Site Localisation Using TYPO3

on 23rd August 2012

(Last updated 30th March 2020)

A web site is a global marketing tool, available to anyone with an internet connection. To ensure a site works for as many people as possible, agencies spend a great deal of time tinkering with the technicalities of making a site work on an ageing Blackberry, or getting a fancy image slider to work in IE6.  These are important considerations but many sites still fail to speak to an international audience because they are stuck in one language and their content is exactly the same wherever the viewer is in the world.

Many clients believe that translating and localising their site content is an expensive and complicated task but we say, thanks to our default Content Management System TYPO3, it couldn't be easier!

One of the great features built into TYPO3 is the ability to easily add language translations.  With minimum set-up a content editor has the option to translate whatever text they wish across their web site, or even change content entirely depending on which language the site user has selected.  There's also a powerful extension that allows all the TYPO3 content to be exported, translated and then reimported in one go – something we did recently for Maples and Calder who translated their site into Chinese.

Adding languages in TYPO3

In TYPO3, adding a language is as easy as flipping a switch.  The additional language then acts as an overlay to the default language so a block of content might have some text and an image with a caption and an editor can choose to just translate the text and leave the image caption in default English.  Or they can change the text and image into something else entirely – such as a news list which will only be seen in that language.  The editor can translate just about anything in TYPO3 – pages, news records, individual blocks of content – into as many languages as required.

On the front-end site, all that's needed is some kind of language switcher which lets the user swap between the language being displayed.  There's one such switcher in action on the site we built for Azelis which is English by default but has been translated into 7 other languages, including German and Polish.  

Azelis also demonstrates how TYPO3 handles content when no translations are available.  TYPO3 can just display the default language if no translation exists but it can also hide pages entirely if translations have not been added.

Creating local sites

For large, global organisations it might be necessary to have completely different site structures on top of different language translations.  For our executive search client Odgers Berndtson we created several sites dedicated to various regions within one TYPO3 installation, for example; Spain, Russia and a global .com site.  Each site has their own set of local pages (which have the default language English but can also be translated into other languages such as Russian, Portuguese or even Catalonian) but the sites share pages from the central .com site, such as Industries and Functions.  

The great thing about the Odgers set-up is that content editor roles can be created for each region and they can only edit the pages and language translations relevant to them.  All the Odgers sites share the same templates but local offices can manage their own content and tailor it for their own audience.

Exporting content for translation

It would be pretty gruelling for a translator to go through each bit of content individually in TYPO3.  Luckily there's a handy extension called the Localisation Manager (l10nmgr) which allows us to spit out all the content from TYPO3.  The exported content can be configured to be imported into translation software such as DéjàVu, SDL Trados, and SDL Passolo used by translation firms.

Once the XML has been translated it can be reimported back into TYPO3 and a whole new language is set-up and ready to go.  There may be some tweaks needed before things go live, as HTML mark-up is exported along with text and can get broken, but in our experience these are usually very minor.  There are also some TYPO3 labels (things like 'read more') that might need translating individually but these are stored in separate language files that can be easily edited.

Other CMS's have their own translation extensions and plug-ins but TYPO3's localisations tools are  very quick to set-up and easy for editors to get to grips with.  It's an option few clients realise is even there but once implemented adds a sometimes vital dimension to a site seeking to reach as big an audience as possible.