There is a lot to think about when it comes to creating a website with different language options. Whether you are designing a multilingual website from scratch or upgrading your website to include the option to display certain pages in different languages, there are some important things to bear in mind.
1. Make sure that your language options are very visible
If your users can’t find a way to quickly and easily swap between language options, they might quickly lose interest in your site.
2. Use an adaptable design to account for translations
When you translate some pages of your website, you might well find that the length of the text expands, a lot! It might also shrink. Whatever template you choose, it should be one that can adapt to different text lengths, rather than leaving lots of awkward space – or having the text in restrictive boxes, which may end up getting cut off.
3. Offer language switching options in that language
It sounds simple, but it’s easy to overlook! Even if you write your website in English, and prepare translated versions of your copy later – don’t forget that the language options should be consistent across the site and written in the respective language, e.g. Français rather than «French», Svenska rather than «Swedish».
4. Choose a web template that can cope with special characters
If you want to cater for languages that don’t rely on the Latin alphabet – e.g. Chinese, Japanese and Arabic – then you need to ensure that your template is compatible with these alphabets too.
5. Consider how the page reads
Just like special characters, don’t forget that some languages aren’t read from left to right, as English is. Arabic is a key example of this. Think about how this might impact your layout.
1. Rely on regional selection to determine language
Some websites tie their language options to the ‘region’ the user navigates to, for example when they choose a catalogue to view or enter a delivery address. This makes a lot of assumptions – just because someone is viewing your site from England or the United States, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily feel most comfortable viewing the site in the English language.
2. Auto-detect language
Much like basing the language on region selection, using an auto-detect function can have its downfalls. You can’t assume that the user is a native speaker of the country they are viewing from. Even if they are, they might be using privacy functionality like VPNs, which will spoof their location, providing false information to your website that makes it look like they are viewing it from somewhere else in the world.
3. Where possible, use flags to represent languages
Firstly, flags represent a country rather than a language. There are plenty of countries like Switzerland where there is more than one official language. If you only have a couple of languages it may look reasonable on a visual display, but if you have lots to choose from, a list of languages is probably going to be easier to navigate than a dashboard with lots of flag graphics.
4. Forget about dates
If your content includes any information about dates, don’t forget that these are formatted differently depending on where in the world you are! Use the full written out day, month and year for clarity, if necessary.
5. Rely on machine translation
Where possible, adapting the text to include locally relevant references may help your website appear more relevant and useful, compared to a simple translation of content originally written for one specific country.