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We are designing a large institutional website with lots of content. The site will be in Spanish, but the client needs some of the content to be available in English as well. Most of the content, however, will be available in Spanish only.

The two most obvious solutions we can think of are:

  • Applying a site-wide language selector and displaying a warning message when the content is not available English. Pro: english speaking users can navigate the site. Con: kind of awkward solution, because the warning would appear more often than not.

  • Going the opposite route, and showing a special notice when the current page available in English. Pro: cleaner. Con: non-spanish speakers wouldn't be able to navigate to their target content.

Can you think of an elegant and practical solution to this problem? Or do you have examples of approaches you like?

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When doing testing on such quasi multi lingual sites in the past I found there was nothing more annoying to users than when they were presented with a lovely traditional language selector only for the available pages in their language to be a mere fraction of that available in the major language.

There are two solutions that stand out as a good idea to me-

1: Follow the traditional route of a true multi-lingual site however clearly mark where certain links are not available in the minority language. This should be done before the users have even clicked on them- a page to say “This is not available in English!” doesn’t cut it and is only slightly more annoying than if that link went straight to the Spanish version.

Have a list of links as you would on the Spanish version but have a big clear note saying “Limited information only in English!” and then either greyed out links for those that aren’t available or a clear little “Spanish only!” note next to them.

The key is to let users know what limited options are available to them from the get go rather than having them waste their time clicking into pages only for nothing to be there.

2: Follow a route where the majority language site and minority language site are clearly differentiated from each other, they are pretty much different sites with only minor stylistic elements in common; Make it clear to the user that what they see here is all they will get in English though maybe also be sure to include a page that gives a nice guide to possibly useful stuff in Spanish (maps for instance could be good even if you don’t know the language).

This route gives less effective end results than route 1 I think and can often have quite an amateurish look but nonetheless it stands out as much better than misleading users into thinking they have a fully featured English language site.

In Japan lots of local governments follow this route of having the majority of their page in Japanese with a big clear “Information Portuguese, English, Chinese” (written in those languages) button somewhere on the main site.

This then typically goes to a single page with a directory containing links to the few snippets of foreign language information that is available (ideally I think they could be improved by also clearly noting and linking to possibly useful Japanese stuff, but foreigners aren’t given that choice)

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As a user who quite often finds myself on Spanish language sites I think I'd find it frustrating to be provided a translated version only to have it removed on the next page. Often I will just let Google Translate change the page for me and just forgive the dodgy sentences that appear. I'd rather that than only be able to access a few properly translated pages.

One alternative might be to have a really stripped back English language version so you have a link at the top or bottom of the page saying 'We have a simple English language site' and then on that site just have a small disclaimer explaining that for the full site users would have to visit the Spanish version. Either way it sounds quite painful though! I'd maybe convince your client to either have a fully dual language site or just ditch the English pages and let people use Google Translate (or an equivalent) to do it for them.

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