4 Simple Guidelines for Designing and Building a Multilingual Website

By -

From technological advancements in mobile devices to fast speed internet channels reaching the corners of the globe, the world is becoming more connected by the day. Seeing this, many companies have realized to expand their parameters and step into the diverse online community to expose their content. However, it is easy said but quite difficult in the process.

Spreading your online content beyond borders is only possible if you give the local consumers a medium of understanding. This is where multilingual websites come into play. Multi lingual websites are store fronts that allows users to open websites with their regional language. This allows them to understand the content and make a reformed decision about buying products. However, there is a significant amount of time and effort involved in setting up a multi-lingual store. Stores require months of dedicated research and development on target language just so the user can feel comfortable while browsing on the website.

Machine or Human

If your search the internet you will most probably find tons of translation tools and services that promise accurate results. Unfortunately, most of these tools are machine read while the services are offered by cloaked unprofessional translators. This can not only waste your money, but also risk your entire store into oblivion. Offending your users in their own language is the last thing you want to do.

Compared to machine read algorithms and tools, human translators are always a safer option. Languages are built from different set of rules and travel different evolutions within the region over time. Using a machine based translator will ignore the complicated details in the language and affect the interpretation at the end. Things such as grammatical inconsistencies and metaphorical phrases are embedded in content that cannot be deciphered by binary systems. However, to make sure your regional visitors land on their local language stores, several helpful applications such as Magento GeoIP store switcher extension can be used to redirect them to the region personalized store as shown in the figure below.

geoip store switcher

Native or Non-Native

Now that we have decided to use a human translator for your website content, it’s time we choose what type of human translator is preferable for your content. There two types of translators in this context, native and non-native. Although non-native translators can become well versed in the local language and acquire credentials that even natives don’t, their expertise are still limited and cannot produce a 100% accurate translation for your website. Natives are trained with the local language from birth which gives them an involuntarily ability to understand odd idioms and language conventions that most non-natives cannot decipher. Natives are accustomed with such common colloquial phrases and are fully aware how to use them without investing too much effort. This also makes them cheap to acquire.

There are several ways to hire a native translator. You can contact translating services to hire a dedicated in-house translator or look up on the internet and search for one through free websites that share job opportunities. Either way you must do a thorough research before inviting him/her to your content. A bad translation can spiral your website into a costly catastrophe.

Respecting Native Culture

Finding a suitable local translator is good start for developing your multilingual store, however it still far from winning the local consumers. Getting your customers to understand what you are selling is one thing, but to show them why it is best for them is a privilege not all multilingual stores have. This does not mean you have to spend more to gain this privilege, but it’s completely based on the research you are willing to do.

For instance, a region that is well known for spending only on safe and secure deals will require special assurances within the content to convince them into purchasing their merchandise. To fill these trust vacuums, you have to learn about customer behaviors and use them in the content through cultural declarations and sayings that incite emotional value. For instance, if you are selling your merchandise in Japan, you will know better to deploy Japanese proverbs that hint quality service and respect to others. For instance, you can introduce,” the reputation of a thousand words can be determined by the conduct of one hour”. On other instances there are distinctive words that have cultural sophistication and must be used with caution. For instance, the word “gift” would mean something special at one side but would translate to “poison” in German.

Implementing Polyglot Design

Integrating a polyglot design is the next challenge in your journey to building a multi-lingual website. The first thing that you must consider is deploying multiple domains for your language pages or using single domain with subpage. It can entirely depend on your marketing preferences and available resources, but acquiring multiple domains makes the process much easier in the long haul. The second task is how to offer language choices to the customers. This can range from menu links, drop down selection or icons etc.

Drop down menus are simple and easy to interact, however, it becomes quite difficult sometimes to select language from the list, while on other instances the language is unreadable due to the small size of the menu. Icons are not a bad choice either, but one flag does not represent all the languages spoken by the natives even though a national language is declared by that country. Certain regions in China are oblivious to Mandarin while others cannot read or speak Cantonese. Automated IP based language selection is simply a gamble if the user turns out to be a non-native.  The best way to introduce language options to your multi-lingual website is to direct the customers to a dedicated page or opening a pop-up for them as they land on the website. If the customer makes the choice, then if they want to proceed with their native language or use the default language (English) to view your content.


Creating a multi-lingual website can do miracles for your conversion bank. Millions of cash ready customers are out there waiting to be introduced to your products and the only thing holding you back form making revenues is the language barrier. Translating content requires your personal investment and resources if you value your brand image to spread and grow in foreign countries. By using these points mentioned in this guideline, you can begin your process of converting your content and producing an accurately translated store for your target audience.

Simon Walker

Simon Walker has more than 7 years of experience in eCommerce development. He currently works for FMEextensions – a Magento eCommerce development firm, where he has developed several Magento extensions, themes & custom eCommerce websites. He is also consulting businesses to help them reach their online business goals. You can reach him on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments are closed.