Friday, May 12, 2006

You can't eat menus

When is a bilingual website not a bilingual website?
Well there are two main types:
  • Static sites that have Welsh/English options (or any other two languages) on pages but in reality most pages are only available in one language.
  • Dynamic sites which can be viewed in either language, but where the search facility can only be used in one language.
This post is inspired by a recent comment left on this blog by Bronkichat who was surprised that when using Traveline Cymru’s website for planning a visit to Wales, it didn’t recognise the Welsh placenames she was inputting. I’d noticed this myself while using that site in the past and also Arriva Train Wales’ site (looking for Caerdydd (Cardiff) to Abertawe (Swansea) on the Welsh interface give's this result). Dafydd, who works in the IT industry and knows more about what's possible and what isn't has highlighted many similar examples on his blog, a recent one being BT’s new Welsh version of it’s on-line directory. If you look for a pub (tafarn) in Cardiff (Caerdydd), you’re presented with a list of agricultural contacts – it’s a good job I already know my way around the capital’s drinking establishments!
Yes, they’ve made an effort, but a half-arsed one which isn’t good enough. I’m not that knowledgeable about technical stuff, but I do know that it’s possible to have database driven sites in more than one language. With regards to placenames in more than one language, there’s an on-line ‘open’ project called Geonames which provides data, and there are numerous companies in Wales and beyond who provide off-the-shelf Content Management Software (CMS).

Static websites are even more common and less excuseable, the main culprits being Welsh local authorities (LA’s). Talking about the ‘legal’ obligation for a moment, the websites I’ve mention earlier belong to the public transport and utilities sector, both of which have been privatised since the last Welsh Language Act of 1993 and there’s a lot of confusion as to whether or not they fall under the Act. The 22 LA’s in Wales on the other hand all came into existence after 1993, and with the changes in IT over that period are now on their 2nd or 3rd re-vamp, yet Welsh language provision is still seen as an annoying afterthought. Many of these offer Welsh or English options on front pages or menu’s but within one or two clicks on the Welsh option you either find yourself looking at English content or at a depressingly familiar message:

WELSH - This site is currently being developed.

still hasn't even managed to add a Cymraeg button yet though, just some kind of appology at the bottom of the home page.

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Blogger Nic Dafis said...

Anyone know if the Language Board have pursued this? Should we be putting pressure on them to do so?

5/12/2006 4:30 pm  
Blogger Rhys Wynne said...

O dear this is where it gets silly.
Before writing the above I had a recollection of seeing a survey by the Welsh Language Board (WLB) on websites by public bodies in Wales, so I had a bit of a look on their site and searched for gwefan (website) and gwefannau (websites), but didn't find what I was looking for.

After reading your comment Nic, I thougt about having a search on the Welsh Langugae Board's English site and typed in websites and found what I was looking for!

Full marks for Imaginet who build the Board's site for having seperate databases, but why can't I find stuff on the Welsh version? I've had this problem before when searching for other stuff on the site. From now on I'll search in English!

To be fair to Imaginet, it could be the fault of whoever is responsible for updating the site - if anyone from Imaginet reads this blog, please feel free to leave a comment or email me on rhys {at}

I'm also a bit miffed that Imaginet keep being awarded contracts by the WLB even though their is in English only - which is dissapointing as many of their clients ask them to build bilingual ones. The Board go on and on about how important bilingualism is in business and then reward a company who don't actually bother - not exactly setting a good example.

Going back to your question Nic, I'm sure the Board do pursue these LA's, and that's why they've done these snap-shop surveys in 2001 and 2003, but as they can't do more than sent a letter giving them a ticking off, they may as well not bother.

I've been invited by WLB staff to give suggestions for a new site to replace The thing is it sounds a though the work has already been awarded to another company, therfore I'm not sure what feedback I'll be able to give - surley the brief has already been given? Anyway if you have any suggestions, leave them here.

5/12/2006 5:15 pm  
Anonymous Undoubtedly Bodacious said...

Newport is crap, i should know. I live here! There's no excuse for them not too, despite living in such an anglacised area, there ARE fluent Welsh speakers here (all of which surely speak south-walian). Why doesn't Newport Council just ask a Welsh teacher to translate the text and get the webpage programmer to type it. Alas with Newport, too many fingers in the pot.

