Multilingual Web Development

The technical aspects of making Kanji or Arabic text appear on a site --- so often the focus of discussions about the multilingual Web --- are actually quite easy to master. The real challenges of launching and maintaining a multilingual Web presence relate to:

  • understanding and effectively managing the translation and review process,
  • knowing your target market and making content relevant to people in that market, and
  • having the tools to automate the administration of a multilingual site.
iData has experience with technology projects performed on-site in Europe, North America and the Middle East, and we have developed software and Web applications in a range of European languages as well as Japanese and Chinese. Keep reading to learn more about:

Machine Translation

 One of the questions that we encounter often is that of machine translation. When many people think of computers and multiple languages, their first thought is of machines translating words and phrases from one language to another. After all, computers are capable of so much, it seems logical that they could handle translating text from one language to another. A look at several popular Internet portals seems to confirm this idea --- almost everyone offers a "translate this site" option.

Unfortunately the reality is that machine translation, while it has made advances, is still far from perfect. Machine translations often do an adequate job of translating simple text sufficiently for a reader to get the gist of the original, but they are far from perfect. Sending the phrase "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" on a round trip through a popular automated translation utility (English-> Spanish -> English) yields "the alcohol is arranged but the meat is weak" (click here to try this). Longer, more complex phrases fare worse.

Does this imperfection matter? The answer depends on the purpose that the text is being used for. As a tool to help the reader make some sense of documents written in a foreign language, machine translation can be useful as long as the reader takes the results with a grain of salt. As a means of translating documents from your language to a foreign language in order to be shown to customers or business partners, machine translation is most often of a source of embarrassment.

Common Pitfalls in Multilingual Websites

Often, organizations create a site in English and then, when the need to become multilingual arises, they essentially reprogram it to add other languages. For simple sites without sophisticated functionality, this approach can work --- translators often have some familiarity with HTML, and for an added fee, they can create foreign language versions of a site. For sites with complex functions, dynamic HTML features (such as popup menus), or e-commerce capabilities, this approach can be expensive and error-prone.

A better approach for sites that can be designed from the ground up as multilingual is to store all of the text that appears on the site in resource files or in a translation database developed specifically for this purpose. This is the approach recommended by several widely used development tools, and it can work --- especially in first getting a multilingual site off the ground.

In practice, however, this approach has some limitations. First, it requires that the site be built from the ground up to use data-driven content. For those with an investment in an existing site, this can be a substantial expense. Also, maintaining resource files and tracking the status of translations will always require additional tools for any but the smallest site. When the functionality of a site is growing, a resource file-based or simple data-driven architecture can mean that no new site functions can be deployed before translations are available in all site languages. In a dynamic environment, this can become an unacceptable bottleneck.

iData's Approach

iData's approach to enabling multilingual content is two-fold, providing an appropriate solution for the two main types of content on multilingual sites:

For the main text content of the site, iData's Synapse Publishser™ Content Management System provides fully multilingual content management. Items such as News Releases, a Calendar of Events, Product Announcements, and other item types limited only by your ingenuity can be authored in the field, translated to any necessary languages, and made available on global, multilingual Websites all without IT involvement.
For areas of a site with substantial functionality and not as much text (such as e-commerce pages or Web-based extranet applications), iData's Translation Manager is an ideal solution. By separating text to be translated from the complex programming of feature-rich sites, Translation Manager allows sites to become multilingual without being re-built from the ground up as well as supporting rapidly growing functionality. Text to be translated is extracted in the form of simple text files which can be sent for translation. When translation is completed, Translation Manager then imports the text and then generates versions of the pages in each required language.

Our Services

The simple fact is that there is no substitute for the knowledge and experience gained by spending time "in the trenches" of multilingual projects. iData has experience with working in several countries and experience working with local partners in many more. Moreover, we have knowledge of the potential issues pitfalls with cross-cultural communication. Specific services we offer include:

  • Multilingual Web development
  • Translation
  • Software globalization / localization
  • International e-commerce development

Contact us to learn more.