Multilingual Website Best Practices for Schools
Debbie Eisenach

Are current and prospective families missing out on important information because of a language barrier? They might be!

In the U.S., over 61 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, which is over 20% of the population! With upwards of 60 nationalities at many international schools and schools in the U.S. enrolling an ever-diverse student population, offering your school’s website content in more than one language is critical for inclusivity and engagement.  

Your school website should have multilingual support if you:

  • Have a diverse community with a meaningful number of non-native English speakers;

  • Have a large population of host country families at your international school who speak a different language;

  • Have partnerships with corporations who recruit students where English is not their native tongue; or

  • Are trying to recruit a certain nationality to your school.

Website Language Translation Options for Schools

1. Google Translate

One option for adding a language translation plug-in to a website is to use the free Google Translate Website Widget which, although not perfect, “works”. A few years ago, Google eliminated new access to the translator but re-enabled access for non-commercial use of the product last year. For school districts that serve a vast array of non-native English speakers, while not perfect, this solution is easy and affordable.

Tippecanoe School Corporation | Google Translate Widget

Google Translate isn’t Always Enough

We ran some tests on various phrases to see how Google’s free translation tool fared.

Here’s what Google has to say about this school’s arts program when translating it to one language and back to English:

  • Example 1:

    Native English Version:

    “Guided by UN values, we inspire all learners to strive for academic and personal excellence and empower students to create positive, sustainable impact

    Korean Version Translated into English with Google Translate:

    “In line with the values of the United Nations, we encourage all learners to strive for academic and personal excellence and to create a positive and sustainable impact for our students.”

Good enough? Maybe. Certainly those well-chosen words get lost … in translation. Let’s try another, on a school’s value proposition page:

  • Example 2:

    Native English Version: 

    “We believe that your willingness to serve and give selflessly speaks volumes about your character – and provides the foundation for a life well lived.”

    Spanish Version Translated to English with Google Translate: 

    “We believe that your willingness to serve and give disinterestedly speaks volumes about your character, and provides the basis for a life well lived.”

Again, not bad. As a non-native Spanish speaker, I don’t know where “selflessly” becomes “disinterestedly”, but those are very different words with very different connotations. The intricacies of various verb tenses, colloquialism, and other nuances/subtleties fall short in many cases. And if you are asking families to pay thousands of dollars for a private education, it seems clear that you’d want words  that these same “buyers” can understand.

Let’s try something more nuts and bolts: getting people to campus.

  • Example 3:

Native English Version:

“We've designed three opportunities to help you start your exploration. We can tweak your visit to suit your particular interests and to make your experience positive and educational.

The tour and interview

Class Visit Day

Open House”

Arabic Version Translated to English with Google Translate: 

“Explore your. We can modify your visit to suit your own interests and make your experience positive and educational.

Round and interview

Day of the class visit

Open house”

You’d be hard-pressed to find an admissions or PR officer excited about some of the keywords and phrases that are missed or mistranslated.

What’s more, from a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) standpoint, serving pages that are natively translated is a superior solution for ensuring Google (the Search Engine, not Translate) understands what your pages are saying and how relevant they are to the end user, according to a very good article from Search Engine Land.


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2. Offer a Bilingual or Multilingual Website

Since the practical matters of deploying a dual or multilingual website with true native translations can be considerable, it’s important to prioritize where to start. Some schools know straight away what the top languages are spoken within their community. 

Google Analytics is also useful as it shows you what country your site visitors are coming from and what their browser language is. Combining those data points with which pages are most visited and how much time is spent on certain pages are important starting points. From there, other key questions to consider include:

  • Should you translate the whole website or just certain pages?

  • Will you translate it manually or use technology?

  • Which pages should you focus on?

  • How easy will it be to maintain?

Once you’ve established the order in which to tackle translated pages, deploying the content in a way that’s easy to administer is next. 

Mirroring Your Site with Finalsite’s Composer

For those schools who want translation without using embedded translation software and want to invest in content that is written in the native language, Finalsite’s Content Management System supports a completely mirrored site in one or more foreign languages, or just for certain pages. 

For instance, Ermitage International School has two sets of pages in Composer’s sitemap to individually handle each page, then a toggle for users to navigate to one or the other. This allows for content specific to the language, as well as any unique layout treatments for individual pages.

Ermitage | Bilingual Site - French and English

This kind of translation can play out in terms of navigation, content and sitemap. What’s more, you can use Composer’s Personalization feature to show the right content based on where geographically a user is accessing the website -- a very cool add-on.

Chadwick International School in South Korea has created a page on their site with accordians to help local families better understand the admissions process in this extensive FAQ section.

Chadwick International - FAQ Section Translated into Korean

 

Weglot Translation Software

In working with schools in over 100 countries, Finalsite knows the importance of multi-language websites, so have partnered with Weglot to help schools easily and more seamlessly translate their websites. Weglot's translation API integrates into your school's website with support for more than 100 languages. This integration simplifies the translation process through automatic detection and translation of text content for a reliable and easy way to manage translations. 

Perhaps most importantly, admin users can manually review and override incorrect translations through a simple editing interface. For example, if you prefer your school name never be translated, you can easily make that edit, or if you have some signature program that gets lost in translation, you can exclude that from being translated. 

University Prep Public Schools

University Prep Public Schools translates to Spanish, French, Arabic, Hindi, English using Weglot.

The Hattemer School

The Hattemer School translates to  English, Spanish, German, Polish and French using Weglot.

Hangzhou International School

Hangzhou International School translates into nine different languages using Weglot. 

Key Takeaway

There are many ways to tackle school website translations, and the team at Finalsite can help you determine the best solution to meet your needs. Technology makes it quicker and easier than ever to translate your entire school website or portions of your site to meet the needs of your community. Once considered a huge undertaking for school marketing and PR professionals, you can now check this one off your list rather easily. 


School Marketing Day 2021


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Eisenach

As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 10 years while living in both Asia and Europe. She helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication needs of international schools.

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