Minimum standards for multilingualism of United Nations websites

Since 1995, the General Assembly has been building a legislative core for multilingualism through resolutions A/RES/50/11, A/RES/52/23, A/RES/52/214, A/RES/54/64, A/RES/56/262, A/RES/59/309, A/RES/63/306, A/RES/65/311, A/RES/67/124, A/RES/67/292, A/RES/69/324 and A/RES/71/101.

In summary, these resolutions aim to eliminate the “disparity between the use of English and the use of the other five official languages” and “to ensure the full and equitable treatment of all the official languages.”

In order to achieve those goals and make information on the United Nations and its activities available to the widest audience, the Department of Public Information (DPI) has set the following minimum standards for UN Web multilingualism:

  1. Multilingualism should be incorporated from the very beginning of any website project and should not be considered a mere translation exercise.
  2. Content authoring offices must ensure that content on their website is made available in all six of the Organization’s official languages — Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
  3. A language bar should be used in order to allow the user to switch between language versions of the same site. The order of the 6 official UN languages bar should be Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish in their native form as (عربي 中文 English Français Русский Español).
  4. Pages cannot jumble up languages or contain news, Twitter, RSS or any other feed content tools in languages other than the one selected in the language bar.
  5. Links to content that is not in the official language selected in the language bar should indicate the language of the target content. Those links should be kept to a minimum, so the page does not become a mere skeleton.
  6. The use of acronyms in the banner or logo is not recommended. Many acronyms exist only in English.
  7. Banners and logos should not contain letters as a design element, nor should design elements be used as letters since they are difficult to adapt across languages.
  8. Translations should adhere to the highest grammatical standards of the official languages. Automatic translations or translations made by persons with only some knowledge of the language should be avoided. UNTERM (United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database) should be used as the standard for UN terminology. Acronyms can also be found in the UNTERM database. 
  9. Footers and disclaimers should be in the official language selected in the language bar.
  10. Contact pages and queries should be directed to the substantive offices and indicate the language(s) in which they operate.
  11. All static content such as About Us, Background, Bios, Directory, Our Work, and Goals of the Organization should be available in the six languages.
  12. Pages should have a back-link to un.org in the respective language.

Technical Considerations

Design

Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish read Left-To-Right (LTR). Arabic reads Right-To-Left (RTL). Since all six official languages versions will be on the same site, the need to switch between LTR and RTL versions should be considered when designing the website.

The line height and width may also need to change between different languages and characters.

Encoding

Unicode's success at unifying character sets has led to its widespread and predominant use in the internationalization and localization of computer software.

Banner

Words in English are usually shorter than in other languages. Analyze which language contains more characters per word and design based on that particular language. Among the UN official languages, the Russian phrases are usually longer, while the Chinese language has much shorter characters.

CSS

Keep content separated from design by using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). This separation can improve content accessibility, provide more flexibility and control in the specification of presentation characteristics and enable multiple pages to share formatting.

When creating styles in CSS using LTR languages, consideration should be given to the ease of adapting it to the RTL language.

Naming of files

The names of the website files should be in English for easy maintenance. Some servers may have difficulty handling Unicode characters. The general rule is to never use Unicode characters in the name of your web pages.

Testing tool

W3C Internationalization Checker

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