as showing hashtags in search results.

The anatomy of a Tweet by nature can be complex since it often contains a mix of text, links and hashtags. Adding RTL to the mix raises its own technical and design challenges.  For this launch, we had to make a number of improvements to ensure Tweets look and behave correctly RTL.

If people were already able to tweet in these languages, how were they able to get the text to display right to left within the tweet?

We already supported the display of RTL Tweets.  Twitter detects when you’re using RTL script in your Tweet.

You can follow Twitter’s translation centre @Translation, and why not try typing in one of the RTL languages to see what it’s like? We did!