Use primary language when translation isn't available


I have added some cascading selects to my survey for the districts and wards of Tanzania in five regions. The primary language of the survey is English but it is also available in Swahili.

When switching to Swahili, the choices for the cascading selections are blank because no translations have been specified. I need these to just take on the primary language value if they aren’t provided with an explicit translation.


Hello @Naledi ,
you can just copy the same label (EN) in the second ::language (Swahili) cell.
We use = Excel formula for this in XLSForm (Swahiili cell = EN cell content). So, we facilitate changes. You can work analog for messages, hints, question labels etc.
As far as I know, there is NO automatic reference option. So, if any languge cell is empty, you will see an empty line (choice, hint, message, question label).
Best regards and safe Easter

1 Like

Hello @wroos, thanks for your quick reply.
I have so far only worked with the Kobo Toolbox UI and haven’t ventured into XLSForm changes yet. I will look into this and see if I can make it work.

Did you manage to figure out how to work with XLS form? We have an article on the same here and this article will take you through an introduction on how to use xls forms



1 Like

Hello @Naledi
as KoBo translation issues are not trivial, I would like to share more hints.

[quote=“wroos, post:2, topic:8631”]
you can just copy the same LABEL (EN) in the second ::language (Swahili) cell.

All LABELS (questions, choice)) need a ::translation.

You can do this in KoBo Formbuilder (Enketo) also.
You just can’t use the = Excel advantage, so you have a real copy (to change if there is any text change in the original).
You surely know the Formbuilder translation table.

In this table you can copy from the original language (on the left). into the cell for the second language (on the right).

The option for XLSForm is easy: You just export the form as XLS and fill the translation columns in Excel, (using/copying = formula where ever you want the same text) and than re-import the file.

If you have defined more than one language, KoBo will automatically generate language columns for all LABELS (questions and choices). for each language in the XLS export and also in the translation table.

Be careful, when using = formula, Excel will put a 0 if the original cell is empty. (Just delete the zeros, or the =, or use a conditional copy formula).

Also all HINTS and GUIDANCE_Hints need translation. Otherwise they will appear empty. As far as I can see, hints and guidance_hints ::language items must (initially) be created in XLS, (at least as ::language columns), cannot be created directly in Formbuilder.

You can make ::language versions for all MESSAGES (required, constraint) and HINTS (hint, guidance_hint). But for messages you do not need to translate, KoBo will use the (same) …_message without ::language specification for all languages.

  • Different to labels, KoBo Formbuilder will not generate translation table items and ::language columns in XLS download for _message and guidance_hint automatically,
  • If you want to translate them, you first need to use XLSForm and change their column name to …::language and add a column for the 2nd ::language. And then re-import the XLSForm. (Even without 2nd ::language column added, after re-import those ::language items will appear in the translation table, and a 2nd column will be automatically be added in the next XLS download),
  • For (normal) HINTS there is a BUG, You need to use XLSForm here. (Bug post comes later). All messages and guidance_hint will be generated without ::language by default.
  • As far as I can see, a required_message can only be initiated in XLS (independent of the language issue).

Kind regards and healthy Easter


Thank you, yes, I was able to solve my problem this way.


Hi @Naledi , Kindly please assist. I have a form in English. I am unable to translate it to Swahili. Would you please share the process that works for you?

Hello @kulwa05,
did you go through the Help Centre articles, please

1 Like