Rediff Logo Infotech Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
August 28, 1998


Building multilingual Web sites

Priya Ganapati at Pragati Maidan

Email this story to a friend. Back to IIW coverage index. With an English speaking and computer literate population in the country at just 5 per cent, the need for localisation is colossal.

And the only way to get computers to the natives would be to get content to them in their own local languages. After all, a site in English about Gujarat would not have as many takers as it would have in Gujarati.

In this scenario, a presentation on the development and implementation of localised sites is of paramount importance.

Sadly, our IT executives don't seem to realise that. The session on localised Web sites by William Hunt, senior strategist, Global Strategies Limited, was poorly attended.

Hunt made a presentation that attempted to touch on a few key points for companies wanting to develop multilingual Web sites. He defined clearly some of the terms that are commonly used when localisation is talked of.

"Internationalisation is a 20-alphabet word that befuddles all." Hunt had a precise definition and the abbreviation I18N for it. "It is about developing software so that it can be easily adapted to target languages and regions without requiring subsequent code level changes," he explained.

The term localisation is used to explain the process of transforming products or information for use in specific target markets. It accounts for language, culture, customs and specific characteristics of the target market. "It is important to retain the flavour of the language you are translating into," Hunt advises.

The term translation has also been precisely phrased as the process of understanding, interpreting, rephrasing and delivering of original message with the proper tone, emphasis, meaning and impact in another language. "Some of the multilingual Web sites I have seen commit some big mistakes. They usually go to Altavista and click a translate button on it and the translation you get is extremely skewed," he elaborated.

Translation can be done by machines or humans. Machine translation is a software technology that translates text from one human language to another. There are 47.7 million non-English users on the Internet. Spanish users are maximum, with about 11 million surfers. Japan comes next with 10 million Japanese speakers on the Net.

The primary problems experienced by users outside the US in the high cost of access and the lack of content in local languages. While shopping online most users have difficulty filling out the order forms and have problems with the terms and conditions mentioned.

Hunt then revealed the need for localisation. "It is a way to respect and show your consideration of the target market. The local people want it too. This is also a great way to provide you competitive advantage over your competitors who do not provide the same," he said.

The are many challenges in store and that include integrating the culture, communication and business practices on the site. There are rewards for the hardworking too. Low cost of sales lead generation of increased amount of support and most importantly cost saving in terms of money are some of the prizes up for grabs.

For any company to go in for localisation there is a few questions that need to be answered. How will localisation increase the economic value and what needs will it satisfy?

Hunt mapped out the route for the companies. "Select a target market. Analyse the server logs to see where your traffic is coming from. See to it that you target the market of countries that give you maximum traffic. Also analyse the orders and see whether you are supporting the market well," he advises.

The localisation process involves project development costs, Web site replication, the localisation process itself, building the multilingual glossary, text and graphics translation and site maintenance.

Hunt estimated the costs of having a multilingual Web site between $10 and $1,000 per page depending on the complexities involved.

Back to IIW coverage index. For the sparse audience it was a well presented lecture constrained by lack of time.

Tell us what you think of this story