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Multilingual Support for Your Web Site

Posted by: Rod Kurtz on May 22, 2008

As U.S. companies seek to expand their revenue from a broader range of markets and geographies, there has been a big uptick in the number of languages on Web sites. According to industry research, the average number of languages supported by a Web site in 2006 was 15. In 2007, that jumped to 20. For the Top 20 Web sites, as identified by Byte Level Research’s 2008 Web Globalization Card, the average is 48 languages. But adding languages just to keep up with the Joneses is not necessarily recommended. Here are some tips to help you plan the language support that is right for your company.

• Perform regular language reviews to ensure you’re offering the right mix of languages and that you’re not missing out on new markets or turning your back on existing customers. Work with your sales team to find out which geographies are showing the greatest demand.

• Identify emerging markets where language support can pay off. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Turkish, and Slovakian have seen the greatest relative usage increases since 2007.

• Keep an eye on the European Union. There are stringent requirements in regulated industries (pharmaceuticals and medical devices) to provide documentation in every EU language (now up to 23), so you’ll need to develop a language plan that’s manageable for your organization.

• Think carefully about India, where there are 20 official languages. Many companies consider English to be this market’s neutral language, but it isn’t the native language of most Indians. Consider Hindi support, as well as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Urdu.

• If you’re able to provide support for only a small number of languages, you may want to start with the top six: French, German, Japanese, Spanish (Spain), Chinese (simplified), and Italian.

• Don’t forget the U.S.! If you are selling your products or services to U.S. markets, consider the language requirements of your customers and partners. In addition to expanding into global markets, providing support for domestic Spanish and some Asian languages is helping many U.S. companies increase their customer satisfaction and sales at home.

• Finally, remember that to enable any multilingual online content, your Web site must be properly "internationalized" and globally enabled to begin with.

Paula Shannon
General Manager and Senior Vice-President
Lionbridge Technologies
Waltham, Mass.

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