Considerations when building a multilingual website
Especially in Wales, building a bilingual website can have many more considerations than you first think. We are going to brush over a few things for you to think about when planning a build.
A multilingual website will need a switch to move between languages and is usually done using a small language toggle. There are a few things to consider when planning this toggle.
Must switch to the same page
The switch should happen between the same pages, and those pages should not be different to each other. Defaulting to the home screen first should not be happening.
When you only have two languages, a single click function should be used to switch. It will switch the page to the other language once pressed.
If you have more than one language, then a drop down can be used. But, the single click function is the best approach if possible.
Use a clear Toggle
The toggle needs to be obvious on the page on all devices. The standard location is on the navigation on the top of the page.
A common error is to hide the language toggle in the menu section on a mobile device. This means that a user will have to click twice to change a language which is not as accessible.
Don’t use flags to represent languages. Always use text references (e.g. Cymraeg/Français) to avoid being politically unsensitive. The user will not be confused as they will identify the name of the language they need. This is a common approach these days.
URLs can be tricky and are often left until the last moment to discuss – usually when it’s too late. URLs will need to exist in all your different languages.
Having a single URL (e.g. a brand name) allows you to keep the URL the same in all languages. But, always make sure the slug of your URL changes to reflect the language. Do not try and add a language tag (e.g. “/lang2”) to make it different. They need to exist separately.
When you have more than one URL, you will need to make sure your domains are also changed. Examples of this may be Governments of Public establishments where there are unique names for every language.
When this is the case, all language URLs should be unique.
Blogs and other advanced features
All features should be available in all languages.
This can get tricky if you have advanced functionality such as blogs, forums and complex search features or databases.
You need to plan these in the early stages of development in order to secure a solution than works.
Integrating with other platforms can be frustrating for multilingual websites as control of the 3rd party is usually outside your control. If you have language laws to consider, you will need to ensure that an integration you need is available in all languages, or customisable.
If you are using a search feature, make sure you consider exactly how it work. Will all language be searchable across other language databases? Or will you keep your search specific to each language?
The answer to the above will depend on the relationship between your languages and the number of languages that you have.
Website messages & emails
If you’re sending automated emails to users, such as password resets and welcome messages, you will need to make sure that they are sent in the relevant language – or multilingually.
To do this, you will need to capture a language selection. This can be done in many ways, but the main thing to remember is that it needs to be a clear choice for the user. This should be similar in essence to how GDPR data collection works, with a clear tick box.
The CMS (Content Management System)
Remember, people who use the CMS can also have a language choice as well. Most CMSs are available multilingually, so a wise choice before beginning will allow you to offer a multilingual CMS.
Just remember that if you are using a plugin-based CMS, you may need to consider that not all plugins will be available in all languages as default.
The Quality of the Content
Before launching, the final thing to add to the website is the content. The content in all languages should be of equal quality.
You should not be using machine translation to translate the other languages as mistakes can happen – treating that language less favourably than the language you are translating from. Always use translators or professionals who know how to translate correctly. Also avoid having staff or friends who happen to speak a language translating for you if they do not have experience of doing so.
Treat all languages equally.
If you take anything away from the above, it is to make sure your language planning takes place early in your process. If you leave it until the end, you may find yourself in hot water. If you are unsure, always reach out to language professionals who will be able to guide you in the right direction from the very beginning.