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Multi-Language Websites with Joomla! 1.6 core

Written by | Friday, 01 April 2011 00:00 | Published in 2011 April
Approximately 3000-6000 languages are spoken by humans for thousands of years. The picture shows Cuneiform, the earliest form of written expression. When I see this picture it is not that far away from the design of a website, even the ‘design’ is 5000 years old. The spoken language died out around the 18th century BC, but still today Cuneiform exists in Unicode ( U+12000–U+1236E (879 characters)  ). That means it would be possible to create a Joomla! website in Cuneiform.
Cuneiform script Cuneiform script http://www.flickr.com/photos/hapal/3715294611/ Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Swahili

The name of the Joomla! project itself is derived from the Swahili word ‘Jumla’. Swahili is used as the lingua franca in East Africa. With 50+ million speakers, it is spoken in Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Comores, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.

English

The default language of Joomla! is English which is the official language in 53 countries and the current lingua franca of international business, science, technology and aviation. It is spoken by 500 million - 1.8 billion people in the world. The current world population is around 6.9 billion. That means 6.4 - 5.1 billion people, which represents 92% - 73% of the world's population, cannot understand English.

The rest of the world

I collected a few other languages worldwide which are widely spoken. These are figures are from Wikipedia with a link to the language file in the Joomla! extension directory. I have not found a Malay language translation, nor a Swahili translation!  

If you look at the number of views on the JED, Joomla! seems to be very popular in the ‘old’ world (Spanish, Portuguese, German, French). I know that there are other sources where one can download the language files like joomla.cn or jgerman.de. Unfortunately, often they have no counter at their download page, so it isn’t easy to figure out the whole picture.

Joomla! 1.6 and languages

One of the best features for my work in Europe (23 official languages) is the possibility of Joomla! 1.6 Core to deal with different languages. You can create a multi-language website out of the box. That’s a new and an amazing feature!

I wrote a whole chapter about that topic (Multi-Language websites) in the Joomla! 1.6 Beginner’s Guide which was downloaded more than 17,000 times in the last four weeks!

The amount of downloads motivated me to start a series of screencasts covering the book chapters. Screencasts are a bit complicated for me because I have to speak English. My native language is German and I am sure that my English sounds a bit strange and statical. But it is a good training for me too!

I have embedded the Multi-Language screencast here in the article. If you like the idea and want to watch more, read about the possibilities in Screenscasts, Tutorials, Videos.

A multi-language website with Joomla! 1.6 core

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Dear Hagen,
Thank you for this VERY helpful explanation about creating multilanguage websites in Joomla!
I really appreciate the little (natural) mistakes you make - like we all do - and the audible smiles you get when that happens.
No panic, no sweat, and you just continue explaining the lot.
I really appreciate it!
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Thank you for a very good explanation! I have been trying it out myself and yes, you can use the core features for a basic kind of multilingual sites. For me it is a very important feature, as I am from Finland and we have two official native languages (Finnish and Swedish) and many sites here are at least bilingual and some have more languages than that.

The core Joomla multilanguage feature have several HUGE drawbacks though that makes it practically impossible to use as a real multilanguage feature:

1. When switching language you always drop back to the home page and not to the corresponding page in the new language. This is the absolutely worst problem.
2. You need to copy all the modules etc. to get some module contents (like the headers) translated.
3. There is no way to make some other extensions work in several languages.
4. There is no way to make the browser remember your personal favourite language using cookies, which means that you always have to start from the default language of the site.
5. Keeping track of the translations becomes very tedious on huge sites, as the number of articles is multiplied by the number of languages.
6. ....and more.

So I am not making multilanguage sites using 1.6, but I will wait for Joomfish (or some other third-party extension) to arrive for this version....
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TekFix wrote:
Thank you for a very good explanation!
Your welcome :)
TekFix wrote:
The core Joomla multilanguage feature have several HUGE drawbacks though that makes it practically impossible to use as a real multilanguage feature:
You are totally right and I agree with you in all points you mentioned, beside of the use of the word 'impossible'. It is possible to create a multi-language site only with core. Not a sophistical huge site, but for sure a smaller one.
I have created so many multi-language sites in Drupal, Joomla!, Mambo and WordPress and often the clients needed "only" the features which are now available in Joomla! 1.6 core. I think it is very important to have these kind of basic key features in core.
Whether it is good or bad to switch to the frontpage when clicking the language depends on the use case. Same is the fact that you have to create modules for every language. If you have different content in different languages, which often happens in SME, than you can look at it as a feature :)
Same is the missing translation feature.
If you are new to Joomla! you can start small and you don't run into a 'complexity', 'update' or 'security' problem by using only core. Often newbies don't care about third party components and don't understand the complexity behind. When they notice that they need more features they will find easily third party extensions like JoomlaFish (which is amazing btw.) and then they are hopefully more experienced and a bit more aware of the advantages and disadvantages of installing additional extensions.
I see Joomla! 1.6 as a start to something bigger, easier to use and hopefully more community orientated and I hope 1.7 or 1.8 will fix a few bugs, like the one which happens in the video and integrates more basic features like additional fields, multi categories for articles, revisions, and so on in core.
If the core is a reliable base, life will be easier for everyone and the market will grow for third party extensions too.
So thank you very much for your comment. When writing the article I though the same than you and I didn't mentioned it. Now you gave me the possibility to do so.
I like the Joomla! Community Magazine more and more :)
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Joomla 1.6 is absolutely not a good choice for a multilangue site.

