English might be the mother tongue of the internet but the times, as Bob Dylan once noted, they are a-changin'.
According to Internet World Stats, China alone had more than 384 million internet users as of December 2009 (more than the combined populations of the UK and USA), while web access continues to increase in other large markets such as South America.
The web quite literally puts the world at your fingertips, but there are few tips and tricks to consider when it comes to making your website both accessible and appealing to visitors who speak a language other than English.
Make sure you're understood
Good quality translation is so important when it comes to making your website accessible. The simplest and cheapest way is to add a translation widget such as Google Translate, however, machine translation can throw up contextual and structural errors.
Try pasting a block of text into a translation program, translate it to Spanish, then Arabic and then back to English. It's likely that the original text will be changed dramatically as if in some online game of 'Chinese whispers'. If you are using machine translation, keep the source or original content as simple and clear as possible, avoiding any jokes or specific cultural references.
If resources allow, you should prefer human translation by a native speaker of your new target market. This should help avoiding any errors or cultural faux pas as well as allowing for a more natural flow and tone.
If the budget isn't enough for translation services, it may be handy to double-check any machine translation with the help of a native speaker.
Use of CSS and UTF-8
If you're using any custom fonts (@font-face), make sure that the font supports any special characters that the language may have.
UTF-8 is a variable-length character encoding that is compatible with over 90 written languages. You might not see the need for a localized site written in Arabic or simplified Chinese at the moment, but using UTF-8 from the start will ease adding a new language if required in the future.