How I Built My Own Multilingual Website

Hi folks! Kathrin here. Today, I’m going to describe how I built my own multilingual website, It wasn’t rocket science, but it did take some patience and a lot of trial and error.

First, I set up my domain name through Go Daddy. That part was incredibly easy thanks to their excellent customer service. Next came the process of building my own website using Go Daddy’s Website Builder. That part took a lot longer. The content of my website needed to be equal parts English, French and German, so I wanted to be in full control of how everything would fit together. It wasn’t a job I felt comfortable outsourcing to someone else. Like many new business owners, I was also trying to be frugal. I’m working on a tight start-up budget, so anything that looks like a potential a DIY job, I try to do myself. I figure that even if I fail and end up having to outsource the job after all, at least I will have learned something.

So I started by creating the elements of an English website: a „Home“ page, an „About“ page, a „Services“ page, a „Rates“ page, and  a „Contact“ page. This took a while. I had never built a website before in my life, and I had to figure out how to make everything look the way I wanted it to look. The Website Builder app was user-friendly enough, but it still took lots of fiddling with layouts, colours, texts, fonts, images and widgets. Eventually, after many, many, many hours – and then even more hours of trying to make things reasonably mobile friendly – I finally had an acceptable version of my English website. But I couldn’t publish it yet, because this was going to be a multilingual website.

Verbaccino's English Home Page
Verbaccino’s English Home Page

The next step was to translate each of my five English-language pages (Home, About, Services, Rates, and Contact) into French and German, respectively. I created a separate page for each translated version: so French got five pages of its own, and German did as well, for a new grand total of 15 pages. Of course, translating everything into two different languages took many more hours. It also required some readjusting of page layouts, since English takes up less space on a page than French or German. Along the way (OK, more like at the last minute), I enlisted the help of family and friends to proofread the final versions of each page. (Thanks again, mom, Manya, Valérie and Nicolas! You saved my bacon!)

Verbaccino's French Home Page
Verbaccino’s French Home Page

Translation can be a tricky and, at times, politically-sensitive business, as any translator knows all too well. In the case of my French translations, I had to make some choices around which standard terms to use: the French-Canadian ones or the European ones. As an example, the standard word for ‚email‘ in Canadian French is courriel (from courrier électronique). This is a word used at every level of French-Canadian society: private correspondence, business communications and official government publications. Now, I’m a Canadian. I was born and raised in Quebec, which is Canada’s officially French-speaking province. So courriel is my default translation for ‚email‘. However, I also know that in France and other French-speaking countries, the standard term for ‚email‘ is email. So using courriel might cause some puzzlement among international visitors to my website. The same thing applies to the French-Canadian term for ‚podcast‘, which is fichier balado or simply balado. From what I can tell, balado is used only in Canada. Elsewhere, French speakers use the term – you guessed it – podcast. So what to do? Quoi faire?

In the end, being a Canadian-based business owner, I decided that (for my own website, at least) I would go with the French-Canadian terms, and put the European equivalent in parentheses where I thought there was any potential for confusion. But it just goes to show that there’s a lot more to translation than some X=Y fomula. You have to be aware of cultural, regional and international variations within a language. Whether it’s vocabulary or just spelling conventions, you have to be able to localize your content to suit your target audience. (For instance, I would use the American spelling color and favor for an American client, not my Canadian spelling, colour and favour.)

Verbaccino's German Home Page
Verbaccino’s German Home Page

Last but not least, I had to figure out how to make all the various pages connect in a logical way, so that visitors to my website could easily navigate among the English pages – or the French pages, or the German pages, depending on their preferred language. The solution: a language-specific navigation menu at the top of each page. But I also wanted to make it easy for visitors to switch from one language to another. So if someone had just found my English „About“ page but preferred to read it in French, they could jump straight to my „À propos“ page.  And for visitors who would rather read about Verbaccino’s „Services“ in German, my „Angebote“ page would be just a click away. The solution: a couple of buttons at the bottom of each page that would take visitors to the equivalent page in the language of their choice. It took me a while to figure out where and how to insert the right buttons, hyperlinks and widgets, and to make everything flow the way I wanted. Of course, not every one of my 15 pages needed to be connected to every other page. But after much tinkering, I managed to get the pages linked in a way that I think makes sense and functions well.

The final verdict? Was it worth all that time and effort in the end? Absolutely. I dare say, it was even fun! Yes, I actually enjoyed the whole process. I also learned A LOT. Of course, my website still isn’t perfect. I think of it as a work in progress. For instance, I still haven’t figured out how to make the mobile version as attractive as I would like. And there’s definitely room for improvement on the desktop version as well. But considering I haven’t had any professional help so far, I’m rather pleased with what I’ve accomplished. Eventually, as my business grows, I know I’ll invest in expert help to take my website to the next level, both esthetically and functionally. But as someone with no previous website-building experience, I found it quite exciting and gratifying to create this first version of my own multilingual website – with a little help from my friends. And if I can do it, anyone can.

Are you a non-techie, like me, who has tackled building your own website? What was your experience? Would you do it again, or would you get someone else to do it for you next time? Is your website multilingual? If so, how did you choose to structure the content? Did you create separate pages for different languages, like I did, or did you integrate multiple languages on the same page? I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences of planning and creating multilingual websites, so please share!


@KathrinBussmann, @Verbaccino

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