Agencies' sites go multilingual

Tips for multilingual Web content

  • Get a search engine that accepts diacritical marks.

  • Watch out for formatting.

  • Review translations carefully; an innocent-sounding phrase might convey an inappropriate message in another language.

  • Be aware of regional dialects and linguistic nuances.

  • Present metadata in the same language as the site itself.
  • Basic forms and fact sheets are available in 15 languages on SSA's multilingual site, at www.ssa.gov/multilanguage.

    Agencies are slowly starting to deliver their online content in languages besides English.

    The Social Security Administration and Small Business Administration showed off new Spanish-language portals, www.ssa.gov/espanol and www.sba.gov/espanol , at the recent FedWeb fall conference in Arlington, Va.

    SBA launched an all-Spanish site with about 50,000 documents and 80 percent of the agency's total Web content in September, said Patricia Chavez-Villanueva, a special assistant in SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership. The site was publicized through Spanish-language media and drew more than 50,000 hits during the week of Sept. 22.

    Users can search and retrieve files in Spanish, said Luis Interiano, webmaster of the Spanish portal.

    About 10 percent of SSA's clients speak Spanish, and 1 percent speak other non-English languages, said Lonnie Albright, a webmaster and public affairs specialist in SSA's Office of Communications.

    Much to do

    'Ideally we'd like 100 percent of the documents in Spanish, but we have only five people' on staff, Albright said.

    Basic forms and fact sheets are available in 14 other languages on SSA's multilingual site, at www.ssa.gov/multilanguage. The languages are Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Many forms are in Adobe Portable Document Format because HTML posed too many font problems with non-Latin alphabets, Albright said.

    A contractor does most of the text translations, and volunteers in SSA's nationwide field offices proofread the translations.

    The corrected documents are generated in both Microsoft Word and PDF, said John Siguenza, SSA's multilingual services coordinator. The Word version lets SSA make minor changes, such as dollar amounts.

    Contracting for the translations turned out to be cost-effective because 'you're dealing with lots of regional differences, lots of subtleties,' Siguenza said. For example, the agency's own Spanish translators come from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain and the southwestern United States.

    The newly bilingual, 4-year-old MedlinePlus service of the National Library of Medicine presents consumer-oriented health information on 560 topics.

    In making a Spanish version, NLM officials put a toggle link on the header of each page, systems librarian Paula Kitendaugh said. Readers can search for a medical term and then toggle back and forth between English and Spanish explanations.

    The Spanish MedlinePlus, at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/medlineplus.html, went online Sept. 9, Kitendaugh said. It took NLM nine months to develop the Spanish section and change the search engine to accept diacritical marks.

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