4 Mistakes To Avoid When Building A Multilingual Website

According to some language sites, one in five people worldwide may speak English, but having an English-only website in a globalized economy is a grave mistake. Multiple studies have shown that buyers favor buying from websites that either let them choose their language or are written in their preferred tongue. The potential gain from this is too significant to pass up.

The numbers favor having a multilingual website, especially for the four out of five people in the globe who aren’t fluent in English. Providing information in as many languages as possible helps consumers make more informed decisions. It’s safe to say everyone’s in a rush to build one, but such projects should avoid the following development mistakes:


  1. Displaying language options in English

The first one is easy to overlook. Some websites tend to display language options as they appear in English instead of their native language. The spelling and format of native languages can vary wildly from their English-written counterparts. Take the following, for example:

  • Arabic – عربي
  • Chinese (Simplified) – 汉语
  • Chinese (Traditional) – 中文
  • French – Français
  • German – Deutsch
  • Japanese – 日本語
  • Russian – русский
  • Spanish – Español
  • Thai – ภาษาไทย (1)

As shown here, not all the world’s widely-spoken languages use the Latin alphabet, instead preferring to use their native scripts. Displaying the options in their native language makes navigation easier for non-English visitors. Tools like a multi language translator can be a great help to a website in getting the translations necessary for going multilingual.

Consider putting the language change feature in a convenient place for added user-friendliness. Many multilingual websites design it as a drop-down menu typically above the site. Some even categorize the languages based on region, a typical setup for catering to a broader international customer base.


  1. Not using human translation in tandem

Since its introduction in the early 1990s, machine translation has become an essential online tool for converting text between languages. Today, there’s no shortage of paid and free translation tools such as Google Translate and DeepL. The accuracy of machine translation (MT) has evolved significantly over the last few decades, in particular because MT started using Deep Learning technology back in 2015. MT is becoming increasingly intelligent due to algorithms it used to ‘teach itself’ the most natural word and phrase combinations.

That’s not to say that using it alone will give you the most accurate of results. Involving human translators into the mix allows for a deeper understanding of context and a completely accurate result.

Even as artificial intelligence is poised to enhance machine translation, human translators will remain relevant. Experts recommend harnessing both options for the foreseeable future.


  1. Not accounting for unique style changes

The script differences between languages will always call for variations in the overall site design. Not accounting for such discrepancies might result in the text being all over the place in the final product, most notably outsizing their respective content boxes.

Text expansion is a common issue that comes up when designing multilingual websites. For instance, the word “view” in English can be short or long in other languages. Below are the projected expansion ratios for each translation, according to the World Wide Web Consortium (the basis is English, which has a ratio of 100%):

  • Korean – 조회, 80%
  • Chinese – 次檢視,120%
  • French – consultations, 260%
  • German – mal angesehen, 280%
  • Italian – visualizzazioni, 300% (3)

As exemplified here, Latin-based non-English languages can pose some design challenges. The Italian translation, in this instance, needs three times as much spacing as its English equivalent. However, shorter ones can also throw off some design elements.

Web designers have to make sure their design is responsive enough to accommodate the text when switching to a different language. This primarily entails taking several factors into account, from the presence of compound nouns to the use of abbreviations. (3)


  1. Designing only for Google

Google may be the giant in the search engine market, but worldwide access to it isn’t as unanimous as one might think. Visitors from some countries use their homegrown search engines, like China’s Baidu and Korea’s Naver. Each has its unique guidelines for search engine optimization, which the design must also consider.



A lot goes into planning and building a multilingual website, from designing how the language choices appear to accounting for country-specific SEO guidelines. Such a project is never easy, but it yields great rewards when done correctly. A multilingual website will be an indispensable source of revenue and exposure for businesses and organizations.



  1. “Language names”, Source: https://omniglot.com/language/names.htm
  2. “ANALYSIS OF HUMAN VERSUS MACHINE TRANSLATION ACCURACY”, Source: https://digitalcommons.mtech.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1226&context=grad_rsch
  3. “Text size in translation”, Source: https://www.w3.org/International/articles/article-text-size

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