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Discover Drupal-powered multilingual translation and localization

Exploring Drupal’s Multilingual Capabilities

September 25, 2023 8 minute read
Brands are talking to more audiences in more languages, and they’re using the open source platform to do it
Color photo of white man looking at mobile phone held by Vietnamese woman in traditional garb

“The internet may connect devices, but language connects people,” wrote John Yunker, cofounder of Byte Level Research, in 2019, as he listed brand after brand — Amazon, Netflix, Accenture, and Wikipedia to name just a few — that had increased their multilingual capabilities in their websites, apps, and other products over the years.

The COVID-19 pandemic hastened the trend as governments, pharmaceutical companies, and others scrambled to expand outreach to diverse populations increasingly online due to lockdowns and other restrictions. At least one study claimed that the global health crisis led to a jump in overseas retail purchases as consumers explored brands beyond their home countries.

Such changes offer opportunities to savvy organizations, but they need a content management system (CMS) like Drupal to develop their multilingual digital presence and to establish a solid localization game. The open source platform easily facilitates both goals, but for those unfamiliar with Drupal, its strengths may not be readily apparent.

Let’s review why it’s among the best CMSs for building a multilingual brand identity and ensuring localization efforts pay off.

Why are multilingual websites important?

The number of internet users globally exceeds 5 billion, with almost 59% of web content featuring the English language. No surprise; it’s the lingua franca after all.

Yet organizations would be remiss to leave it at that. According to CSA Research, when faced with two similar products, 76% of consumers opt for the one with information in their language. Looking only at shoppers who aren’t fluent in English, that figure increases to 89%.

In fact, the same study found that 66% of respondents use auto- or machine-translation tools anyway, with 65% favoring content in their language even if it’s badly translated. Given those findings, brands stand a greater chance at making and deepening relationships by offering audiences digital experiences in their preferred language.

But that’s not the only advantage to multilingual websites, apps, and products:

  • Larger audiences. By offering experiences and products in other languages, brands automatically broaden their reach as well as boost awareness of the brand. 
  • Improved SEO. Bilingual websites raise international rankings even as they work within their own domains. Plus, Google doesn’t penalize organizations for duplicate content in other languages. The search giant will even direct users to the right version of a site by language or region. 
  • Recognize differences and build trust. By giving users, visitors, and clients the chance to interact with a brand in the language they prefer, organizations demonstrate greater cultural sensitivity, which can also differentiate a brand from competitors.
  • Increased return on investment (ROI). An expanded audience base provides brands more conversion opportunities and substantial financial returns.

Multilingual capabilities to look for in a CMS

Brands convinced of the power and potential of a multilingual digital presence want a content management system that can make good on that promise, so what should they consider? The answer is two-pronged.

Multilingual interface

Before users, visitors, or clients interact with any organization’s multilingual content, app, or product, there are the teams who create those experiences. Those teams may sit in a single office or be distributed across regions or nations, but what they need to be most successful are tools that speak their language — literally.

Drupal excels at that. An open source platform built by a worldwide community in the tens of thousands, Drupal has been necessarily translated across multiple languages, with translations constantly maintained; a closed-source vendor would be hard-pressed to say the same. As a result, Drupal can be easily configured to display multilingual interfaces, so teams can work in their preferred languages.

Content translation

When weighing a content management system’s multilingual capabilities, evaluators also need to assess how it handles content translation — both how content is managed and how it’s technically rendered in the CMS.

Because Drupal stores content as structured data, translation can be managed down to the field level. Once the chosen languages are enabled, users can decide which fields to translate and which can be inherited from a site’s primary language.

The technical side of translation itself happens in a few different ways.

  • In-house. Some organizations (typically bigger ones) have internal resources they can allocate to translate content and other assets.
  • External partner. Firms can work with translation management systems (TMS) — like TransPerfect or Smartling — that feature a mix of people and technological resources. Their services can hook into a CMS, which can relay content as well as receive its translated version. Some connectors will even display what percentage of translations have been completed, which helps content managers better understand their production workflows. Since Drupal is open source, many translation integrations exist in a consistent framework through the Drupal Translation Management Tool (TMGMT) module.
  • Auto or machine translation. Artificial intelligence (AI) powers this form of translation, and while the technology has improved in recent years, experts don’t recommend it. The risks of auto translation outweigh its advantages — mistranslated content may cost a brand its reputation, for instance, while adding cost and time spent correcting errors and managing a PR/brand fallout.

Designing a translation workflow  

Central to any successfully translated website, app, or product is a well-oiled workflow. To achieve it, brands must build in time to think through both the larger and smaller production aspects.

For example, when preparing to launch a site or brand, an organization’s go-to-market strategy often involves prioritizing audiences. Which languages should be accessible at launch, and which can be brought online at a slower pace? If the approach is multisite, how much autonomy will the teams managing each site require? Will control be centralized?

On the more day-to-day level are production questions such as who will vet the translation, when in the process that vetting may occur, and how many rounds of approvals are required before publication.

These considerations should be addressed early when building the content management workflow, involving a cross-team group that likely includes representatives from the business operations, content, and development teams.

By answering both macro- and micro-level questions, brands can design a translation workflow that achieves their globalization goals from the get-go. Skip these steps, and organizations are likely to find themselves returning to the drawing board, which costs both time and money. And, while it may be tempting to export previous processes and practices, doing so may fail to recognize a business’s new priorities or to incorporate new teams.

What’s the difference between translation and localization?

Oftentimes, organizations will lump translation and localization together, not realizing that their workflows and goals may differ. Translation interprets a message from one language to another; localization revises the message or asset to fit the local culture, regulations, or company goals for that city or region. For example, one region of a country may refer to a particular holiday as All Saints’ Day, while another may call the same holiday The Feast of St. Michael’s. Local customs dictate which nomenclature is used.

Translation interprets a message from one language to another; localization revises the message or asset to fit the local culture, regulations, or company goals for that city or region.

Other examples: A business may be prohibited from offering a product or service in certain countries, so it can’t appear on the websites of those areas. Or it may be that a team in South America wants to offer a 35% discount on an item, while teams elsewhere would like to leave it regularly priced.

Sometimes those localization initiatives involve translated content; sometimes they don’t. Either way, the effort is often manual, meaning no AI or other automation is involved. The technical underpinnings of both translation and localization, however, are the same when it comes to a Drupal CMS. The team at Smartling notes that, when designing a content management workflow, it's best practice to include localization so that there's a seamless transition from content creation to final, localized product for customers.

Try Drupal’s multilingual capabilities

While many of the points raised here can be applied to any CMS, it’s important to underscore the ways in which Drupal shines because it can be the difference between a clunky, mistranslated website and one that easily guides a visitor or user to expertly managed experiences in their preferred or native language.

Broadly speaking, those advantages include Drupal’s active global community that ensures multilingual interfaces are maintained. Then, there’s the platform’s core strength of managing multilingual content. Organizations seeking to raise the bar on translation will find the functionality included in Drupal while enjoying an ever-growing list of integrations for translation management partners or in-house teams. 

To learn more about how your brand can expand its multilingual reach through Drupal, request a demo today!

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