Community Research Explores Ways To Improve Access To Multilingual Content

Government websites must be accessible to all, which includes those who speak languages other than English. There has been a lot of progress in this area, and government websites typically provide access to content that helps users find information in their own language.

Current State

One common problem, however, is an inconsistent method of displaying access to information for limited English proficiency (LEP) users. This comes from a lack of clear guidance on how to indicate content in languages other than English. For example, some websites display a language toggle in the header, while others display it in the content area or footer. This can hinder the ability of users with limited English proficiency to find the information they need to complete their tasks.

The Need

It has become clear that there is a need for consistent guidance for government developers, content specialists, and designers on how and where to display content in languages other than English.

In response, a group of members from the Multilingual Community conducted research, discussed their findings, and drafted solutions based on the number of languages and content being offered.

Thank you to the six community members representing four agencies who led this effort!

  • Fedora Braverman—National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health
  • Mikelyn Meyers—U.S. Census Bureau
  • Yazmin Garcia Trejo—U.S. Census Bureau
  • Mike Mulé—U.S. Department of Justice
  • Laura Godfrey—U.S. General Services Administration
  • Maria Marrero—U.S. General Services Administration

Approach

The group came together to review websites across government and industry. They considered usability testing that had already been performed on these websites, and they took into account accessibility requirements. Finally, they recommended future usability testing with limited English proficiency users — with the understanding that guidelines should be updated based on those findings.

Solutions

So far, the group from the Multilingual Community has proposed guidance for three scenarios:

  1. Websites with two languages
  2. Websites with three or more languages, with all content available in all languages
  3. Websites with three or more languages, with selected content offered in other languages
A drop-down menu for six languages is shown in alphabetical order in wireframes for a website. The languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, Spanish, French, and Italian. Separated by a red dashed vertical line, the mobile view is on the left, and desktop view is on the right.

Prototype of a potential solution for a drop-down language menu located at the top of the page.

In their solutions, the group identified the following areas that could be made more consistent when displaying content in languages other than English:

  • Format style (use a button-like link or dropdown list, instead of plain text links)
  • Placement on the page
  • Implementation of functionality (how the button works)
  • Accessibility and usability for developers (proper color contrast, visual element, language attributes, etc.)
  • Treatment (use of words instead of graphics or icons in the button)
  • Language display (capitalization, order of languages, etc.)
A web page shows a split screen. Along the top is a menu of multiple languages. The bottom half shows the HTML language attributes used to indicate the language of text for accessibility. Red boxes around the examples and red arrows connect the text links to the corresponding HTML code for Spanish (e s) and Chinese (z h).

Language attributes examples in HTML code.

The Multilingual Community plans to work with the U.S. Web Design System team to publish the final guidance that can be implemented across government websites.

Note

Everyone can contribute to the design system. Do you have ideas on what should be included in the final guidance?

Contribute to discussion on the language selector component.