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Website translation

Language differences are critical in multinational web development

Elvis Salaris | 01st February 2016

The flexible nature of static HTML and its (lack of) use

Translating a website is a complex, but not impossible procedure. The complexities arise from the multitude of systems used to generate web content and the fact that most of the time, internationalisation (i18n, adapting your website for international use) and/or localisation (l10n, adapting content, including images/videos, to a target language and culture) are not part of planning for web development.

To solve these issues, we analyse the software environment and apply some of our proven fixes. This becomes significantly more tricky, however, when the internalisation and localisation tools are not part of planning - modifications to the code are almost always necessary.

As your trusted web developer might tell you, there are two types of web "files": static and dynamic. As the name implies, static files are fixed content webpages, whereas dynamic files have variable content filled from different parts of the server. For example, the first could be a statically typed HTML file for a newsletter and the second a list of your blog posts generated by a Content Management System (CMS), such as Wordpress, Drupal or Joomla.

Without getting into too much detail on the best response to all translation case scenarios, what I would like to emphasis is an issue common to both static and dynamic files - the flexible nature of static HTML and its use (or ‘mis-use’!). HTML coding itself can often cope with translating the web content without requiring language specific coding, as it allows for ‘deep styling’ actually keeping flexibility and dynamic resizing as the default. However, it is worth keeping common translation issues in mind when developing/coding your original language (English?) website, so that the static HTML is set up to easily adapt to the language-related problems. These issues include: Right-to-Left languages such as Hebrew or Arabic; content expansion or contraction after translation; menu width or string length constraints; dates, fonts, formatting (e.g. bullet points), character encoding (UTF-8 etc.).

(Tech Note: It could be considered a common issue as static web files have a HTML component while any server-side scripting that generate dynamic content always give as an output a static HTML page. HTML could or could not have JavaScript embed in it, but for the purpose of this article this is not relevant while I'll take into account some CSS properties helpful in translation.)

Language differences are often critical in multinational web development, but as mentioned before, they are seldom taken into account while planning. To reinforce my statements, here are some example of things to keep in mind while creating web content or better, its layout:

1. Some languages are written from Right-to-Left (RTL).

2. Text content will almost always change in length on translation, either expanding or contracting (as a rule of thumb English is 30% shorter than other European languages and 30% longer than Asian ones).

3. Some sections of your code could have limitations in width (such as a series of menu buttons on the top of the page).

4. There are some common localisation issues that you should keep in mind:

There are an infinity of other things to keep in mind while programming and the best you could do would be to keep in contact with your LSP asking for advice, guidance or even testing your programs for you.

At Conversis we believe in constant communication and keeping deadlines in check, delivering code that works and helping our customers save time and resources simply by talking with us about their plans, strategies or any multinational website issues.