Series: Creating a Multi-lingual Intranet using Communication Sites

Sign Post to multiple countries or languages

SharePoint in general supports a wide range of languages. However, it is not immediately obvious how to set this up, configure it and what automation you can use to take advantage of the modern Communication Sites features.

SharePoint Online has supported Welsh since 2014, which has in the past enabled us to create bi-lingual intranets using SharePoint Publishing Site features. With this, you can create variations from a source language to choose to build copies of your site or Intranet in the language you prefer.

There are challenges with this approach:

  • Out of the box SharePoint isn’t enough on its own, so you are highly like to go down the customisation route. In modern sites, most are now designed for high quality visual presentation, mobile friendly, accessible and easy to use. This rich feature set is not part of the publishing infrastructure, you will have to build these yourself.
  • The variation system in SharePoint is quite sensitive and prone to issues, it is not always successful that pages and sites are copied properly.
  • In SharePoint Online, it is not recommended to modify master pages, as the service continually evolves with high frequency releases Microsoft cannot guarantee that your customisation will not break.
  • The editing experience for staff is clunky and far from simple to use.

So for some updates…

Good bye Machine Translation Services

I have received, via the Office 365 message centre, notification of the deprecation of the Variation Labels and the Machine Translation service for Classic Publishing Sites in SharePoint Online. It is quite a surprising, major change and it certainly put a big nail in the coffin for deciding whether to go with classic SharePoint Publishing Sites for a new Intranet.

So hello Communication Sites….

Communication sites are the newest feature in SharePoint that provides: responsive, mobile support, beautiful design, accessible, new set of web parts and SharePoint Framework for client side development. As a result, Microsoft are investing heavily in this new feature with a range of new enhancements coming soon.

Whilst this is a welcomed set of features to the SharePoint world, there are some gaps:

  • SharePoint Online still supports multiple languages but does not provide the user interface to create them.
  • It is not obvious or even well documented how Communication sites can be setup for multi-lingual scenarios.
  • If you decided to use Communication Sites, how would it work? what kinds of customisation would you need? and what you might need to get started?

In the post series…

I will be looking to provide some answers to the above questions, some suggested configurations and processes. Welsh will be the example of language to translate to, from English pages. Our client base are primarily Welsh public sector bodies at the moment and it is a requirement when building SharePoint solutions and Intranets to provide support for both English and Welsh languages as part of the Welsh Language Standards.

Posts include:

Other resources and news in the multi-lingual space:

We will continue to build this list as new developments or approaches come to fruition.

Note: In this post series, I am using Welsh translated from Microsoft Bing/Translator Text API, I don’t speak Welsh so I rely on the accuracy of the translator services. If you discover some Welsh terms that are inaccurate or offensive, please let me know immediately by posting a comment or DM via Twitter and I will correct the content. Thank you.

I hope you are as excited about this series as I am… watch this space!


  1. Very interested in the next post of the series about multi-language communications pages. Any update on when they will be posted ?

    1. I have postponed updates until the new multi-lingual features are out. Is there a particular post you need info on?

      1. I really like your idea of using Microsoft Flow to replicate multi-lingual Communication sites pages. It is the most time consuming part of keeping the website multi-lingual. I tried to replicate the idea but could not find anything about pages in the Sharepoint connector.

      2. I had created a flow to use translator services to convert content but it was quite hacky and didn’t translate all content fully. I wanted to wait to see if MS release a Page API that allows better control and how the new multi-lingual features work as it changes the approach to hopefully a simplier model.

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