I have tested it extensively and I completely agree with Tekfix.

If you need multilanguage stay with Joomla 1.5 and go with Joomfish or M17n.

I think Joomla introduced internationalization in 1.6 to provide developpers with more options.

If you don't need multi lanaguage you should definitly look at upgrading
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Thank you very much. I wasn't aware of this feature. You explained it in a great way.
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The machine translation plugin thingies, however, are not an effective means of providing a website in another language. For instance, I used the dropdown language menu at the top/right of this page and chose French, and the translation was really bad. Using machine translations for providing content in foreign languages can cause a lot of misunderstanding and confusion. If website owners and webmaster truly wish to provide valid content in a foreign language, they should seek a professional translator.
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My experience with machine translation is that it works from English to another language quite well. But e.g. from Swedish to German is not really good.
A big issue is the quality and the grammar of the source text.
Google is working hard on that and it would be wonderful to have a working machine translation in the future.
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The link for the Portuguese Joomla Translations it's wrong.
The correct link:
Joomla Portuguese Translation
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Thanks for the links and sorry for that but it's not possible for me to update the article anymore :(
Wonderful new ACL world :)
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Lovely picture of inscriptions there! However the article conflates Cuneiform with the written languages it represented. Sumerian may have withered in the 2nd millenium BC, but cuneiform as a writing system lasted until the first century AD when the relatively new-fangled alphabetic systems displaced it. Never the most monogamous of writing systems, it cosied up to quite a few languages along the way. I note with some concern that Joomla 1.6 has yet to include admin templates in Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian or Old Persian :-)
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Hi David. I am not a specialist about the past. I was just looking for an image of an old stone with characters and then I discovered the cuneiform article on wikipedia. I is really interesting how old the idea of written languages is.
Near my hometown Fitou is an area where they discovered very old caves with paintings (like a language) and the homme de Tautavel.
Would be interesting how to translate 'SEO Settings' from English to Sumerian :)
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JoomFish still much user friendly extension, I hope they keep on track for 1.6, even with this option into 1.6 core I think it's easier to use just joomlfish with it.
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Hi Milos, you are right and I hope that too. Would be a good topic for another article!
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Hallo, Hagen...

und vielen, vielen Dank für deinen Exkurs in Multilanguage Joomla...das hat mir wirklich sehr geholfen. Richtig klasse gemacht mit deinem Video...! Nochmals "merci"...


Joomla Rookie :-)
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Danke für das Video-Tutorial.
Ein guter einstig in die Multi-Language Funktionen von Joomla.
Thank you for the Video-Tutorial
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lisette giesen Friday, 13 May 2011
Thank you very much for your 'friendly' screencast. Following all the steps I noticed howeer that the languages don't show in the module, only the module title is there...Obviously in 1.6.3 the procedure has changed (Reading the 'language switcher tutorial for joomla 1.6' see ) and now it is mandatory to have one Default Home page menu item defined for each language in a different menu, displayed by a different menu module. Otherwise the language doesn't show in the switcher...
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Dear Hagen,
Regarding the Multi-Language support, If I would like to add RTL articles in my LTR website, I will find that their titles will continue to be left-aligned (the same for all information, like author, date, etc.) Could we imagine that an internal option will be added to Jommla editor in order to right-align the title when we want to add an RTL article... I think this should not be a big difficulty...
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hey hagen!

thx for the great video! it really makes joomla easy to use ;-)

but there is one thing that did not work out for me. i installed the language and enabled the plugin. but there is no language to choose from. i can see the word "language" on the page .... but nothing i can click to. no flag no nothing .... what did i do wrong?

thx for your help
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Very well done. I like your pleasant and calm voice while explaining.

Thanks to you I now have functioning multilingual site =)

I also bought your "Joomla! 1.7 - Beginner's Guide" at t.co/iE2jNn6

*For reference, to get the Language Switcher working all together, I also used joomla-css.nl/index.php/en/modules-en-16/language-en-16
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Dear Hagen,

Thank you very much for your explicit explanation. This is exactly what I need to prepare my website for multilingual audience. Like it was stated previously: it is good for newbies - that would be me :-) I followed all the steps you presented but still couldn't manage to achieve the same result. Namely, my joomla template has no position 7 (Artisteer template), therefore, I put the lg switcher module into 'left' position. The module is visible but only with the title, no flags or language names - without them is useless. Any idea how to make them appear? Any help will be highly appreciated.
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it was very good. you also made some mistakes. i think it is better as mistakes teach a lot and when sth is perfect and when we are applying the things on the screen and make some mistakes, we are sometimes really lost. therefore your mistakes make this video better than any other:)
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if we put language value instead of flags of different languages on header
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enter thank you for this intersting totorial
Izdelava spletne strani
...
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Thank you very much. I seek old version multilang. You explained it in a great way.
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