Website Translation Best Practices for School Districts
Morgan Delack

Translating your school district’s digital communications into multiple languages is an essential component of your overall communications plan. Think this doesn’t apply to your district? In the U.S., more than 61 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, which is more than 20 percent of the population!

With most families getting school information solely from your website and digital communications, it’s important that the translation you provide is not only easy to access, but also accurate. With a district with limited resources and staff, achieving this goal can be challenging. In this article, we’ll outline three best practices for you to consider when establishing an effective translation plan for your website: 

  1. Implementing automated website translation tools 
  2. Manually translating key website content 
  3. Getting rid of PDFs

Implementing automated website translation tools

Your website is the hub of information for families across your district. Whether parents are there for lunch menus, calendars or health information, it should all be accessible in a language they understand.

Step one to ensuring your website is fully translatable is reliable translation software. While Google Translate is a convenient and inexpensive tool, it’s usually not the most accurate way to translate content. Automated translation from this source can result in some pretty off-the-wall translations leaving families more confused than informed. This can quickly erode their trust in your organization.

Here’s an example of an English phrase translated into French using Google Translate.

English content: “Each year the parents of two grade levels are invited to attend either a Language Arts or Math Happening. These “Happenings” provide parents with an opportunity to participate in a hands-on learning experience affording them insight into their child’s daily learning.”

Google Translate (French): “Chaque année, les parents de deux niveaux scolaires sont invités à assister soit à un événement d'arts linguistiques ou de mathématiques. Ces « Happenings » offrent aux parents l'occasion de participer à une expérience d'apprentissage pratique leur donnant un aperçu de l'apprentissage quotidien de leur enfant.”

While this translation isn’t necessarily “wrong,” there are several phrases and different word choices that would improve the overall translation. For example, “Chaque année” is better swapped for “Tous les ans.” Additionally, the word “Happenings'' isn't even translated at all using Google! Native French speakers may be scratching their heads here.

Another big problem with Google Translate is that you can’t correct inaccurate translations manually. So even if you see a glaring translation issue on your website, there’s nothing you can do to fix it.

So if Google Translate isn’t the best choice, what should your district use? Finalsite partners with Weglot to help schools easily and more seamlessly translate their websites into more than 100 languages. While Weglot's translation API is automated, its accuracy is more reliable than other tools on the market.

One of the greatest features of the tool is that admin users can manually review and override incorrect translations through a simple editing interface. Any corrections will appear everywhere that phrase or name pops up on your site. Weglot is the happy marriage of automated plus human translations: giving you the speed of automatic translation tools and the accuracy of the human touch.

Eastern Carver County Schools rely on Weglot for language translation. With this integration, they get quick, automatically translated content, but also have the flexibility to make changes if needed. In the passage below, you can see how intuitive the translation interface is. Webmasters can edit the translation in as many languages as they’d like, and it will hold wherever it repeats in other areas of the website, too.

Eastern Carver County School Weglot Integration

There’s another advantage to using Weglot as your translation software tool: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)! Weglot uses Google’s standards for multilingual websites by providing content dedicated URLs for each language that your content is translated into. Because of this, Google better understands what your pages are all about and how relevant they are to the end-user.

Another unique way to handle website translations is to require users to select a language upon entry to the page. This is a good option if you have a large percentage of families who speak a language other than English and really showcases your district’s commitment to linguistic inclusion.  Let’s take a look at Solomon Schechter Academy of Monreal. 

Solomon Schechter Academy Website

While this isn’t a public school example, diverse communities could learn a lot from this website. When landing on the homepage, users are prompted to choose between viewing the full website in English or French, the primary languages spoken by families enrolled. This multilingual entry point is created with a custom treatment by the Finalsite design team, but the translation is powered entirely by Weglot. This feature creates a truly bilingual, accessible website that showcases the value this school places on diversity.

If your goal is to translate your content in the most accurate yet efficient way possible, Weglot will be your best bet.

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Manually Translating Website Content

Some public schools have the bandwidth and desire to manually translate certain website content that is of utmost importance for parents. This approach takes translation to the next level for your district. For families, it shines the light on your linguistic inclusiveness by ensuring critical translations are 100% accurate.  It also allows you to utilize website design elements to make your pages look great.

Tulsa Public Schools has an exceptional Student and Family Support website

Tulsa Public Schools Student and Family Support Translated Website

Powered by Finalsite Posts, the page design is outstanding, making every element on-brand and easy to find. Looking beyond design, the parent content below the fold is clearly bilingual, with English and Spanish sections appearing side by side. Providing critical content in this format removes any potential barriers a person might encounter trying to find translation tools within your site.

Tulsa Public Schools Website English and Spanish Translation

Catawba County Schools has three primary languages in its community: English, Spanish and Hmong. By having dedicated buttons for each language beneath important information like district news and events, they ensure the language-translation options are obvious for key content."

Catawba County Schools District News and Events Language Translation

If you don’t have the bandwidth to translate everything on your website by hand, consider selecting the most important content and focusing your manual translation efforts there.

Getting Rid of PDFs

If your goal is a truly accessible website for people who speak a language other than English it’s time to focus on your PDFs. Not only are they not searchable on your site, but they also aren’t translatable, either. 

In the example below, the website content can be translated into multiple languages, including Arabic (pictured below), but the key information on this page (school lunch menus) is shared as a list of PDFs. 

Website Content Translated Into Multiple Languages

When the user clicks on the PDFs, they appear only in English, causing a significant barrier to access.

Website Content PDF Translated into English

A better way to incorporate this information is to add it directly to your website instead of relying only on a PDF attachment. Glenview 34 includes lunch menus on their calendar as an accordion dropdown. This ensures the content is searchable and translatable.

Translatable Content on Website

If you are like most districts, your parents want printable/downloadable versions of lunch menus and calendars, which are usually PDF documents. You don’t have to get rid of those entirely. As long as your PDFs are ADA compliant, continue to provide them where they make sense. But in addition to the PDF documents, be sure to add this content to your website pages directly so that the content remains searchable and translatable. 

Key Takeaway

Translating your district website content is no longer optional. Even if your school's service a small percentage of people who speak a language other than English, it’s imperative that they have access to the same website content as native English speakers. Using automated translation tools like Weglot paired with hand translating key content is the best way to ensure your website is accessible to multilingual audiences. 

Back to School guide for districts

Morgan Delack Headshot

Morgan Delack is Finalsite's Director of Communications, leading the marketing team's public school content, branding initiatives and professional development events. Morgan's background is a mixture of public school communications and television journalism, having worked in both industries for several years. She was named among NSPRA's 35 under 35 and has earned two Emmy Awards for her work in broadcasting. Morgan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids.

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