Finding Your Way through the Multi-Lingual Maze

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June 2003

Finding Your Way through the Multi-Lingual Maze

CIDMIconNewsletter Bret Freeman, Field Support Manager, Vasont Content Management System

Content management is a multi-faceted proposition. There are many concerns and much up-front planning involved in selecting and implementing a new system. On a very basic level, one must consider the following to have a successful program:
project plan or project goals

  • content analysis
  • business processes
  • user perceptions
  • clear user role definitions
  • effective user role-based training
  • clearly defined validation script

All these things must be considered carefully when implementing a basic content-management system (CMS). But when your needs require more than the basics, there are many more considerations, and just any old CMS may not provide the needed functionality. In that case, Vasont Systems’ Vasont Content Management System may be just the sort of robust solution you need. Let’s look at a multi-lingual environment and discover some of the additional features and functions that may be required.

Managers, editors, and documentation specialists in international organizations that publish their product and technical documentation in dozens of languages for distribution worldwide can feel like mice looking for the cheese in a maze. They take wrong turns, hit dead ends, and repeat their trail before finally getting to the end. They can get lost in this daunting maze of content revisions and updates to multitudes of multi-lingual manuals. It can be inefficient, costly, and frustrating.

Take, for example, an organization that makes DVD players. They produce low-end, inexpensive DVD players with minimal functionality (Model 100), mid-level DVD players with advanced features, such as timers (Model 200), and higher-end DVD players that can record movies and produce a higher quality picture and sound (Model 300). They sell their products throughout the world, so their user’s manuals are produced in more than 30 languages. The user’s manuals are written in English for each model of DVD player and then translated. The manuals for Models 200 and 300 include the same instructions as the manuals for Model 100 and all the instructions for the advanced features. Coordinating revisions to these manuals is a tedious process; coordinating the translations of all the revisions in so many different languages adds a huge level of complexity to the process. It can make a manager and his staff go crazy!

How can an organization find its way through this multi-lingual maze? By implementing a powerful CMS like Vasont that supports Unicode and provides a more efficient work process for publishing manuals in multiple languages. Vasont is just the sort of CMS that enables organizations to maintain relationships among the various languages, automate the translation process, and construct workflows, and it enables the content to be published in many languages with far less cost.

Maintaining Relationships among Languages

When you use a CMS, one of the keys to success is determining how to organize the content. Good content organization will maximize the reuseability of the content. By breaking content into logical “chunks” using the Vasont system, you can store these chunks one time in the system and reuse them many times in many manuals. For example, our DVD player manufacturer might have warnings repeated throughout all of their manuals. Because Vasont stores each warning only once as a unique component, a warning can be reused thousands of times across multiple manuals. When new manuals are created, the warning is simply reused, not re-created. In addition, if that warning ever changes, the change has to be made to only one of those appearances of the particular warning and all of the others will be updated as well. The advantage of good content organization is threefold:

  • The author saves countless hours of production time by not rewriting the same content over and over again. Pieces are simply pulled from their “parts bins” and reused.
  • The quality of the content is improved. Going back to our example, when updating content, the author makes a change once to a warning. Vasont can handle this global change behavior three ways: It can automatically flag all other uses of that warning within all manuals and prompt the user to make the decision as to whether some or all of the uses should also be updated; Vasont can automatically change all the uses without prompting or notification; Vasont can change only the current instance and not change any others. This behavior can be set differently for every component. In this example, the system saves the author hundreds of hours searching for every use of that warning and eliminates the possibility of missing one.
  • The translation to other languages can be done once to each small chunk, and then those translated chunks can be reused, saving thousands of dollars in translation costs.

Another key to success in maintaining the relationships between the various languages is determining when translations should occur. Because Vasont allows content to be organized in a more granular environment, translations can be done at more logical times during the information-development process. As soon as a warning is written and finalized, the warning is translated. The translated texts are linked to the English version. When the warning is reused, it does not have to be retranslated, saving costs in the translation process. If an organization translated each manual separately, the costs would be considerably higher because they would be retranslating much of the same material repeatedly.

Some organizations have already invested in machine/memory translators. This investment is not lost because Vasont can easily integrate with the machine translators and leverage their functionality.

When translated content is stored in Vasont, it remains linked to the base language version. An author builds a manual in English. When it is complete, the system dynamically builds the corresponding manuals in other languages. Because of Vasont’s architecture, automatic bi-directional links are created maintaining all of the relationships between translations. Vasont enables the author to know exactly how many times a piece of content is reused and where and if that content has been translated.

Automating the Translation Process

In addition to maximizing the reuse potential of multi-lingual content and ensuring its integrity, Vasont can also streamline the translation process through automation. Vasont maintains a complete audit and source trail of every chunk of content. The audit and source trails permit the system to know automatically which content needs to be translated and which does not. For example, our DVD player manufacturer produced Model 100 manuals and translated them into multiple languages. Next, Model 200 was developed and required a different connection to the TV than Model 100, thus altering a procedure in the user’s manual. An author modified this procedure for use in the Model 200 manual but also maintained the original version of the procedure for Model 100 manual. Vasont immediately and automatically recognizes that the modified procedure is new content and must be translated. The system also recognizes that the original procedure is already translated and does not need to be retranslated. And, Vasont knows that the modified procedure was born from the original procedure.

Because Vasont is smart enough to track these relationships, it can then automatically produce an extract of only the content that needs to be translated. No time and money are spent translating unaltered material that was previously translated.

Constructing Workflows

Vasont’s integrated workflow enables an organization to establish a smooth and efficient process for information development, editorial revisions, and translation. Steps in the process are defined and roles assigned. Email notifications are automatically generated by the system when one task is completed and a new task is initiated. Translation steps can be defined to occur only when they are most efficient for the organization.

Publishing Content in Multiple Languages

In selecting a CMS and the integration tools to be used for authoring and publishing, remember that all of these tools must support UTF-8 and UTF-16 (see the sidebar, UTF). This support allows the system to understand character sets needed to publish in the various languages from around the world, including Hebrew, Arabic, and other character-based languages.


As you can see from the methods and practices outlined above, multi-lingual content management is no small task. In fact, many CMS implementation plans have failed because of poor planning and inexperience when it comes to implementation strategies. The key to a successful multi-lingual CMS project, as with any other project, is planning, planning, planning. If a company will invest the time up front to create a complete project plan and consider all of the additional tools requirements that Unicode brings to the table, then and only then will they be equipped to make an informed decision and have their project succeed. CIDMIconNewsletter

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