Want to translate a website or webpage? Unfortunately, translating an entire website can be a big task. And serving audiences that speak different languages can get messy. However, when executed well, the personal touch of multilingual content can make a noticeable difference in your ministry. I still dream in Spanish, communicate with my family in Spanish, talk to my friends in German, but I have no problem reading in English. 😉
I travel all over the US and have worked with countless parishes, dioceses, and Catholic ministries on the topic of translating websites. Here’s the first question I always ask them:
Do you really need to translate?
First, evaluate whether you actually need to cater to another audience in their native language. Your website is meant to encourage an initial digital interaction; it should ultimately catapult people toward an actual physical interaction with your organization.
If you can’t serve an audience’s needs beyond a simple online sentence translation, perhaps translating isn’t necessary. You could be creating an expectation online that can’t be met in person.
Imagine you’re spending a year in Japan and are looking for a Catholic church. Would you be disappointed if the Japanese church website didn’t include specially crafted English content? Probably not. Frankly, you’d expect to have to do some translation yourself. If an engaged non-English speaking community doesn’t exist in your area, spend your time identifying and focusing on your core audience(s) instead.
So what do we recommend to translate a website?
There are many factors to consider and there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all solution. Once you decide that web translation is an important part of your communication strategy, it’s time to choose the best method to serve your multilingual audience. Here’s the best and most common translation options we recommend:
Translation Option #1: Set up a secondary website
👍🏼 PROS: Personal touch
👎🏼 CONS: Large time investment, $$
The first option is to build a separate website altogether. You don’t have to start from scratch; instead, simply clone your English website and start translating! However, don’t go on autopilot. Only translate pages that are relevant to the non-English community, then delete any extra content.
From a technical setup standpoint, there are a few ways the sites could coexist:
- Subdomain – Set up the second website as a subdomain of your current site. (e.g., If your flagship site is myparish.org, your secondary site could be espanol.myparish.org.)
- Unique domain name – Use a unique domain name for the secondary site (e.g., miparroquia.org). This is a good choice if you want the site to establish a distinct identity.
- Alias – To maximize SEO (search engine optimization) benefits, you could set up an alias to point to the separate non-English site (e.g., myparish.org/espanol).
This translation option requires the greatest time investment. Maintaining two websites obviously doubles the amount of time you spend updating your content on a regular basis. However, the personal touch of a standalone secondary site will give you the highest-quality translation and might be a necessary investment in a vibrant ministry.
Translation Option #2: Build a section onto your current website
👍🏼 PROS: Personal touch, don’t have to translate entire site
👎🏼 CONS: Time investment
Option #2 (my personal favorite) is to create a separate section of your website to cater to non-English speakers. For example, add a new menu item to your main navigation called “Español.” Then, build a menu of pages relevant to the Hispanic community and add unique Spanish content to each page.
When building the bilingual section, don’t automatically include a new version of every page of your website. Instead, only include pages, news, and events that are relevant to the Hispanic audience.
This method allows you to provide high quality, personally-crafted translation with a lower cost and time investment than Option #1.
Translation Option #3: Embed an auto-translate plugin
👍🏼 PROS: Set it and forget it
👎🏼 CONS: Automated and impersonal
The final option is to utilize an auto-translate service. Some of these services are free, others can be purchased. For Catholic organizations, the most popular auto-translate choice is the free Google Translate plugin.
After you embed the plugin in the header or footer of your website, your visitors can request to have your entire site translated into their native language. You can specify a few languages you’d like to be available to your visitors.
Of course, free is free! And automation = more time for other tasks! However, the accuracy of the automatically-generated content might suffer and any text in images will not be translated. The script that powers Google Translate could also cause your site’s pages to load a bit slower than usual, and you lose the personal touch.
What strategies have you used to serve a non-English community? What’s worked (and what hasn’t)?