hand if your web site is multi-lingual.
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
web sites with your staff and budget, let alone have to maintain a foreign
Yet if you
look at population trends across the US you will find an ever increasing
non-English speaking or English as a second language population than ever before. 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 tax paying 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 Spanish or German which was native to them just in case someone thinks I
am on a bully pulpit here).
organizations that have deemed it a good idea to do web site translation, many
have run into the same problems:
Translation services are expensive.
Particularly if you are going to keep your foreign language web site 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 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 the expensive part 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
So what is
the answer here? How can we solve the
problem of having our website magically become the tower of Babel or the
universal translator open to all who may come to read or interact with
it? I wish I could tell you I had the
answer. But I dont have one. However I do have some suggestions on how we
can move in the right direction.
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.
we can say the same for our web applications.
Areas in these applications which contain text should be variables that
can be filled with the appropriate language text without breaking the
when making the decision to make your web site multi-lingual, it is not an all
or none proposition. Take those areas
that are most informative/valuable and start with those when determining cost
to do the work.
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.
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.
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 wont 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 web
site in the present and gets us better prepared to go multi-lingual. 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