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Multilingual Web: Localize your Web Design

Multilingual Web initially concerns the Language of your site. Language pertains to sound (Phonology), word formation (Morphology), sentence structure (Syntax), and paragraph construction (Written Discourse).  Text content is the representation of Language in online platform.

In a nutshell, multilingual web means constructing a site with various language versions and in time optimizing the contents and keywords through SEO Localization. Although the focus of a multilingual web is the site’s language and keywords or text content, localizing its design for users’ context plays a crucial role. Why?

  1. Currently in this level playing field websites are not merely a collection of text.
  2. Web design complements and strengthens the message of our web text content.
  3. Lastly, the users perceived the visuals and graphics in a site based on their cultural background, and this will somehow determine the effectiveness of the entire multilingual web—users with different cultures get offended simply because of your site’s color and images.

If you are a website owner or a web developer aiming to correspond with international market, this article is for you.  Take a look on the design practices below, and realize if your multilingual web is effective and culture sensitive.

1. Layout and White Space

Both design practices talk about the proxemics or distance.  Layout is the overall arrangement and plan of your website contents. White Space is the area left unmarked that defines the relationship of contents with each another.

In multilingual web or website localization, layout and white space are the least given attention—that’s why I’m pointing it first. Eastern Culture (most especially the Japanese) is minimalist. They value simplicity in design whether it is for plating, interior design, and of course websites. Simple and clean layout is beautiful in their eyes. Western Culture specifically French, in contrast, put more weight in space in their everyday living. Applying it to websites, take note that westerns would pay more attention in proper spacing of your web contents.

2. Hue and Typography

Color is a broad term that comprises Hue, Saturation, Value, and Shade among others. Hue is the fitting term if we want to say Yellow, Green, Violet or Brown. On the other hand, Typography is the form and stroke of a font. Careful combination of hue and typography can affect the user friendliness of your multilingual web.

White, Red, Gray, and Blue mean differently in every culture. White means purity and goodness in western and funerals in eastern. Red for eastern connotes happiness and prosperity but it might signify danger in western. For western, Gray is boring and dull yet it indicates travel in eastern. In eastern, blue is wealth, while in western it might imply depression.

Apart from hue, you also have to consider your foreign web users’ ability to read. This is when the balance between typography and hue comes in. For typography, consider the theory behind text alignment. Western Culture normally reads left to right, top to bottom. Some eastern countries read right to left, bottom to top.

3. Symbols and Images

Symbol is a representation of something. An Image might compose of various symbols that produce still image (picture) or moving image (video).

Cultures are very sensitive about symbols and images. These can give positive and negative connotations in your multilingual web. A “V” sign facing away from a person designates victory in majority of western countries. Try to show in eastern a symbol pointing with index finger and this generally translates as impolite.   Besides, Western and Eastern Cultures have a big difference in understanding a revealing image. A revealing image for eastern might not be that revealing in western.

Thomas Friedman once said that “The world is flat.” Thus, we are now in a globalized world. If you want to give a worldwide shot, make sure your multilingual web do it in a global and culture specific way.

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