How to Make Your Website Multilingual

English, once considered “the world’s second language” online, no longer dominates.

Twenty years ago, more than 80% of internet users were native English speakers — but by 2010, that percentage dropped to 27%. Increased internet use across the world, especially in China, India, and the Middle East, has created a demand for multilingualism on the web.

But the need for multilingual websites is just as prevalent here in the U.S. In Visceral’s hometown of San Diego, for example, a third of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino — many of whom speak Spanish as their first or second language. Furthermore, over 37 million people in the US speak Spanish, which has increased by 233% since 1980. By 2020, that number will grow another 4 to 5 million.

Having a multilingual website can be a strong asset and an incredible growth opportunity for many organizations. It shows you’re internationally-minded, value other cultures, and are in touch with your existing and potential client base. A multilingual website also amplifies your message and audience engagement, as well as increases your search engine rankings.

Implementing a multilingual website can be intimidating, but thanks to ever-advancing technology, it’s not nearly as challenging as you might think. Let’s break down three possible ways to get it done.

Option 1 – Google Translate (Machine Translation)

This freebie option allows you to easily add a “Select Language” widget to your site with the addition of some simple code to your template (visit the “language chooser” in the lower-right corner of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s website for an example).

Google Translate relies solely on “machine translation,” or computer algorithms, to generate their text. The upside of this is that since it’s completely automated, implementing this system of translation is painless. The tradeoff, however, is that the quality of this kind of automated translation is inferior to translation by actual humans. Though automated translation has improved in recent years, the content still often sounds stilted, lacks context, and most colloquial expressions are translated literally. All of this can cause minor confusion amongst readers in these languages, though they’ll likely get the gist of what you’re trying to say.

Pros – Free, simple to implement, numerous languages available.
Cons – Less than perfect translations, no option to translate text in images or multimedia elements.

Option 2 – WPML (Human Translation)

If you’re using WordPress for your site (and you should be), you can have someone fluent in your desired language translate your content, then use the WPML plugin to manage these translations.  This powerful plugin can create pages in multiple languages, translate menus and global theme elements, and add language-switching capabilities to your site.

Human translation ensures that fluent experts in a wide array of languages are translating your web content, which obviously increases its quality. If you have multilingual staff members, you may be able to manage the translation process internally. If not, reliable services like ICanLocalize, Gengo, or OneHourTranslation will give you professional-grade translations starting at $0.09 / word.

Pros – Professional, much higher quality translations than automated translators, flexibility/control over implementation
Cons – Cost (money, time, or both)

Option 3 – TransPerfect GlobalLink (Automated Human Translations)

Ideally, we all want on-point human translations for our websites. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if the whole process could be automated so you wouldn’t have to worry about it? GlobalLink by TransPerfect does just that.

GlobalLink is basically a platform that sits “in front” of your website. When it sees you make any content changes to your site, it immediately sends them off to expert human translators, returns the perfectly translated content, and updates your site accordingly — and automatically. (Watch their overview video to get an in-depth look at how it works).

GlobalLink is the best of both worlds — easy automation and perfect translation — but it comes with a price. Depending on how much content you need translated, it can get expensive.

Pros – Complete automation, perfect translation, top-of-the-line professionalism
Cons – Not cheap

Bottom Line

Multilingual websites are the future of our online universe. And the good news is, they’re possible to get up and running in virtually any price range. Contact us to discuss the best translation option for your project.

Jay Buys

CEO & Co-founder

Describe your role at Visceral As a computer programmer turned CEO my job these days is mostly strategy and problem solving. I get to think about the problems in the world and how we can help...

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