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Bridging Cultural Divides with Multi-Lingual Websites

by | Mar 15, 2016

The global reach of the Internet makes it more imperative that communicators from every industry and organizations of all sizes create multi-lingual websites. Meeting your web audience in their language has never been more important.

All aspects of translation and localization—from development and design to content creation and project management—are much more manageable these days. Translation Management Software (TMS) coupled with Content Management Systems (like WordPress and Drupal) are quite flexible and help us organize, translate, and track every piece of content in every language, making the process much simpler than in the past. And, although translating content itself is still a challenge, it is tremendously easier with TMS tools.

Setting Up Translation Tools for Multi-Lingual Websites

Setup requires a skilled development and design team and can become complex, depending on your goals and the level of which you customize your organization’s site. Some of the steps include:

  • Creating a development website
  • Developing simpler back-end and front-end translation capabilities
  • Creating uniquely designed language switchers, optimized for speed
  • Connecting the right material across languages (e.g., when linking content)
  • Reorienting content from Right-to-Left (e.g., Arabic), or other orientations
  • Optimizing logos, menus, header, footer, search bar in other languages
  • CSS/Javascript/template changes (i.e., coding)
  • Testing and Quality Assurance of sites

Depending on your in-house capabilities and your goals for the finished multi-lingual sites, you may want more design and development assistance.

Here are a few translated and localized sites that we admire for their design and development skill:

Burma Center Prague

Burma Center Prague is a non-governmental and non-profit organization run by Burmese living in the Czech Republic and by other supporters of Burma. Their mission is to contribute to the democratization of Burma and the respect for human rights, while improving the lives of people in Burma and Burmese in exile.

Burma Center Prague News in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blogThey use a simple, effective United Kingdom and Czech Republic flag to allow users to switch languages from any page on the site (interestingly they do not have Burmese on the site, except in the logo). No matter which page you are on, you can use the flag language switcher to toggle to its corresponding page in the other language.

Their use of strong, people-centered photography overlays the translated messages very nicely.

A Custom-made widget that stands out is the ‘Our Work in Numbers‘ widget, which is easily translated by the content administrator once it is developed. Another great feature is the Czech and English news section, which pulls in information from a third-party platform:



UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

UN Children and Armed Conflict in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blog

The UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict serves as the leading UN advocate for the protection and well-being of children affected by armed conflict. Its role is to strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict, raise awareness, promote the collection of information about the plight of children affected by war and foster international cooperation to improve their protection.

The six U.N. languages featured on the site are vastly different from one another, making these multi-lingual sites more complex than most. Arabic, for example, is read from right to left (RTL), whereas ideographic languages (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean) can be made Right-to-Left, Top-to-Bottom, or Left-to-Right. Everything—menus, text, widgets, and images—is reoriented to the appropriate writing format before translation and localization begin, and resizing, as well as quality assurance on the site, requires close interaction between the development and translation team.UN Children and Armed Conflict logos in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blogEach site has its own translated logo image. From acquiring the correct font to sizing the font and matching the translated logos (location and size) across sites, design expertise is required to make the experience seamless.

The UN Children and Armed Conflict site does an excellent job of localizing content to fit the respective cultural milieu. The two sites contain different types of information in the sections below: from blog to video and social media links. They chose to keep the same basic design across all sites, so appropriating the translated content is fairly straightforward for content administrators.UN Children and Armed Conflict home page Chinese and English in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blogThe UN site and social media work well together across languages to form innovative social campaigns, like this one that asks their audience to take a photo with a posterboard (in their language) saying “Children, not Soldiers” to show their support for this important cause:

Children Not Soldiers UN Children and Armed Conflict in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blog




Publiscientia home page on mobile in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blog

Publiscientia is in the business of publishing books and providing marketing and translation services to assist authors with expanding the reach of their work. A few points about their multi-lingual sites:

  • Simple sites (English, Spanish, and Catalan), with identical designs across each site;
  • Seamless experience of switching from site to site, even on mobile.
  • The only thing that differs (besides the language) is the URL for each site (i.e., publiscientia.com/, /ca, /en);

Localization is about using symbols and images that work well for your audience as much as using translated language. The Euro symbol, which features at their top navigation, is ubiquitous across Europe, so they did not need to “translate” the currency menu icon. But, if for example they were translating to Japanese, Spanish (Mexico), and Thai, they could have customized each site to display the appropriate symbol (i.e., the Yen, the Peso, and the Baht).

Other features of their site that use widgets, e.g., the contact form and pricing slider, are translatable as well, regardless of whether they are native or use a third-party application.

Example of form on Publiscientia home page in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blog

One point for Publiscientia to consider: keeping the language switcher and menu viewable as the user scrolls down. It’s always nice to have the ability to navigate the menu and languages no matter where you are on the page

Example of pricing in Spanish on Publiscientia home page in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blogExample of pricing in English on Publiscientia home page in OmniStudio multi-lingual websites blog
One point that stands out: their customized logo is not only responsive, but also shrinks in size as the user scrolls down the page. They chose not to translate their logo to English, but even the most novice of Spanish speakers can tell that “publicaciones academicas” means “academic publications”, and since they are a private company, they probably want to keep their Spanish identity in their branding.


Taking Control of Your Site’s Translation Process

Translation is not just about changing words to another language, it’s about creating an experience that translates to local contexts and delivers the message to an audience in the most impactful, intuitive, and engaging way. Many organizations are hesitant to add languages to their website for several reasons; finding translation teams and managing all of the content, for example, can be an enormous challenge.

The sites above used Translation Management Software embedded into their Content Management System in order to organize the translation process, making it much more efficient and controllable, as well as allowing them to customize design aspects of their site. The results are well worth the effort, as sites like these get heavier and more diverse web traffic, and organizations with multi-lingual sites are able to better communicate their messages across different cultural audiences.

OmniStudio works with clients to create multi-lingual sites that reach audiences in their own languages. We would be happy to discuss your site and provide you with a demo to show you how Translation Management Software works. Learn more about how OmniStudio customizes sites and guides our clients through the process.


(OmniStudio is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.)

About the Author

OmniStudio, Inc.

OmniStudio, based in Washington, D.C., has been instrumental in the communications activities of local, national and international institutions for more than three decades. Omni shares the goals and passions of our clients, especially in the areas of education, health care, the environment and human rights. OmniStudio provides strategy, content, design, and development for online and print media such as Websites, digital apps, publications and marketing materials.


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