5 Tips for developing a multi-lingual website

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Monique Rivers dives into the modern reality that great websites need to be multi-lingual and shares some of her tips in accomplishing that.

Even though English enjoys the reputation of a modern lingua franca, there are a number of good reasons for which you may want to address other than English audiences in their native tongues. The users’ greater trust in the information rendered in their own language, your respect for your client, or many users’ lack of command of the English language are only some of the reasons you should consider creating a multi-lingual website. If you already feel, though, that this might be easier said than done, take a look at the tips on multi-lingual web design below.

#1 – Provide quality translation

Although Google Translate button is certainly the fastest and least expensive way of translating your content into nearly every language, the disadvantages of this technology in multi-lingual design far outweigh its merits. If you are serious about your project, forget about using the button as it would result in low quality automated translations. Your website’s content should be translated by a professional, so do not turn up your nose at linguists and contract specialist translators. Not only will they ensure a native-like quality of your texts but they will also adopt the audience’s cultural perspective, rendering your content more targeted and persuasive.

#2 – Choose the languages and dialects

Establish which languages and dialects your audiences speak. If you simply aim at reaching as many users as possible, translate your content into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin and Arabic, to name the few most widely spoken languages. As far as the different dialects are concerned, it is a must that you adjust your translation to the dialect of English or Portuguese used by the target audience. Do it when you address your website to users from only one of the English or Portuguese speaking countries, though, and not when you write for all the communities speaking this language. If you address your service to the British, the Canadians, the Americans and the Australians, restrain yourself from going over the top and adapting content to each of the variations, as that may look artificial. From the psychological, political and cultural point of view, it is better to stress the unity of these nations rather than the differences between them. Apply these rules also to translating videos and audio content and have it recorded by the native speakers of particular dialects whenever possible.

#3 – Stay friends with SEO

While translating your website into different languages you need to adjust it not only to different users’ experience but also to the rules governing the SEO. If you want your website to be reached by native speakers of various languages, require that your translated content contains the key phrases they might be looking for. Make sure your translators are aware of and sensitive to this aspect. Moreover, also the links to pages in particular languages should be optimized and contain the language short names, e.g. en, fr, etc.

#4 – Account for the specificity of language scripts

The script of a particular language can seriously affect the page’s looks and arrangement. When translating content into languages that use other than Latin-based scripts, like Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, etc., you will usually need to increase the font size so that the characters are readable. Another aspect influencing the page’s layout is the reading/writing direction of a particular language. For example, while English is left-to-right written, Arabic reads from right to left. That means that the readers of Arabic are more used to seeing the most important information to the right of the screen, which is where you should place your logo or a purchase button. Also the horizontal menu bar should be rearranged while being translated from English to Arabic and certain other languages. Finally, the different lengths of particular expressions in various languages may require that you increase the size of the search button placed next to a shorter window of your search engine.

#5 – Tools for multilingual Web design

The best tool to translate your content into languages using different than Latin scripts is to employ Unicode. If you are working in HTML, another solution to typing your content in Chinese or Thai, is to use an editor equipped with multilingual support. Alternatively, you may use a word processor with multilingual support and save your files as HTML and with UTF-8 character encoding. In rare cases, when you only need to insert a single character, you may use its symbolic name and type it between an ampersand and a semicolon. This technique, however, would be much too time-consuming for typing all your content in a different script.

Concluding, while creating a multi-lingual website, bear in mind several pieces of advice. Ensure only quality translations performed by professionals to be certain that the texts address their audiences from their cultural perspective. Take into account the different dialects of particular languages and determine whether to translate your text into them as well. Make sure that your translated content stays optimized for native speakers’ searching habits, rearrange your webpages’ layouts if the particular languages’ scripts require this, and be aware of the HTML coding possibilities for multilingual design.

Monique Rivers is an Australian tech blogger who also loves good food and fashion. She works at ninefold.com. Ninefold is a powerful Ruby on Rails platform, that allows you to deploy Rails apps quickly and easily.

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1 thought on “5 Tips for developing a multi-lingual website”

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    Hi there, Guess what? English position, as a modern ‘ingua franca’ is about to disappear. Experts now predict that some time in 2015 the number of people using the web with the Chinese language will surpass the total number of people accessing it with English. I don’t mean Chinese will surpass the number of net users in the core English speaking countries; evidently Chinese users will be greater than all people using the net in English period, full stop. Best, Eric

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