Do you need a bilingual website?
Clients often wonder about this, especially if they live in an area (as we do) with significant numbers of people who are more comfortable in another language besides English.
English is unquestionably the language of the internet. I write sites in English for folks in countries from France to Malaysia, because English is the default language for websites. People who search in other languages (and plenty do) are accustomed to reading auto-translated pages. Search engines give you options to look only at pages in your native language, and you can always put a URL into an online translating tool.
However, if you know that a lot of your visitors speak another language, you don’t want them to have to head to a translating tool every time they need information from your website. You want to make it easier.
The screenshot above shows The Puerto Rico Report autotranslated into Spanish; the original English version is below. You can click on them to read the words. This website, we know from analytics, is read mostly in English, but Spanish is the second most popular language, way ahead of Japanese. We know that an increasing number of visitors from Puerto Rico read the site, and the site owners want to encourage that. They are a clear candidate for a bilingual website.
Websites for legal and medical practices that cater to multilingual populations may also find this useful, writing their site in English but offering translations into the other languages most common among their clients. An Asian market or Mexican restaurant might choose to use the native language of their primary market population, and offer translation to English.
One option is to have someone translate your web content into the second language and post a set of alternate pages. This is probably the best way to get a truly bilingual website, but it’s also expensive. Google has a simple free tool that makes it easy for visitors to get an auto translated version of your website.
Here’s how to do it:
- Go to the Google Website Translator page. Type or paste your web address into the box.
- Choose the native language of the website. English is the default, and it’s frankly difficult to navigate to languages that are later in the alphabet — do this from a large monitor if you have the option. Click “next.”
- Now you get to choose the options for your site. You’ll need to tell Google the languages you want to offer, whether your page already contains multiple languages, and how you want the tool displayed. You can have a banner presented to people who are searching in another language, offering to translate the page, and you can have use of the translator tracked in analytics.
- Once you’ve made your choices, click “Get Code.” You will be given some code.
- The first part of the code goes in the head section of each page you want to translate. Don’t be alarmed by this. You should have “includes” at your website so you can just put this in once if you want all your pages to be translated and tracked. The second section goes where you want the translation tool to be visible. Since The Puerto Rico Report is a WordPress site, I put it in a widget on the internal pages so it shows up at the side of an article, along with the search tools and so forth.
This is a convenient way to offer your readers a choice of languages.
You can make the process automatic instead of offering your visitors the option. In the screenshot below you can see our educational site, FreshPlans, translated automatically into French because it was accessed via Google France. The translation is a bit odd, like all autotranslations — for example, the homepage of a French language site will be called “accueil,” meaning “welcome” or “reception,” rather than “maison,” which actually means “house.” The text in our images won’t translate at all, and there are some lingering English words. Most of us are familiar with these issues and we work around them.
Since FreshPlans, while it is most popular with visitors from English-speaking countries, has a large proportion of visitors from other places, it makes sense to offer the “Translate this page” bar. Visitors comfortable in English can read it in the original language, switching to the translation if they need it.
It’s a handy tool. Autotranslation obviously isn’t as good as human translation, but just providing the widget can make your visitors feel more welcome.