Categories: Languages & Cultures

Awesome l10n contributor: Ibrahima Saar

Part of a series similar to the Awesome L10n Communities series where individual contributors are spotlighted for their efforts.


Started with Mozilla project: Firefox
Nationality: Senegalese/Mauritanian
Languages: Fulah (Pulaar-Fulfulde), Wolof, Arabic, Soninke, French, English, Spanish, survival Italian
Background: I studied Applied Linguistics, Language  Teaching Methodology, Translation and CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) at Moray House College in Edinburgh, Scotland.

My team and I have been involved in Fulah translation and localization as well as promoting the language on the Internet ( In 2009, I led the Fulah teams on the 100 locales program and successfully completed the work for locales for Fulah_sn, Fulah_mr, and Fulah_gn. I also created most Fulah terminology for ICT, especially Firefox terminology.  Fulah is not a well-resourced language and almost everything had to be created from scratch. But we have implemented a method of creating terminology that respects consistency and coherence.

I started translating Joomla and other open source CMSs. Then I discovered Tuxpaint and started translation with PoEdit. In 2009 I completed the Fulah part of the “locales for 100 African languages” project. I was also involved in translation of Pootle’s basic terminology and Pootle server into Fulah.

Our biggest achievement yet is the localization of Firefox in Fulah which is released this summer (2012).

I have worked extensively on font creation, keyboard layouts creation and I am planning to build a  physical “pan-Senegalese/Mauritanian” keyboard usable to type Fulah,  Wolof, Soninke, Sereer. I speak, read and write English, French, Fulah (Pulaar-Fulfulde) Mauritanian Arabic, and Wolof. I read and write Spanish, some Italian and Arabic.

I like web and graphics design and when I have time, I write news articles for my website in Fulah (, the first website ever in the Fulah language and the most visited. I use the Internet daily as administrator of two websites and a community blog and my personal blog, all of these dedicated to the Fulah language and culture.

Role in L10n community:
Fulah localisation team lead and major contributor (95% of Firefox). SUMO contributor and KB l10n. Created most of Fulah Internet and IT terminology from scratch.

Projects you’re currently working on:
Firefox, SUMO KB, “50 videos for mastering Firefox in Fulah”, Firefox OS localization (unofficially).

How did you get started with the Mozilla project?

I usually say I have been a localizer ever since because as a kid (from 8/9), I used to translate letters written in French for Fulah speakers who are illiterate. But I started the Firefox project with ANLOC (African Network for Localization). After successfully completing the localization of many other projects like TuxPaint, Abiword, Virtaal and Pootle, Dwayne Bailey from proposed to localize Firefox. We could not believe it since I have always been a true believer in open source but also a user of Firefox since early releases.

I was not afraid of big projects, so I tried to get a few people from Fulah communities together to start working, but many were either not motivated or have not enough knowledge of IT. Since 95% of IT related terminology had yet to be created, I thought I would start the work and show people that nothing is impossible. It is only when the first early screenshots of the Firefox interface in Fulah were published that many joined. Dwayne created language packs so we could test our Firefox locally, and that has definitely triggered major interest in the Fulah community.

What tips or tricks do you use for overcoming blocks and bugs in your L10n work?

As I mentioned earlier, we had a real chance to have Dwayne Bailey helping out should we have any issues to deal with, and it is Dwayne who runs and manages the Pootle server we are using for the localization work. Pootle has fantastic built-in features for checking errors, bugs and other terminology related issues. With the translation memory, it is a lot easier to manage terminology consistency and Pootle does that really well.

So I would say that Dwayne’s help has been crucial and I learned a lot from him and also Friedel Wolff, one of the authors of Virtaal.

How do you help your team find new L10n contributors?

Fulah has a huge contributor potential because we are very “language conscious” people. Many Fulah people living in those twenty countries have strong feelings about being a Fulah, and the language is what makes us feel we belong the same people, although we are nationals of many countries.

Unfortunately, the Internet is the only way we can communicate and that is not yet considered as “real.” You have to meet people in person, convince them to work as volunteers, then train them to use all these tools. Recruiting is quite easy, but most who are really fluent in Fulah are not necessarily motivated to spend hours working for free! Or they just cannot access the Internet at home or maybe just don’t have a personal computer.

I am planning a number of l10n workshops in France, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania to trains SUMO volunteers. Most of the potential and actual contributors live in Africa. So it is not very efficient to just use email as it is too “unreal” and distant to get people to really feel they are involved. I hope Mozilla will help achieve this. Basically, contributors are there but you have to reach out to them in a more humanized manner to motivate them even more.

