Multilingual Web Sites, Part Two: Translation/Localization Resources

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 11, 2009

In an earlier guest post today, titled "Toward a Multilingual Web Site: Easy First Steps," Brian McConnell, of Worldwide Lexicon and DerMundo, outlined some of the first steps you can take if you want to make a web site accessible in other languages, including open source resources. In this follow-up post, Brian provides many specific tools and sites you can visit for making the process easier. Are you familiar with Moses, Pootle and Apertium--all open source translation resources? Read on for part two in the series.

Multilingual Web Sites, Part Two: Translation & Localization Resources

By Brian McConnell

Localization (Tools For Making Your Web App Multilingual)

gettext() - This is a widely used system for making web apps multilingual. Its primary function is to render web prompts (e.g. Login, Logout, etc) on the fly. The prompts and their translations are stored in separate configuration files, so the translations can be maintained separately from application code.

Pootle - This is a management tool that works in conjunction with gettext() to make it easier for translators to maintain the translation tables for your web application. It is a web based admin tool, also open source, that enables you to see which items have been translated, degree of completion, manage users, etc.

Machine Translation

There are several open source machine translation systems available now in addition to proprietary systems. Two of the best known open source machine translation platforms are Moses and Apertium (which specializes in Spanish and related languages such as Catalan, Galician, Basque and a few others). There are also several commercial translation platforms, and Systran and Language Weaver are two of the best known. Free web-based translation services, such as Google Translate and Babelfish, are also useful for translating web pages, short blocks of text, etc.

Multilingual Content Management Systems

Most blogging platforms and CMSs do not deal well with multilingual content. While you may be able to switch languages for the interface, they generally assume you publish in a single language. Some of the open source CMSs, Drupal and Joomla specifically, have addressed this issue by allowing multilingual posts. (One of the things we're working on at Worldwide Lexicon is a suite of CMS plug-ins to enable community and/or managed translation in these systems.) There are some easy hacks that you can use to build a multilingual site, even with cookie cutter blog tools, for example, to import translations via RSS into daughter sites that display the translated editions.

Translation Service Bureaus

If you need professional translators for your website, there are a number of options. There are thousands of professional translation bureaus around the world, and most of them are mom and pop firms that hire out freelancers. It's pretty easy to set up a process where they go into your CMS, post translations according to your rules, and charge you a per-word or per-post fee. They are typically run like any other employment agency and have fairly standard contracts, usually per-word based. Another approach is to hire your own readers to translate for you, which may be best because they understand the source material better than some random person might, and may also be willing to work for less or in trade for something else (a free subscription, free event passes, etc). The exact combination of pay and incentives needed to get good results will depend on the type of site you run and the type of readers you have. If you're looking for a translation marketplace, is the Craigslist of translation job postings, and is a great place to look for translators and service bureaus. I am also tracking attempts to create ELance-type marketplaces for translation, such as MyGengo, which should make the translation process more efficient and cost effective.

You can find many more open translation tools in the list posted here. Hopefully, these resources will be of use to you.