Multilingual

10 Tips to Create, Maintain, and Present Non-English Digital Content: A Q&A with Michael Mulé

The 10 questions below were curated from attendees of the webinar, Language Connections: Tips to Create, Maintain, and Present Non-English Digital Content. This event was hosted by Digital.gov’s Multilingual Community of Practice and Web Managers Community of Practice on February 24, 2021. Questions were moderated by the Multilingual Community co-lead, Laura Godfrey, of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), and answered by Michael Mulé, Attorney Advisor, of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Question 1: We avoid using automatic translation services, but our translation team is small and contracting with translation providers gets expensive. What process should we use to translate website content?

Answer: To make sure your process is manageable, develop a plan for identifying vital English content and a reasonable schedule to translate that content into the non-English languages in your service area.

Plain Language / plainlanguage.gov

First, make a list of the vital English content on your website. Vital content addresses the key services you provide to the public including how to apply, sign up, or access your services, how to contact your office, and how to request language assistance services. These are just some examples of vital content. You may have others. Make sure that your vital content is written in plain language in English, which will make the translation process easier and cheaper and the translated text more accessible to a wider audience.

Second, once you have a list of your vital English content, identify the language communities in your service area. Identify the specific languages and dialects (if any).

Third, create a reasonable schedule that describes when each item in your vital English content list will be translated into each identified language. For example, you may decide to first develop a landing page with vital content in several non-English languages that are linked from non-English language indicators on your home page. Next, you may add more translated content to each landing page and create sub-pages for specific topics.

Once you have a schedule, contact a translation provider. Make sure your provider uses translation memory software so you do not have to pay to have the same word or phrase translated each time. Translation memory also ensures that words and phrases are translated consistently. If possible, create a glossary of commonly used terms.

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Question 2: What types of funding or resources are available for small government agencies and organizations with limited budgets?

Answer: Federal agencies, and entities that receive assistance from federal agencies, have an obligation to provide meaningful access to limited English proficient (LEP) individuals, but we all want to use our resources efficiently. There are a few ways to get the most out of your resources while still providing meaningful access.

If you are a state or local government agency or organization, when you are applying for federal grants or other assistance, make sure that you include interpretation and translation services in your proposed budget. Some federal agencies even specify in regulations or notices of funding opportunity that interpretation and translation services are permitted costs. See if you can use existing county or statewide contracts for interpretation and translation services. You may be able to use the interpretation and translation providers in those contracts, which will often be at a lower rate than if you contracted with those providers on your own. If there is no existing contract, ask your state or county contract agency to develop one or work with several state or local agency partners to develop a multi-agency contract for interpretation and translation services that will likely result in lower rates for everyone.

No matter which option you have available, make sure that the translation provider uses translation memory software and other tools that reduce translation costs and delays. Translation memory is so you do not repay for the translation of the same word or phrase in a later translation. For website content, translation providers also have software and applications that can track any new English content that is added to your website. If they see new English content added, they can contact you to ask if you want that new content translated into non-English languages and where you would like the translations to be posted.

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Question 3: Is there any situation when I might only use an automatic or machine translation service or software to translate non-English text?

Answer: You should not rely solely on automatic or machine translation services or software, and every time you use it you should have a competent translator verify any translation you received from automatic or machine translation services or software. In almost every situation, you should have time to send the non-English text to a competent translator or have it reviewed by a competent staff translator who has had their translation skills assessed or verified. If the non-English text is a communication from an LEP person, like a text message or an email, you should check to see if the person provided their telephone number. If they did, you can use a telephone interpreter service to immediately contact and assist that LEP person.

In very limited emergency situations, after work hours or during an emergency, you may not be able to immediately access a competent translator. Only in those emergency situations, if no other translation options are available and you need to know immediately what the non-English text says, that is when you might decide to use an automatic or machine translation service to get the gist, or basic understanding, of what is communicated. Once you have that basic understanding, you will still need to send the original non-English text to a competent translator to have that non-English text properly translated as soon as possible.

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Question 4: When providing information in multiple languages, should I release all languages at the same time?

Answer: You will likely need to release information in as many non-English languages as possible if it is vital information, time sensitive, or will have negative consequences on individuals who do not receive the information. For example, if your office issues a notice on Thursday that a new benefits application must be filed by the next Monday and applications submitted after Monday will be denied, that notice will need to be issued in English and the non-English languages of the service area at the same time.

A stock photo image of a hand holds up a laptop. On the screen, 10 languages surround a language translation icon.

