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Building a Multi-language Website

By Townes Haas   |    January 11, 2017   |    11:35 AM


Building a successful multi-language website requires more than simply translating your current site. Here are considerations and steps to properly implement multiple languages.

Nowadays, having a multi-language website is key for any startup that wants to promote its products and services beyond local markets. After all, English may be a popular language, but there are well over 6,900 other languages! Chinese is the most widely spoken language of these. Although embedding the Google translate widget in your website is an easy free solution, the tool only provides basic translation and often makes mistakes. This can make your startup look unprofessional. Furthermore, translating articles is only one part of the process. Creating content in several languages adds additional complex layers when it comes to web design.  Here is the best way to go about building a multi-language website.

First, get your content translated. 

You might use a tool to translate the initial text but you will need the human touch to perfect your content. Automated tools simply are not advanced enough to understand the subtle nuances of language. It is best to hire an agency to translate from scratch or if you did use an app to translate your information, hire an editor to clean up your content.

Second of all, present your options visibly and logically. 

Your multilingual website will be ineffective without a clearly depicted mode of changing languages. The best method is to offer a dropdown menu ordered alphabetically. This should be situated at the top of the page, the top-right is the most intuitive place. You need to ensure that the dropdown is large enough that it is easy to see and obviously clickable.

Thirdly, you need to use a comprehensive method to indicate the language options on your startup's website.

Although some sites use flags to indicate a language, this is not the best means. Flags symbolize countries, not languages. Some countries have many official languages. Likewise, a language may be used in more than one country. It’s paramount to indicate language options in the language itself, for example ‘Français’ not ‘French’.

Adopting a tool that detects the default browser's language is a good idea. If you use some savvy widgets, it will be possible for you to identify the user’s language and automatically show the page in the user’s preferred language. You should still keep the dropdown menu visible, in case the user wishes to browse in another language.

Typographic, design and content considerations are vital to take into account. As a startup offering content in foreign languages your website needs to be built with the correct encoding to support non-English characters.  This also means choosing a font that contains the characters, accents and glyphs you need. It is vital to check lay out in all languages before you publish the site. Some languages feature very long words and may take up a lot of space on the page altering your site's look and feel. For example, the button ‘add to cart’ in German is ‘in den Warenkorb legen' however some sites just use 'in den Warenkorb' to avoid the more lengthy phrase. These are all things you will have to take into consideration.