What are multilingual sites?
Why so many languages?
Canada’s official languages are English and French but in reality many people also communicate and engage in other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Spanish and Punjabi, among others. For a business, this can provide a great opportunity to be more inclusive of specific target groups by catering to their language and culture. However, making information available in more than language can also be a challenge – you have to work with more content and figure out the best way to integrate it. Don’t forget the responsibility of expertly translating content into the other languages!
The “default” language used in Canada is English, but there are many websites such as new sources, government resources and sales listings that benefit from offering information in more than one language. With the progress of online tools, such as content management systems like Drupal, it is becoming less daunting to integrate several languages into a site. If you are considering adding multilingual functionality to your website, here are some things to consider.
Is the site multilingual or multi-regional?
Most companies that operate on a global or national level have multi-regional websites which direct customers to local information. Often, a customer has to select a region before even accessing the site. In such sites, the language changes depending on the region, but a person would have the option to change their language within the site. On the other hand, a multilingual site would only have several choices allowing you to change the language of a site regardless of the region.
Ask yourself: what are the languages?
The languages used may affect design and the framework used to build the website. The nature of the language plays a part as well; for example, are you dealing with a language that is written from right to left, in contrast with English? This may affect the navigation and layout of the website.
What is being translated?
If the whole site is being translated, you have to consider translating the interface and the content as different processes. Will the other languages offered have the exact same content or will it be edited? It is also good to think about how big the site is and how it will be updated. In the example below, the English site for Work Safe BC has a different layout than the options for the seven other langauges.
How are you building the site?
With the increased ease and accessibility of CMS frameworks like Drupal and WordPress, it is becoming the norm to create dynamic websites. When it comes to multilingual functionality, this means that it takes less time to create and maintain a site because the content can be pulled dynamically instead of being edited manually from static files. Additionally, it is good to consider how dynamic features will change in a different language: do you change the input language for forms? Do you translate ads?
There are many good reasons to have your website available in different languages, but it is important to consider how necessary it is and what support is available for multi-language features.