9 Tips for Designing a Multi-Language Website


Having a multi-language website is more important to your business development than you might first consider. It is also a complex undertaking for your web design team.

Adding different languages to your eCommerce website takes less than 5 minutes using a plug-in. The real challenge is deciding where to place your language switcher drop-down, how to accommodate changes to your layout when a user switches from the site’s native language to an RTL language, and using the appropriate colors, images, and icons in different regions.

So let’s take a closer look at some of the things you need to consider to make your multilingual site accessible in multiple languages and regions.

Use global templates for consistent branding

Your site needs to present the same way no matter which language the visitor chooses. Your colors, images and brand should be consistent so that the visitor can recognise your business when visiting and selecting the language they need.

You need to ensure that visitors see the same branding, layout, and web design elements when they switch from the default language to the language of their choice. The experience should be seamless. Many plug-ins can do this for you, carrying over the template and simply inserting the chosen language in the content spaces.

Make the language switcher really easy to find

Place your language switching drop-down in a prominent location on your homepage and every other page of your site. The language switcher should be in the header and shown as flags for the language, or written in the native language, such as Deutsch for German or Suomi for Finnish.

This tactic not only helps welcome visitors to your multi-language website, but it attracts visitors who are seeking an easy online experience in their own language.

Let visitors choose their preferred language

Don’t force users to switch regions when choosing language preferences. Just because a person is visiting your site from the UK doesn’t mean they want to visit your site in English.

Many big brands force their visitors to change regions, rather than simply the language, and in eCommerce, this can lead to lost sales from frustrated visitors. You only need to offer people the choice of language, as well as region, to solve this issue and keep traffic on your site.

If you want to further improve the user experience, offer visitors the chance to select their default language so the next time they visit your multi-language website, it will automatically load in their native language.

Auto Detecting languages

Many multi-language websites will detect the native language of the web browser to automatically set the primary language for users.

However, it is important to remember that while a visitor might be physically located in Spain and your multi-language website will auto-detect that and display the site in Spanish, the visitor might be a native English speaker who can’t read Spanish.

Be sure to include an auto-language selector at the top of the page using flags so people can easily select the language in which they want to view content.

Flags vs language names

Flags are often used to indicate a language, but there are some issues to keep in mind:

  • Flags represent countries, not languages.
  • A country can have more than one official language.
  • A language can be spoken in more than one country.
  • Visitors might not recognize a flag (because of the icon size) or they might be confused by similar flags.

Ultimately, you want to provide language switching options that are easy to understand in any language.

Account for text expansion and contraction

Translated text can often expand or contract when translated. Some languages use more or fewer characters to communicate the same message. Languages like Spanish and English are wordy, sometimes needing upwards of 30{21dc2fe1b43c4cf57a2e25a56b286f09fbb32a45ddf34dcf04be366972dd7b06} more space than other languages.

Guides to text size in translation offer great advice on how to adapt your content to fit text boxes without having to change your layout, or it appearing messy.

It’s critical to have adaptive UI elements, such as buttons, input fields, and descriptive text.

Text normally expands or contracts in width, so ensure your multilingual website accounts for changes. Also keep in mind that the smaller the source text, the longer the likely translation will be. If you find that space is an issue, try changing the font size or using less-literal translations.

Character and line-height is another consideration. It’s common for non-Latin text to have much taller characters than Latin text. Scripts like Arabic will also need more vertical space between lines compared with Latin languages.

Consider web font compatibility and encoding

You should always specify the encoding of your web pages. It is recommended UTF-8 be used to make sure that special characters are displayed properly regardless of the language.

This is how to enable the UTF declaration in the header of your pages:



<!DOCTYPE html>


<html lang=”en”>




<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=utf-8″/>


Any web fonts used need to be compatible with the languages that your WordPress multi-language site supports, especially for non-Latin based languages. This means the fonts you use must contain all the characters and glyphs needed.

Some fonts might support Latin scripts but not RTL or Cyrillic, so check that the languages you want to use are supported before committing to fonts. A single language can comprise thousands of characters, which can make font files huge, which can slow load times.

Design for right-to-left languages

Designing pages for right-to-left languages can throw up challenges. Designing for TRL means “flipping the interface.”

Mirroring your design is something you need to consider if you’re designing for both LTR and RTL languages.

Use images and icons that are culturally appropriate

Images, icons, and other graphics are essential elements of any web page. But visuals by their very nature are subjective and can be interpreted in different ways when put into another cultural context.

Understanding glocalisation is important. If you intend on marketing your brand internationally, you need to be sensitive to the cultures of the regions in which you want to enter.

Dates and other formats

Using the correct date format for the region you are in is vitally important. In the UK, day, month, and year is the accepted norm, while in the US month, day, and year is used. If you don’t set this to change for the region you are operating in, it can lead to massive issues for your traffic and customers. You should never assume that people will think about this on your terms, you need to provide the format to them on their terms to avoid confusion.

You may also need to translate units of measure. While most of the world has long changed from the imperial system of measurement and accepted the metric system, the US causes confusion by choosing to remain using an outdated system of measurement.

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