¿Hablas español?

¿Hablas español?

Summary: Raise your hand if your website is multilingual. My guess is you probably do not have your hand raised right now. In fact, you are probably thinking that it is hard enough providing new services and maintaining existing English language websites with your staff and budget.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Browser
3

Raise your hand if your website is multilingual. My guess is you probably do not have your hand raised right now. In fact, you are probably thinking that it is hard enough providing new services and maintaining existing English language websites with your staff and budget, let alone having to maintain a foreign language version.

Yet if you look at population trends across the US you will find ever-increasing numbers of people who do not speak Engligh or speak it as a second language. Now I do not want to get into a debate over whether or not immigrants should be forced to learn English or whether creating alternative language web sites is "catering" to a particular population, but the fact of the matter is that many of our taxpaying citizens cannot take advantage of our web services because they cannot read English. (For the record, I, unfortunately do not speak Spanish, as my parents chose to stress English in the household as opposed to their native Spanish and German. Just in case someone thinks I am on a bully pulpit here).

For those organizations that have deemed it a good idea to do website translation, many have run into the same problems:

  1. Translation services are expensive. Particularly if you are going to keep your foreign language website as current as your English language web site.
  2. Translation software is not quite there yet and a great deal of information can get lost in translation or garbled by software translation tools. So much so that depending on them solely for translation is an invitation for embarrassment.
  3. There is often more than one predominant foreign language in an area that justifies translation, so which do you choose? (Go back to No. 1 (expensive!) if you are asking why you have to choose).
  4. Maintaining multiple websites is time-consuming and you are short-staffed as it is.
  5. Your web staff is not multilingual either.

So what is the answer here? How can we make our websites accessible to all who need our information, or at least open to those who speak major languages in the US? I wish I could tell you I had the answer. But I don't have one. However I do have some suggestions on how we can move in the right direction.

Here goes:

First, we need to decouple web design from content creation. In far too many organizations, these two concepts are synonymous. Our web sites need to be designed in such a manner that content in any language can be plugged in as an object and the site will maintain its look and feel.

Secondly, we can say the same for our web applications. Areas in applications that contain text should be variables that can be filled with the appropriate language text without breaking the application.

Thirdly, when making the decision to make your web site multilingual, it is not an all-or-none proposition. Take those areas that are most informative/valuable and make those your top priorities for translation.

Fourth, I think we are failing to take advantage of our high schools, community colleges and universities in regards to bilingual students who could, as part of internships or coursework, provide translation services for us.

Fifth, I think there is money going untapped to assist with foreign language translation; we just lack the resources to sit down and go looking for it.

Lastly, it has to be a priority of senior management for this to happen, or the foreign language constituency needs to be vocal enough to make it an issue for them - or it won't get done.

If this is not an issue for you now, it may very well become so in the near future. Doing some of the things above (such as decoupling content from design) makes for a better and more maintainable website in the present and gets us better prepared to go multilingual. If you are having success (or not) in any of these areas, I would like to hear about it as I have many eager colleagues that might be able to benefit from your experiences. If you have discovered the magic translation bullet, please let me know!

Topic: Browser

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

3 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Bilingual websites are tough.

    The article was fairly good. Food for thought for all us web-slinging webmasters. I'd add the important fact that we also should consider construction issues for the alternative browsers that are for users with challenges that many of us don't face. Put on a blindfold and navigate your website to "see" what I mean...

    We've built a number of English/Spanish websites (yes, I studied and speak Spanish). However, TOOLS are what were the killer problems for us when we were working on the sites.

    Few web-construction tools allowed me to work in the foreign language or with my Spanish keyboard. Often special foreign-language keys were stolen by the web-builder app for some rarely-used function. Some performed html-checking and disallowed (or even removed) legal codes for foreign characters...

    I've been thinking of making a Boy Scout site we host and maintain into a bilingual site - but I'll evaluate (and pay for) tools that make it less painful than in the past!

    If someone knows a good tool they'd recommend, make a post here for us all...
    scott@...
  • Business in Eglish

    I am very interested what you've said but I think business needs to be conducted in English. Though the influx of immagrantes has taken us by storm over the past 50 years or so, catering to their language isn't smart.
    badgertale
  • Global/Local Websites

    You did a good job of capturing the challenge. Having been involved in translating many business tools (documents, applications, and websites), I've always insisted to my management that they assign a person in the target market or country to review and approve my translations before I approve them for use.
    In the process I've developed several personal translation dictionaries for automotive, manufacturing, and financial industries. A useful translation dictionary would be one that would give precedence to how one selected one translation over the other so that if that word or phrase comes up later, the dictionary would know the preferred translation. The dictionary could become an 'intelligent' translator and 'learn' as you continued your translation. Those preferences could be saved as dictionaries for a particular customer or industry.
    Thanks for allowing reply and input.
    jmata01@...