You Got A Question? Ask    GNOME Community!

How To Start GNOME Apps In Different Languages

A common question would be, “why we should launch applications in different languages?”. I am sharing my story. I want to help GNOME Greek Translation Team, but my issue was that I never use a Greek Language Session, so how I can check the translations? Switching to English/Greek and back, won’t work for me.

But there is a faster way.

Where The Locales Are?

You have to know that GNOME (or any other such system) stores all the locales as part of your distro default installation. To try out a new locale you don’t need to download anything, you already have it.


The locales are under “/usr/share/locales” and they take around 600MB depending on how many applications you have installed. If you investigate the previous directory you will discover various “” files. .mo files are machine-depended binary files of .po files.

What .po Files Are?

.po files contain the translation strings of an application. For example, you can see the .po files of GNOME Control Center. The format is really simple and anyone can involve to the GNOME translations.

An example from Spanish Translations in Control Center is:

#. translators: This is the title of the wallpaper chooser dialog.
#: ../panels/background/cc-background-chooser-dialog.c:290
msgid "Select Background"
msgstr "Seleccionar fondo"

#: ../panels/background/cc-background-chooser-dialog.c:310
msgid "Wallpapers"
msgstr "Fondos de escritorio"

#: ../panels/background/cc-background-chooser-dialog.c:319
msgid "Pictures"
msgstr "Imágenes"

You just need to set the “msgstr” variable to an appropriate value for your language. Pretty easy, and pretty important to involve into this if you have the time.

Start An App in a Specific Language

Lets say we want to run GNOME Control Center in Chinese. We only need to set the $LANG environment variable to the locale of our preference.

$ LANG=zh_CN gnome-control-center


GNOME is being translated to 183 languages, but most of them are incomplete or some strings are translated wrong. You can easily change this!

Damned Lies

Damned Lies is the Web application used to manage the localisation (l10n) of the GNOME project. For the explanation of the name, and more you need to visit the About Section. If you want to get involved with the GNOME translation, you have to visit the “Get started with translating GNOME” page of “Get Involved” section.

I know that translating sounds boring ..and it is actually boring. On the other hand it is an easy thing to do. I mean why not? You will just spend a few minutes of your time and you will help other people to use and join free software.

  We can't watch comments unless G+ provides an API or if you send a notification, e.g +World Of Gnome
     Sometimes is better to place your questions on GNOME Community