Editors, here's how content translation works in Contentful

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June 10, 2019

Jo Fraser




One of the most beautiful things about the web is that content is for anyone with an internet connection. The internet has no language — whether you speak Spanish or Swahili, you’ll find what you’re looking for within the pages of Google. And that is thanks, in part, to content translation.

Every day, thousands of pieces of content are translated and sent out so audiences can delight in reading the news in their own language, or study an online course tailored just for them. It means that people from all corners of the globe can participate in sharing and communicating, a huge step for our collective repository of human knowledge.

While that’s nice and fuzzy to think about, good translation is huge for revenue. For a global brand, it’s no longer just a nice thing to have, but a necessity. To truly capture the attention of your customers, you need to speak their language. Globalization creates opportunities in , and your customers are just as likely to be located in Lithuania as Los Angeles. Which is probably why you, as an editor, deal with the content translation process on the daily. So, how does Contentful make your translation work easier?

What’s going on under the hood? Three things to know

All of your content translation can happen within the Contentful web app

This is great news for people who are sick of hopping from screen to screen and tool to tool. The entire translation process can happen within Contentful. There is no need to prepare, export and re-import content from other sources. Also, any content piece — title, slug, body, image titles, categories — can be translated easily.


Get to know the terms “locales” and “localization”

Contentful uses the term ‘Locales’ to describe the different versions of your content for your different locations. The simple fact is that multiple countries speak German, not just Germany. You’ll find people speaking the language in countries and areas all over the world. So instead of saying languages, we say locales.

For example, de-DE for German in Germany, de-AT for German in Austria, de-CH for German in Switzerland, and so on. As you can see, a locale is a most often a language-region pair, but we also support custom locales. Your developers can work with you to figure out a naming system that suits you best. This is just to say, don’t panic if your content translation fields and naming look a little different! You can read more about it here.

When localization is activated, you will see an extra field for each locale. Localization is set field by field, and there is always a default locale. The visibility of the localized fields is set per user. So what you see is not necessarily the same as what other users see. This is helpful because it means you can focus on only the localized fields you are responsible for and ignore the rest. Also, when fields are hidden, the content is still stored in the database and nothing is lost.


Your developers will set up your translation functionality

One of the best things about Contentful is that it gives your developers or engineers the freedom to create a content model and translation solution that is best for your particular team. We don’t assume to know how your team works. For this reason, we’ve given your developers no limits on how it’s set up –– you can work with teams of freelance translators, translate into 50 languages, or even integrate a translation tool to use machine translators directly from the web app.

You’ll also need your developers to set up the locales you need. When they do the initial setup, it’s a matter of communicating with all of the editors involved which languages you need. There is a very long list of locale codes to choose from, and your developers can also create custom codes if needed. Point your developers here for more information.

Working with content translation and Contentful

A two-language, in-house set up

If you only translate your content into one other language, this is a nice and easy setup! As an example, we’ll take Berlin, Germany, where your content will be translated from English to German. In this example, the German translators are in-house, so you don’t need to be concerned with roles and permissions.

Your workflow will probably look something like this:

  1. Your developers set up US English as your default locale. Every space has a default locale and during setup this is something you’ll determine with your developers. You’ll notice in your sidebar the locale will say en-US. German is also set as a locale.

  2. You write your brilliant content - woo! The fun part.

  3. Your German translator pops into your entry and clicks ‘change’ under translation and chooses the German locale, usually named something like DE.

  4. All of the fields you need to translate will duplicate and your translator will be able to write the copy in German. Note: Not all fields have to be localizable, only the ones you need. If you have more fields than necessary and your entry looks crowded, speak to your developers to fine tune.

  5. Click publish and you’ll have the original copy and the translated copy delivered to the predetermined platforms.

Managing a team of freelance translators

Most big teams don’t do their translating work themselves. And while finding freelance translators is easy, managing them within your authoring hub can be substantially trickier. The last thing you want is a translator accidentally deleting content, or messing around in areas of the website you would rather they didn’t touch. Contentful has taken these concerns and implemented features that address them, including the governance feature — which we like to call roles and permissions.

You can assign the members of your team roles and permissions in your space. These granular roles and permissions are perfect for enterprises that are managing big teams. And they are a great feature when it comes to translators because you can assign them a ‘Translator’ role. This means they can only work in the assigned language, can’t create content, delete content or publish/unpublish or archive/unarchive any entries.

Translation integrations: how to use them

If you’re working with a team of freelancers, rather than one or two, you might be considering an integration like Smartling. Smartling is a platform that acts as an intermediary tool between Contentful and your translators. It completely eliminates the need for your translators to log into Contentful, as all translation is done on the Smartling platform.

While you would initially require connection from your developers, once it’s done, you have complete control. It simply becomes a matter of pulling content from Contentful, translating it, and then exporting it back to Contentful’s authoring hub for publishing.

If you want to read more about Contentful and content translation, there are more resources on our website. We recommend starting here.

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