1.2. Multilingual access interface: why and how

We decided to have a multilingual access interface to the ARENA Portal because we wanted:

Is the option of several languages just a courtesy for our public? It is more than that - it is a tool to facilitate access to multilingual archaeological information. Before we were ready for visitors to our sites, we had to understand each other, to index our digital records using common terms, to find the right equivalents for archaeological realities described in several languages, and to explain the concepts behind the words. This was not just a simple translation from the English version to five other languages. It was hard work to build communication bridges among sites and monuments databases developed in various parts of Europe, in various languages, in different cultures. This analytical process 'behind the scenes' is to the benefit of the users: their time and effort to put together records in many languages and establish the equivalents in each case will, in part, be spared.

Many portals, websites and organisational pages include multilingual interfaces as a strong feature to attract visitors. The languages are chosen according to the target audience, most often major international languages being favoured. The user can select - if not his mother tongue - the most familiar foreign language or the closest to his native one. Most users will do that. Access in a familiar language favours longer visits, deeper understanding, and more satisfactory results.

In specialised fields, the development of multilingual indexing and retrieval tools cannot be done without knowledge of both language and domain. Cultural heritage is especially sensitive to language issues because:

Complex terminological projects are costly, and updating is time-consuming: any change in one language implies updating in all the other versions. In the ARENA project, budget restrictions left no room for our dreams of developing multilingual thesauri, refined indexing and generous translations. We had to limit our multilingual approach to:

In these circumstances, it was surprising how much time and work was needed for such modest objectives. Each of the six partners had to assign hundreds of site types in the national records to common categories. A chart of historical periods was designed, showing chronological coverage in each country and area. The results are visible in the ARENA Portal. It is just a draft, and suggestive of the usefulness of such an enterprise. It also acts as a warning of the complexity and solid support needed for more in-depth work.


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