5/13/2006 7:19 pm  
Blogger Dafydd Tomos said...

You can't find stuff on the Welsh search as the WLB don't use standard terminology - they use 'safle/safleoedd gwe'.

As clients very often don't know what they want out of a website from a technical point of view - web developers promote their own priorities to the client - good design, usability, accessibility, clear navigation etc. In the case of a bilingual site, they promote language switching, equal prominence to each language, importance of content updates in both languages.

Maybe it's now time for developers to push the idea of bilingual search criteria, even though in my experience most customers don't ask for it.

What developers need is a standard importable list of Welsh/English placenames/countries/languages that they can depend on. There are lots of these lists floating around, some as part of ISO translations in Linux distributions, but they are i) constantly changing, ii) not fully verified iii) not definitive, since there are often 2 or 3 views on how to translate certain placenames into Welsh.

Gyda llaw Rhys, hoffen i ebostio ti - wyt ti'n siwr mai dyna dy ebost Sgwarnog cywir? Roedd hwnna'n berchen i rywun arall dwi'n nabod o'r blaen ond falle fod e wedi newid nawr :)

5/14/2006 12:29 am  
Anonymous Bronchitikat said...

One native Welsh-speaking friend says, each time we ask him to translate something into Welsh for us - eg: for postcards home, that Welsh is a spoken, rather than written, language.

Which may be fair enough. But when there are bilingual road signs all over the Country I think the lack of decent Welsh place-name database is still disgusting.

& why shouldn't Newport Council have decent Welsh on it's website. Heck, it hosted the National Eisteddfod the other year.

BTW - if people want a decent website support company I'd suggest Box UK. They're small enough to listen, have at least one Welsh-speaker on the staff (OK, so he speaks Caerdydd, but that's better than nothing surely). Oh, & our son works for them too!

5/14/2006 8:16 am  
Blogger Rhys Wynne said...

UB, I'm sure Newport have a full time translator working for them, but getting departments to use him/her is a real struggle.

Dafydd, 'safleodd gwe' did work. I'm sure that in the majority of cases clients have no idea what the actually want and the webdesigner has to guess, maybe this will change with time as people use different websites and see what the like from the better ones.

(Ac ie, cyfeiriad fi ydi oi, nid un Rhys Jones o Abertawe!)

Bronchitikat, Hope I'n not being rude, but I'm guessing your friend is probably in his/her 50's or older and maybe didn't recieve Welsh medium educatin although Welsh is his/her first langugae? The lack of confidence in written Welsh is common within this age group. Welsh has been a written language for centuries, but without going into hitory to much, many Welsh speakers have been brought up unable to write in it. That's not the case for younger people who tend to be comfortable written in it Welsh.

I'll look out for Box UK.

5/15/2006 9:04 am  
Anonymous Bronchitikat said...

Correct, Rhys, our friend is in their 50s. I thought Welsh had a great written literary history too. I mean, you had a decent translation of the Bible while we were still having to make do with Latin. Not to mention Geraldus Cambrensis (yes, I know he has a Welsh name but I apologise for not knowing it).

Guess, maybe, I should be apologising for our (English) government trying to wipe out yr language & culture. Not to mention the whole race at various times in our common history.

Oh boy, the days I'm not proud to be English!

5/15/2006 1:21 pm  
Blogger Rhys Wynne said...

Guess, maybe, I should be apologising for our (English) government trying to wipe out yr language & culture.

Goodness no, otherwise where would it all end. Just trying to explain why some Welsh people think they can't write in Welsh. We Welsh are our own worst enemies sometimes. If your friend had said that to someone else with less knowledge than youself, they may have believed that Welsh isn't a written langugae at all. I'm reading a book about the Basques now and the same thing happend there years ago, where even early Basque nationalists at the end of the 19C were of the opinion that it was fine to speak Basque but offical things should still be in Castillian. Tha attitude was the same across Europe I'm sure if not the world where there one langauge dominated over another/other languages.

5/15/2006 2:37 pm  

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