What’s your philosophy/method on mentoring new contributors?

Usually those who are involved already know me from other contributions to Fulah digitization, codification and promotion. So it is usually an honor for them when I contact them to ask them to work for Firefox. But again in my culture, you really need to meet people to establish a real contact and show them you are there to help, train, and support.

But I must say it is very hard to get people to work for free when they are struggling to make ends meet. So [I try] to have a personal relationship with them, [which usually leads to us] becoming friends. I call them quite often and not only to talk about contributing. That is the best way of having them around even when they are not really contributing.

But the most efficient way of mentoring them is to show them that they can do things and that they should not be afraid of all these tech terms they are not very familiar with. They can call me, invite me to talk on Skype, or post on my Facebook wall.

Since people are working as volunteers, you need to constantly make them feel they are actually making a difference no matter how much they contribute.

If you could identify several best practices that have helped you to become a successful Mozilla localizer, what would they be?

I think my personal motivation helped me a good deal in going ahead with the Mozilla project. So to keep motivation at a satisfactory level, it is important to adopt a effective strategy to make the work less tedious. As for Fulah, I could certainly not have been so successful [had I] not used Pootle server and Virtaal (translation editor).

Since Virtaal is an offline editor, I used it for translating .po files then checking errors offline before uploading to the server (Pootle). Then we can use Pootle to make the usual checks. So Pootle and Virtaal are really efficient tools that allow you to adopt a workflow that makes the task less scary.

As a team lead, I worked very hard to complete the biggest files to motivate others. So being the biggest contributor is also a good way of boosting others’ motivation.
Finally, in any type of work, being organized is a key strategy. When you start a huge project like Firefox l10n, you live in doubt whether you are fit for the job or not. You think you will never finish and soon wonder if it is worth carrying on something that will never end. What I believe is you have to fit the project into your everyday life.

  • Start with biggest files/folders (things become easier and easier…).
  • Work at regular times.
  • Discuss issues on a daily basis with other contributors.
  • Use a mailing list to communicate daily.
  • If you can, meet on Skype regularly and encourage each other.
  • After release, translate updates the day you are notified, don’t postpone.

These are just what worked for me and I hope it will help others to start, complete or update their localization. And I one day, I got this message from Milos Dinic:

Thanks folks,
I just want to say we’re happy how things are evolving and that Fulah is one of the very few locales that we’re releasing in one train (started in aurora with Firefox 14, moved to beta in Firefox 14, and releasing in Firefox 14).
So, yes, we’re releasing Firefox in Fulah in this cycle, and I’ll close the tracking bug past the release (July 14).
Keep up the good work!

These are the most beautiful words I have heard recently and I was speechless when I read that jaw-dropping news that drove me to tears.

What are you most looking forward to accomplishing this year?

Since we have completed Firefox with such efficiency, my objective this year and in 2013 is to hold talks and organize workshops in Africa to recruit dozens of contributors  and spread the word about Firefox and Mozilla products.

I’d like to do so by attending major cultural events like the Blues du Fleuve festival which is organized by Senegalese world music superstar Baaba Maal, humanitarian activist and Global Ambassador for OXFAM ( or the Water Festival in the same region.

What projects are you most looking forward to working on this year?

Good question! Firefox OS!! Localization for Firefox OS is something that I am ready for and jsut too excited about. You know for a people that are divided into 20 countries, life is the web and the web in African is mobile, and mobile it will remain. So Mozilla you know what’s next now… 😉

Five things you may not know about me:

  1.  Because of my commitment to making Fulah a fully digitized language, many call me “tear wiper.” 😉
  2. At the age of eight, I walked 5 kilometers (there and back) a day to go to school from my uncle’s home (did that for 2 years). On Saturdays, another 11 kilometers back to my parents’ village where there were only 2 classrooms! And back on Sunday to my uncle’s who lived “only” 5 km away from my school.
  3. I am a weird ambidextrous (left and right handed) but I am also able to write in both directions with either hands. That’s not all: I can write simultaneously with both hands, in opposite directions but it has to be the same text!
  4. I am a freelance journalist writing news articles in Fulah for my website
  5. I am a veteran Flight Simulator enthusiast and have been flying hardcore for many years. Just love aeronautics, flying, planes, airports, etc.

2 comments on “Awesome l10n contributor: Ibrahima Saar”

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  1. Carmen Vega Reina wrote on

    Awesome Ibrahima for your contributions to Fulah language and people awareness in the world. I am impressed with your valuable work.


  2. Angie wrote on

    Please contact me if you are interested in a translator job for Soninke, Puular and Wolof.


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