Multilingual Sites

Andreas Ravn from just gave an interesting speech at Web2Expo in Berlin.

Some points that are remarkable to me: abbreviations, tag clouds, words without context are specific issues in multilingual environments. It’s an additional challenge to actually identify the language.

Good or bad translation affects the author’s credibility – that can be your own, if you are centrally talking to an international audience. Or it can be your partner’s (and your author is your partner – or maybe even your customer) credibility; that means high responsibility.
It’s not only about credibility, it’s also about confidence, like and dislike, authority and reputation and respect – especially if you are an international enterprise talking to it’s multilingual employees.
I should try to draw a model capturing and illustrating these complexities.

Several approaches to deal with the multilingual challenge are:
* laissez faire: contributors choose their language according to whom they want to talk. That’s only feasible if you’re working in a very decentralized environment and can afford to loos control.
* common ground: pick one language (eg english, or russian or spanish) and stick to it – the common thing then will be, that it’s strange for everybody. It makes a big difference in this concept, if you have native speakers in the community or not; that also makes a big difference between the US and Europe.

One point I want to add, especially from the intranet point of view: Intranets are nowadays always user generated content.
That needs to be respected
* in creating the CMS and other means to create, deliver and manage content
* in talking to the authors and other contributors
* in considering language issues

That adds up to a multidimensional model of influences and dependencies:
who created the content (“professional” author, part-time contributor; headquarter representative, local employee; manager, expert…)
whom does the content address (local – international clientel; mandatory or optional information)
references: other contents (are they translated?), applications; what is the desired output (eg. prepare customer letters – use the correct wording in the local language)
communication clouds: who is talking how about this topic? where do you need a common language (application users and helpdesk, retail sales and customers, sales and controlling etc.) – sometimes translation can be an obstacle in understanding… (what does “preferences” mean in ukrainian? or romanian?’

The main question is actually: What is it we should translate?
Then you can answer the question how to translate, how to handle this process.

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