Multi-language (AR/EN) survey

Dear KoBo experts,
We are with a survey with EN and Arabic language. The questions (choices etc., asked to the respondent) will be translated, but the hints (for the enumerators), should always be in EN… It shows that 2 languages creates several challenges, esp. if you require a mix.

Based on hint example, we found out, that the FIRST Arabic (AR) language hint text will guide ALL ordering, i.e. (right-to-left or left-to-right. This first hint can be at any field (except calculate or metadata). If the first one is in AR, all the rest will be right-to-left. (In addition, it can be accompanied by a hint for EN.) But if the first AR hint is worded in EN, all the rest will be in EN order. (This is independent of the default language default in setting.)

We made examples in an XLSForm, if you like, just play around. You can change the hints for the first variable. Or delete it and play with re-ordering the sex questions. Only if sex01 (or sex05) is move at the beginning, all will be right-to-left

It would be great, if someone of the developer experts could look in the code, and explain how the system works here.

Our idea was, that (based on an EN version), only the parts which address the respondent should be translated in AR: labels of questions and choices. So, we wanted to keep the things more addressing the enumerator in EN, like entry, hints and messages (constraint, required). We know meanwhile how to control part of this (through the first hint), but there are disadvantages:

  • The entry will also change automatically to right-to-left, what is not comfortable for the enumerator (like 12- for -12 EN).
  • Translation must take care where ${VariableReference} or special formatting, esp. ) is used. Example: هل ${Name} أنثى أم ذكر؟
  • EN text can be used in AR hint column, but an ending dot (and other sign?) must be moved. So, string conversion would be needed in Excel, instead of simple copy reference.
  • We didn’t check how will the formatting will be in export to Excel/SPSS, for EN text/values entered in the AR widgets. Can you tell us more?

We would like to know, how other users managed the multi-language issues, and which advice can be given. I have seen a few fully translated KoBo surveys, e.g. EN and FR version (for different countries), what is another usage, as we have.
Test Hints AR.xlsx (18.7 KB)

Based on the recent tests, we will also think about other options, like only EN language, textually enhanced with AR text parts for labels and choices, like “ Female – أنثى , Male – ذكر “. So, everything, incl. entry, will be EN-ordered (left-to-right).

Finally, we found out, that it is the FIRST hint::language (or guidance_hint::language) text format (e.g. Arabic) which guides ALL formatting… See examples: xx Test AR Alignment NoSelectOption.xlsx (12.7 KB)

Kind regards

Hi @wroos!

Thanks for this research, that spared me hours of headache!

I can add something based on my experience with labels and hints mixing both English and Arabic characters in the same “language”:
Even if the first hint starts with Latin characters, the fact that it contains Arabic characters at any point will put all the form in right-to-left formatting!

Maybe what I am describing was caused by an update since your report?

We have enumerators speaking both languages and some prefer to see both languages at the same time, especially in Enketo with long scrolling single-page forms where switching the language requires a lot of scrolling. So we set an “English” language, an “Arabic” language and a “Mixed” language with both languages displayed at the same time with some separator (line break in questions or hints, “|” in choice options).

In “Mixed” language, we need to keep the first hint as English only if we don’t want all the form being right-to-left and all the Latin punctuation and line breaks being messed up. Curiously, when doing this and thus having the whole form in left-to-right format, Arabic punctuation, line breaks and numbers are not messed up.

Last detail: having the first hint containing only a blank space does not work; it needs actual letters or digits.


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Hi @freedim
Thank you so much for the update and the hints you sent along. We will see that this is added as part of the documentation.


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