Account services

Missing translation/page dilemma and strategies

This is a typical challenge for multilingual websites due to semi-parallelism of content. Consider the following multilingual websites in two languages: language A and language B:

Illustration of missing page dilemma

The above sites are simplified to function here as examples of semi-parallel websites (described in the previous section).

Here the dilemma “what do we do with missing pages/translations?

We have a set of strategies to adopt depending on the overall website:

  1. Strategy 1: We redirect the user to another available language. This can be done in different ways (language negotiation). A) We look in the user’s preferred languages settings of the browser. And redirect to the top preferred if available, if any of the visitor-preferred language is available we redirect automatically to the default language (in our case the source language for all translated pages, English). It works used for a small set of pages and only if the browser is set-up correctly by the visitor.
  2. Strategy 2: We send the visitor to a standard page like “Page not available in selected language, you may want to check the following available languages.”
  3. Strategy 3: When a document is not present in the selected language then a machine-translated page can be presented to the visitor. The page must inform the visitor that this is a “machine translated document” and therefore the quality is not as good as the human translated one. It helps the visitor get an idea of the content domain. In this way we can also keep translation costs very low. On the other hand this method cannot be used for high-profile documents, e.g. on the top levels pages of the site. Machine translation is also a time-consuming process that must be prepared off-line and not on-the-fly.
  4. Strategy 4: Links in the target language page are removed. With this strategy visitor will never encounter a page not in the visitor’s selected language. We don’t have to run several server side scripts to understand which other language are available and what action to take. We keep the site cleaned and simple in the target language, no mixed-language approach here. The visitor only sees what it is available in the selected language. Visitor will miss some information.
  5. Strategy 5: This is an improvement of the strategy 1. In strategy 1 we redirect the user to a default (always available) source language (normally the source language is English). One drawback is that the visitor may not understand the default language. We can improve this by reading the visitor browser’s settings where we find a “priority list of preferred languages”. We can let the web server then automatically detect the user-preferred languages and deliver the first available most suitable translation to the visitor. This approach requires that every visitor set-up the browser settings correctly.

None of the above strategy is the best. In some cases one strategy could be better than the other, while in other situations the opposite occurs. It all depends on the website’s content and type of visitors.

For example consider the following situation. We have 400 pages (English) to translate and publish on a multilingual website. Our target languages will be German and French. Due to a limited budget we cannot translate all the content (400 pages). We can translate max 20 pages into 2 languages every year. If we use strategy 1 we would end up with a French website where only 5 percent of the links on the site will actually take you to a page in French. In this situation the visitor will mostly encounter pages in English. A French visitor will have great difficulty to visit this kind of multilingual website. Therefore in this situation strategy 4 would be more suitable. Removing all the links to non-French pages will make the website more clear and easy to navigate for French people.

After some years we will have much more content in French. Suppose we have 90% of the content available in French. In this case it would be good to adopt another strategy where the links to non-French content are still available allowing an overview for polyglot visitors to see what is available in other languages without bothering the visitor who only know one language.

An intelligent multilingual website is adaptive and flexible. That means, it can adopt the right set of strategies in a specific combination of visitors and content. On the other hand such website is more complex to implement.

Furthermore there is no standard way on the web to solve such problems. Different approaches are implemented by different organisation, therefore making the visitor not aware of the strategy adopted. The visitor has to learn each time he/she visits a multilingual website.