My first project with CiviCRM goes back to 2006, when I had to deploy a solution to track and report the activities of 25 volunteer activity centers. It ran a beta version of CiviCRM 1.7. It was rather basic, the implementation had a lot of custom code, but it worked. There were a few issues, however, and one of them was that the French translation was incomplete.
Other people had already done a good part of the translation, and most of the tools to improve it were easily accessible. The online tool made it easy to improve the translation in a sustainable way for both my users and for the CiviCRM community, and I was impressed by the responsiveness of the CiviCRM community.
To my surprise, I was later invited by the CiviCRM team to a translation sprint in California in April 2010. Having had contact with CiviCRM developers mostly through IRC and the forums, I had no idea what to expect. A week of "camping" out with other developers, what if it's not the right place for me? However, I was amazed. It was a great opportunity to learn on many topics related to CiviCRM, how the internals work, asking tons of questions to other developers and providing feedback on newly developed features.
I probably did not contribute much at that first sprint, but it made it possible to understand better how translation works technically and how the CiviCRM community works and communicates. I slowly became more involved in the maintenance of what is called internationalization and localization (the software equivalent of "think globally, act locally"). At times it can be hard to find enough time to keep up, but the more I can follow CiviCRM development, the better I can help in providing an efficient long-term solution for my clients.
Today, many more have joined this effort (the list of people to thank would be quite long!). Presentations at CiviCons and recent sprints have helped to get feedback on what to prioritize. With many translations now at 100% completion, we are constantly looking for ways to improve the quality and make CiviCRM shine as a quality and reliable tool (a bad translation can really affect the perception of the users).
Want to get involved? There is an internationalization and localization section on the CiviCRM forum. We have also recently revived the internationalization mailing-list (for discussions on new features and planning). You can also find more references on the wiki section for internationalization.
Local CiviCRM meetups have also been a great way to get more feedback and new people involved in the community. Don't forget to check if there is an event near you on CiviDay 2014, and if not, why not organize one? Meetups are, in my opinion, perhaps the best way to overcome the initial barrier when diving into a large project such as CiviCRM. You can join me in Montreal if you happen to be around.