We are working to transform online communication at the Commission. The vision is to create effective, user-centred digital services. User experience implies tackling many different areas. And for us, working for a multilingual organisation, there is one key area that is part of our daily work: translations.

The multilingual dimension has an impact not only on our work and resources, but also on how easy it is for people to find, understand and act on our content.

Current visitors and others we might want to engage with, should be able to access content they need in a language they feel comfortable with. And as the world becomes more and more digital, people who once looked for paper copies of documents and reports are now accessing them online. A missing translation could ruin a user experience, and make people feel that their needs are not being taken seriously.

24 languages v limited resources

More than half of the Commission's websites are in more than one language, but only a fifth are fully multilingual (i.e. all EU languages). We know we cannot translate all web content into 24 languages and keep it up to date, however lean our sites become. Even if we had the resources, it wouldn't be justifiable. Not all content needs to be in all languages. On the other hand, it’s not justifiable to fail to deliver content in the languages the users need, either.

There are no legal obligations to translate web content – except for a few well-defined exceptions, like the European Citizens Initiative. So we have few if any rules to fall back on. That’s why we are defining a language-coverage strategy as part of our digital transformation work. There are three main issues to take into consideration:

Know thy users

First, we are working hard to get to know our visitors and find out what they need from us, in terms of content and in terms of languages. Who are the people who visit our pages, and where do they come from? What are they looking for? What is their age and level of education? Which language did they use? What is our target audience? It could be a Polish entrepreneur looking for guidelines on how to start up a business in Spain, or a Slovenian student wanting to find out what the EU is doing on climate change.

To find out better who they are we use analytics, Eurobarometer data, surveys from individual Commission departments DGs and data from our top-task surveys.

Business goals

Second, we must look at our business objectives - what do we want to achieve with a particular piece of web content? How can we inform people, specialists and non-specialists, with the right level of detail and in the language they need?

It’s a matter of trust

Third, we stand a better chance to re-gain citizens’ trust in the European project, if we use the richness of languages out there.

Speaking another person’s language is an excellent way to gain trust. Some might even say it is a prerequisite. My (Swedish) mum could most probably get the gist of a text in English but she wouldn’t feel that it was written for her. And she’d be unlikely to use the right keywords in a search engine to find the content in the first place.

Building sites and maintaining them in the “right” languages (sometimes as many as 24!) is a huge amount of work. But… det är mödan värt!  (it’s worth it!)

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