How to Build Multilingual Sites in SharePoint 2013

Content catering to different language groups is a must-have for most businesses nowadays. With the improvement and great usage of translation services / APIs across different platforms, multilingual content has gained a lot of momentum. In the web world this has resulted in increasing demand for multilingual sites.

SharePoint has some inbuilt features and services to help with creating multilingual sites, and translating documents based on actions taken.

Websites generally have two parts: the user interface, which defines the interaction with the site, and information, which defines the information stored in the site.

SharePoint provides two types of features to handle multilingual cases.

  • Multiple Language User Interface (MUI)
    • This is used for the user interface. This is generally used in SharePoint context to create different sites catering to the different languages.
  • Variation
    • Variation provides translation workflow and machine translation services to translate content of the site.

Multiple Language User Interface

In this article we will focus on MUI. Let us take the example where we need to support four languages. Ideally we will create four site collections with the required languages.

In order to do this, we need to figure out the language packs needed and get Farm admin access to install the packs. One thing to note here is that after creation of a site, we cannot change the default user interface language setting.

What the MUI Supports, and Excludes

When a user views a site in a secondary, preferred language, certain elements of the user interface are displayed in the preferred language. Generally speaking, most user interface elements can be displayed in the secondary, preferred language, but user-created content cannot be. The following list includes examples of items that are supported by the multilingual user interface:

  • Settings pages, such as those in the _layouts and the _admin virtual directories.
  • Help
  • Application content
    • Menus
    • Controls
    • Site actions, site title and description,
    • List or library titles and descriptions
    • Top link bar links, Quick Launch links
    • Local breadcrumbs
    • Site and list content types, and
    • Site and list columns.
  • Developer content, such as features, and solutions.

However, not all user interface elements are displayed in the secondary, preferred language. The following list includes examples of items that are not supported by the multilingual user interface:

  • Web Parts (except those that are linked to lists or libraries).
  • Global breadcrumbs.
  • User created content
    • List item data
    • Documents and web pages in libraries
    • Custom permissions levels, groups, views, and
    • Web Parts

Although most site templates are supported by the multilingual user interface, the following site templates are not supported:

  • The Blog template
  • Any of the meeting workspace templates
  • Any of the Web database templates

There is a lot of debate and discussion on when to use MUI, when to use variation, and when to use both. All schools of thought have pros and cons and the best approach is to look into the business requirement in detail and decide the best fit for your situation.

All these being said, SharePoint translation and multilingual features have a long way to go before it can play a very effective business enabler role. Still today practical multilingual sites use resource files and individual human approved translated words/ content.

February 1, 2016


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