Jirsak, iStock, Getty Images Plus

Timing is important. Think of your language communities when drafting the English context—not after you have the final text and are about to release it to the public. If the draft English text is dense or lengthy, consider how you can make a plain language version or if you can convert it to a shorter frequently asked questions or similar format that provides the same key information. The turnaround time to translate a short plain language document is much quicker than a more complicated or longer document. You may also first post the short version of the document with the key information in non-English languages and later, on that same page or location, add the full document in those same non-English languages. Whether the information is vital or not, make it accessible to LEP persons by posting content that is in the same non-English language in the same location or your website or social media account.

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Question 5: How do I assess the quality of non-English text after it has been translated or edited if I cannot read or understand that non-English language?

Answer: To make sure that you have a high-quality translation, you do not need to know how to read every language, but you do need competent translators. Competence is more than someone who self-identifies as bilingual or a native speaker, it is someone who can demonstrate that they have translation skills. The skill of translating is very different from the skill of interpreting, and a person who is a competent interpreter may not be competent to translate. Some bilingual staff, for example, may be able to orally communicate effectively in a non-English language, but are not competent to do a written translation in that same language.

A competent translator will understand the expected reading level of the audience, know the necessary vocabulary and phraseology needed, and consistently use the correct terms of art or other technical concepts in English and the non-English language. Someone who has had their translation skills assessed using a verified test may demonstrate their competence with a certification or accreditation, but a certification may not always be possible or necessary.

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Question 6: What happens if a translation is late or has errors?

Answer: A late or poor translation not only costs you money, it can also cost you credibility with the specific language communities in your service area that you are trying to reach. When you develop a contract with a translation provider, that contract needs to address what happens when the provider misses a deadline or gives you a translation that has errors. Some translation contracts state that if the translation is delivered after the deadline the translation provider agreed to, you do not pay. You may also have a term in the contract that states the translation provider must do a quality check of all translations before they are sent to you and that if you find errors you will not be required to pay the full price for the translation. If you are developing or renewing a contract with a translation provider, think about including quality control provisions to ensure that you have timely and competent translations.

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Question 7: When I create a PDF document, how do I make it accessible and specify that the PDF is written in a non-English language?

Answer: If you create the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro, select the “File” menu and choose “Properties.” When in Properties, select the “Advanced” tab. In “Reading Options,” select the “Language” drop-down list and choose the language. If you need to specify a language that is not in that Language drop-down list, such as Farsi, you must type the ISO 639 code for the language, not the name of the language. You also need to go to the Properties, and select the “Description” tab, and include the Title, Author, Subject, and Keyword information in that same non-English language. Including this identifying information in the non-English language in the Description tab for the PDF will ensure that the document can be found by limited English proficient (LEP) users when they are using a search engine in their language.

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Question 8: What should I do when an online form is in English but a response to that form in a non-English language?

Answer: If the form responses are sent to an email address, you can send that email, or the text from it, to a translation service provider. The translation provider can identify the non-English language for you and translate the form responses from that non-English language into English. If you receive repeated responses in a particular non-English language, or requests for your online form in a non-English language, that is a good indicator you need to translate that English online form into other languages.

Question 9: How can LEP individuals access our voicemail system? How can I get voicemail messages interpreted or translated?

Answer: One way to make sure LEP individuals can access your voicemail systems is by having audio menu prompts in non-English languages. If an LEP person has left you a voicemail message in a non-English language, and you have access to a telephone interpreter service, you can play that voicemail message for the telephone interpreter. The telephone interpreter can first help you identify the language. Once they identify the language, they can connect you with an interpreter in that language. That interpreter can then tell you the contents of the voicemail message in English.

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Question 10: How do I communicate with language communities that do not use a written language?

Answer: You should have a process to periodically assess the language communities in your service area and determine how you will provide meaningful access for people who speak languages that do not have a written form. One way to communicate vital information, instead of written text, is to use easy-to-understand symbols or illustrations. For example, a flyer or infographic that explains how to call your office may use an image of a telephone, a person picking up the telephone, and then include the phone number for your office. This approach will only be effective if the staff person who receives the call has been trained on how to connect with the correct interpreter. If your main phone number has a menu with audio prompts or provides information about how to leave a message, make sure there is equivalent audio in non-English languages that also explain how to access your programs and language assistance services.

Another way to communicate information is to create audio or video messages with a competent interpreter who speaks that non-English language. These videos can be presented to specific language communities as part of your community outreach efforts, shared directly with individuals by email or text message, and posted on the main page of your website.

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