We investigate the chemical abundances of local star-forming galaxies which cause damped Lyman alpha lines. A metallicity versus redshift diagram was constructed, on which the chemical abundances of low-redshift star-forming galaxy populations are compared with those of high-redshift damped Lyman alpha systems. We discuss two types of experiments on individual star-forming galaxies. In the first, the damped Lyman alpha line is created against an internal ultraviolet light source generated by a star-forming cluster or a supernova explosion. In the second, the damped Lyman alpha line is seen against a background quasar. The metallicities measured from ionised gas in the star-forming regions, and neutral gas in the damped Lyman alpha systems, are compared with one another on a case-by-case basis. We highlight the occurrence of the star-forming galaxy/quasar pair SBS 1543+593/HS 1543+5921, where the emission- and absorption-line derived abundances give the same result. We argue that we therefore can in principle interpret damped Lyman alpha system metallicities as an extension of star-forming galaxy metallicities to higher redshifts, supporting the idea that gas-rich galaxies had lower chemical abundances when they were younger.