Multilingual Websites - Translation Tips and Traps

With increased globalisation and eye-opening statistics illustrating quite massive numbers of non-English-speaking internet users, it’s no surprise that the number of companies developing multilingual websites is increasing rapidly. In this article we look at the latest approaches to translating websites and key considerations when planning a multilingual online presence.


In ‘the old days’ translating a website required translators to edit ‘static’ HTML code directly, or provide translations to web developers to edit in HTML. These days most websites use ‘content management systems’ (CMS), which store your web page contents in databases and display pages automatically using pre-determined styles (often referred to as CSS). Popular CMS systems include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, to name just a few.

These CMS systems enable content to be entered online using a content editing interface, and translations can also be entered online using the same interface as used for the original language. It’s common for web developers and website owners to assume this is the best way for the website translation to be carried out. However, in order to translate content efficiently it’s best for translators to work offline using the latest translation assistance tools (often call ‘CAT’ tools). These tools, such as NZTC’s “SDL Trados” systems, enable translators to apply content repetition leverage, terminology management, advanced spell checking and assorted QA checking, in addition to ensuring that all translations are stored in an easily leveraged translation memory format for future re-use. If a translation is done directly in the website CMS, these tools can’t be used, which can be a significant setback.


Most popular website CMS systems recognise the need to enable translation of content outside of the CMS and have features available (often called “Internationalisation modules”) that allow your web page content to be exported in a format that can be processed by popular translation tools, then re-imported to your website in the same format following translation. These export/import formats are typically XML based, with XLIFF being a common interchange format for localisation. If you don’t have such a content export/ import feature, a common solution is manually copying content out of the website into a format that can be translated offline, then copying it back into the website after translation. However, that can be a very time-consuming affair!

If your website CMS doesn’t offer this feature and you want to develop it, NZTC can advise you on how it can and should be structured, including providing XML schema examples that are ideal for the translation process.

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