Multilingual Web Sites That Work

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Multilingual Web Sites That Work


Post by McDanielCA »

Multilingual Web Sites That Work was originally posted on the main page of LDSTech. It was written by Tyler Dalton.


Is it really possible to create a usable multilingual Web site that works across a broad set of languages? This has been a great challenge for the Church as we try to ensure that Web content can reach the worldwide Church and not just a subset of those who can read English.


Developing a database-driven Web site that has many languages is fairly straightforward. The challenge is to make it friendly to all those languages. For example, compare an English Web page to a Hebrew or Arabic page. Everything flows in the opposite direction in Hebrew and Arabic, since these languages read from right to left. This alone breaks the structure or template of a page.

To resolve this problem, you can program the site to alter the CSS based on the language. One of the simplest ways to do this is by including the lang attribute on any elements that will be displayed differently by languages. The lang attribute allows language-based CSS changes. You can modify the direction (right to left vs. left to right) of text and move a left-floated navigation div to the right of the page. This requires time and some extra CSS code, but a dynamic and clearly designed site can deliver a message better than one that frustrates the user.

Dynamic vs. Easy-to-Translate Content

A second challenge is the fact that we like to make content dynamic. In our Web 2.0 world we like to make everything personable, causing our sentences and paragraphs to be broken into fragments that cannot be translated across languages. Imagine just the code “Welcome ” + name + “ to the ” + section + “ of our site.” If “name” and “section” are replacement variables, the translation in many languages would not fit the sentence structure and is therefore useless.
This challenge is tough because you can lose a more personable experience for a better translation. One option is to make sure to use full sentences without replacement variables so that translation can occur. This seems to sacrifice the personal experience however.

Search Engine Optimization

Who manages all this content? And how do we optimize it for a search engine? Search engine optimization (SEO) also has to be configured in the correct languages, and what works for one language may not translate into or work for another. International keywords may be different than just translating an English set of keywords. Do we need a language content editor for every language our site has to maintain?

While you can get a close fit when it comes to search engine optimization and translated content, nothing currently is better than a little manual intervention. For example, Google Translate is a tool that allows you to translate any site on the fly, but the context is seldom correct. While the message may get across, it may not come very clearly.

It should be clear to us, as an international organization, that every language and culture is different. If we want to reach users in the most comfortable way, then we need to make sure the content conveys the right message and is easy to find. Therefore, some manual intervention is necessary to make sure the right pages get into the right search results. Manual intervention may include writing code to affect search engine optimization. We can also keep the translated pages more dynamic and engaging by using human editors to keep content fresh and personal.


I believe it is possible to reach all nations and languages through one Web site in a way that the message of the restored gospel can clearly be understood.

Please share your thoughts regarding challenges and solutions related to multilingual sites.

Tyler Dalton is an engineer for the Church.
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Post by zulugrid »

Another big struggle I've faced when creating multilingual websites is that some languages, like German, take a LOT more space than the equivalent English. This can break a lot of layouts that are expecting certain words, phrases, or labels to take up a certain amount of space.

The other issue with German (and potentially other languages?) is that they sometimes combine a few words into one giant word. For example, according to my translator "Social Security Number" translates to "Sozialversicherungsnummer". If the layout only has enough room for "Social Security" on one line and drops "Number" to the next line, then it will be unable to handle the no-spaces German version.
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Have you looked at Spring?


Post by bsara-p40 »

In regards to "Dynamic vs. Easy-to-Translate Content":
I may not be remembering correctly, but some time ago I worked on a jsp project that used the Spring Framework we had functionality for translating our site into other languages...and it worked quite well. Spring uses properties files to translate pages, inside these files you have the equivalent of a map for all translations. It allows you to insert other values in the middle of the text where ever you like as well.

Example of properties file information:
helloUserHowAreYou=Hola {0} como estas?
cityState=Ciudad: {0}, Estado: {1}

Of course, your variables/inserted text will be inserted in the same as order as it's sent (just like any method/function). Now, like I said "if I remember correctly"...I probably should've gone back and verified this...but I think it may still be a good approach.
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Post by marianomarini »

I would show another point of view.
All the above considerations have, as background, a centralized model.
One site, One Content Manager, ecc.
This way, searching for an "automatic" translation became a mandatory choice.
Against such a point of view there is a complex aspects of human life (expecialy language!) that change in time. Words no more used, changing in meaning, ecc.
I think would be better consider other aspects of the problem.
Decreasing resorces and bandwich! Reduce server blackout, ecc.
Instead of expulsing human beings from the process let them be more involved in number and skill through volonteer basis.
This mean have a good human network instead of good tech-tools., and I think this is not a bad thing!
La vita è una lezione interminabile di umiltà (Anonimo).
Life is a endless lesson of humility (Anonimous).
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Post by MayaML »

When translating int o finnish... you need to be careful with endings = prepositions. I translated a discusition site and problem is that you can say (from X) Liisalta, but not Mikaellta you need an i in between; Mikaelilta :p
Good luck in translation work... "Social securitu number" sosiaaliturvatunnus (heh shorter than in Gernamy) "also in his social Sc. No"; sosiaaliturvatunnuksessansakin (heh I won!) :D
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Re: Multilingual Web Sites That Work


Post by aaronandrewtjomsland »

I suggest we start with English. Our web pages are not optimized for the key phrases people are typing right now. Example: "what is faith" is searched 22,000 times each month and our page has not optimized the on page content or url structure to be positioned as the first search result. Our page shows this instead of and our content likewise so the result is a search result half way down the page that nobody outside our church reads.

This adjustment toward a focus on optimizing for what people are searching for just might be the biggest spike in missionary work the church has yet to experience.
Aaron Tjomsland

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