¿Hablas español?

Raise your

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

language version.

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).

For those

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
multilingual either.

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 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.


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.

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 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

me know!