Getting your message across in multiple languages

April 26, 2011 by

For organisations trying to deliver multi-language intranets there are a unique set of issues and considerations that must be addressed. These range from governance and legal considerations; potential design and accessibility issues; the implications for search; through to the cost and logistics of supporting language variations. Yet for global organisations, delivering content in multiple languages can be critical to facilitating communication, improving engagement and increasing productivity.  

Last week, DWG members tackling this challenge met online in one of our regular Special Interest Groups to get advice from industry expert Martin White, see a live tour of a member who is leading in good practice in this area, and share knowledge. What struck me was that what may start out as an apparently straightforward mandate to communicate in different languages can in reality turn into a ‘monster’ project full of unexpected complexities. As Martin said at the end of the session, ‘You can quite quickly run into a technical issue that constrains you. You have to maintain a balance between what you would ideally like to do, and what is realistic for your organisation’. This was such a key take out for participants! Here were a few more I noted:

  • Remember that English is a very complex language. For people whose first language is English, it’s easy to forget this though! Keep this in mind when you’re publishing on the intranet to different language audiences: are you getting your message across? Anyone who wants to brush up on their English skills might want to go to the Effortless English site.
  • Define an appropriate level of governance. Some organisations have a policy that all content is in English, but in some countries (e.g. – France) there is a legal obligation to have local content in the local language.  Alternately, the organisation may decide that it is important to have extensive translation of information architecture and content.
  • Consider how multi lingual content is managed. This can also be a complex issue with limited local resource to handle translation and make decisions about what should be translated (from global to local level, and vice versa). I’ve come across one organisation that uses local employee affinity groups to assist with translation.
  • Understand the impact of not delivering content in the local language. All too often organisations don’t really understand the impact on culture and engagement.
  • Think through the implications of delivering multi-lingual content. There is a lot of detail involved in this delivery and unexpected issues and implications can arise. For example, if navigation items are translated will their alphabetical listing change based on different languages.
  • The extent to which the content management system supports multiple languages. There are a range of issues here, such as whether the CMS supports Trados ((which manages translation workflow) and whether local translators know when a ‘parent’ content in English item has been updated.
  • The strengths and weaknesses of automatic translation.  This can be a helpful tool however it can take quite a bit of text to work out what the best translation is and may not work for short messages especially where there are subtleties of expression (e.g. – in social networking). However, they can be good for a quick sense check of content in a different language.

Have you implemented a multi-language intranet? If so, what are your key learnings?

DWG members can watch a recording of this session – including the live tour (absolutely recommended if you are grappling with multiple languages!) – on the member extranet.

Categorised in: Collaboration, Internal communications

Nancy Goebel

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