Tips & Strategies for Multilingual Web Design

With the widespread use of the internet, language barriers have become a thing of the past, mostly because website designers have now realized the potential of increased sales due to the international clients who, a result of increased awareness of the different businesses offering their services worldwide, tend to visit the websites of these businesses in order to communicate directly with them online.

However, a major barrier that users tend to face in visiting these international businesses’ site is due to language, which tends to dampen their overall user experience.

A thing to remember is that people speak different languages around the world and for most of them English is not their first language. Therefore they obviously prefer a website that they can view in their own language and a website that has content purely in English or in any one specific language, could prove to be a hindrance towards the success of your website. Therefore it is crucial that nowadays, a website provides multilingual support to the visitors who are visiting their site and communicating with them through this specific medium.

But a question that you might ask is what exactly do we mean by multilingual support here? Over the years, chances are that you have come across websites that has content shared in a different language. When you visit such sites, you are provided with the option of translating such pages into either English or a language of your choice. And though there are websites that can translate the content of articles and blogs on a website, getting the structure of a multilingual website down is far more complicated than the users are aware of. Therefore, in order to ensure that you get the multilingual web design down just right, we have come up with a few tips that will get you started and keep you on the right track towards developing a multilingual web design.

Tip #1: Translation – Auto Vs Human

Okay, so this is technically not really a tip but it’s something that we felt is important and therefore, needed to be included. You have over the years probably used language translation software at least once for a website. Now, though there isn’t anything wrong with these, but the overall accuracy rates of these translations tend to vary. A common tool amongst such is Google Translate and though that offers users with a very easy-to-use experience and is constantly being updated and getting improved, accuracy of the translated text still varies which is why it’s best not to rely on translation softwares for websites.

Comparatively, using a human translator is a much better idea over auto translating tools and softwares. The reason being that in language, there tends to be subtle nuances, therefore, human beings are not only able to sense and pick them up in a provided content, they also have a better understanding and knowledge of the local vocabulary of a language, making the translation much more accurate.

Tip #2: Don’t Skip Out the Language Options

As we mentioned above, people use different languages to communicate worldwide. Therefore, it is essential that when you are designing a multilingual website, you don’t skip the out on providing the user to change the language preference on the website.

A few ways you could provide the user to easily select a language apart from a dropdown are:

  • Dropdown:

    Dropdown

    The whole purpose of a multilingual web design is to provide the user with the ability to change the language of the page easily without any hassle. In most websites, you will find that option in a form of a dropdown menu that is almost always placed on the top-right hand corner of a page (though there are some sites that tend to place the dropdown in the footer section of the webpage), making it more convenient for the user to select the language of their preference. An important thing to remember during designing a website is that, whichever section of the webpage you prefer to place the dropdown in the header or the footer part of the site, it should be easily accessible and visible to the user.

  • Country Flags:

    Country Flags

    You will find that some websites prefer to use a country’s flag to indicate a language and though there is nothing wrong with this specific format, we feel that it can be a bit confusing due to the following reasons.

    • Flags tend to represent a country and not necessarily a language.
    • It’s not necessary that a country has only one official language – there can be more than one official language.
    • A certain language can be spoken in more than one country, thus creating confusion.
    • It’s not necessary that visitors recognize a country’s flag – this can be due to the icon size of the flag or due to the similarity of a country’s flag with another country.
  • Ordering:

    One of the most convenient ways to provide multilingual support to users is to alphabetically list the languages on the site. Not only does this look cleaner, but it also allows the user to easily find the language version they prefer. An example of such is taken from Wikipedia down below:

    Ordering

  • Default Language Detection:

    It’s a good idea to provide users with an option on the website to easily set a default language when they visit for the first time. But to be on the safe side, provide other language selection options as well just in case the user wants to switch the default one.

  • Redirecting:

    Ever come across a website that automatically redirects you to the site’s home page when you switch languages? The problem with this option is that not only is it confusing for the user but it can be annoying as well, since now the user has to go and find the page they were at before they were redirected. However, if your site is designed in a way that you have to redirect them upon switching languages, make sure that they land up on the same (but translated) page that they were on before.

Tip #3:Using the Right Fonts

Above we discussed in detail about the translating languages, but now let’s talk about the choice of fonts used on a website. It’s no secret that the choice of font that you use is crucial towards the success of your website, and now we will tell you why. See when you are designing a multilingual website, it’s important that the choice of font that you decide to use is fully compatible with all the languages that you are providing support for on your website (especially when it comes down to languages that are non-Latin based).

Remember that when it comes to fonts, certain ones take up more space. Also, a word in a certain language may be more “wordy” and consist of more characters than it would in another language. So this is something that needs to be taken in to consideration as well when you are selecting a font for your website.

Tip #4: Left – Right – Left

Now we all know that a language doesn’t have a direction. However, when you are writing, the script the language is written in does have direction. This direction can be either LTR (left to right) or RTL (right to left) and it is something that really needs to be taken in to consideration when you are designing a website for a business. For example, let’s take an example of the Arabic script which is written in the RTL (right to left) format.

Though most of the languages that are used tend to be read and written form left to right but that’s not always the case. So when you do come across scripts like that which require content to be written in RTL (right to left)? Well, if you do come across a situation where you need to include a language requiring such a script, then you should mirror the complete layout of the webpage that you have designed. This includes everything – from the navigation to the images to the text, sidebars, dropdowns, buttons and even the scroll bars! It all needs to be mirrored so that the user is able to properly read and scroll through the whole website without facing any difficulty in the form of glitches or misplaced content.

Tip #5: URL Structure

From the fonts to the actual translations, now let’s come down to the actual structuring of the web design in order to provide users with the best multilingual support. When it comes to the actual structure of the URL, you have several ways to do that.

  • ccTLD: Country code top-level domain (ccTLD), it is basically a way to link a specific country. For example, using .in for India or .fr for France. What this does is that it acts as a signal for search engines about the target audience for that website.
  • Subdomain + gTLD: Certain domain extensions such as .com, .net and .org are ones that are not tied to a specific region or country. This makes it easy for these domains to be used in combination with subdomains. This type of URL structure is relatively easy to set up and offers geotargeting for search engines.
  • Subdirectory + gTLD: This is used for structuring content of a website, for example www.websiteexample.com/perfumes. However, this can also be used for geotargeting purposes as well, example www.website.example.com/perfume/in – this will signal the search engines that the website is targeting users from India.

A FEW OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

Apart from the URL structure, font and the actual translation, there are also a few other things that you need to keep in mind when you are designing a website that will provide users with multilingual support. Check them out below:

  • Dates: Remember, that not every country supports the same date format. While some countries use the Gregorian calendar other countries tend to follow the Persian calendar. This means that you will have to keep the formatting in mind and convert the dates from Gregorian to Persian in order to provide users with the best multilingual support on the site.
  • Phone Numbers: A great way to provide support to your website visitors is by including the country code along with the phone number for the visitor to contact you.
  • Ethically Correct: Just like it’s not necessary that people all over the world speak the same language, it’s also not necessary that worldwide people share the same views, sense of humor, symbolism, etc. What you need to make sure is that the content that you are placing on your site does not clash with another country’s ethical views. For example, while some countries have no problem with images of intimacy or even same-sex couples, it might not be acceptable and viewed as offensive in another country. Therefore, this is something that you really need to consider when you are designing a multilingual website.

Although there are a lot more factors that you need to take into consideration when you are designing a website for internalization, these tips will provide you with the initial groundwork for you to begin creating a multilingual web design.

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