Many organizations are interested in using SharePoint 2010 for its rich content-management features. Whether SharePoint is used for an intranet or a public-facing Internet site, a topic that often comes up is how SharePoint 2010 handles multiple languages and translation.

There are a few options when it comes to translating a SharePoint site, and depending on your requirements, one or more combinations of the following solutions may meet your needs.

First up is the Multilingual User Interface (or MUI). This option relies on language packs to be installed on the SharePoint server. These allow you to set, on a per-site basis, which additional languages SharePoint’s interface can be translated into.

The key to remember is that the MUI doesn’t translate all the contents in a SharePoint site; rather, it will only translate SharePoint menus, canned text (such as the welcome message), and some column headers. Manual translation of list columns and navigation is possible, but the body text will not be translated for you.

Using the MUI also allows you to create sites in a language other than the default language configured for SharePoint. Again, only SharePoint’s menus and settings pages will be translated. Translating the body of the page is still up to you.

The second option to consider if you are looking to create multiple versions of a site in different languages is Variations. This is similar to the MUI, but with Variations enabled, SharePoint will automatically build a Variation of the site in parallel. For instance, if your source site is English, and you want to provide a French and Spanish version, SharePoint will create two alternate versions of the site for you as you build out the structure of the English site at the URLs you specify as you set up Variations.

As is the case with MUI, SharePoint can only take you so far. For all it can do, it’s not a linguist, so it can’t translate any content you build on the source site. You will need to recreate the content from the source site in your Variation sites.

The final option to consider when creating a multilingual site is the assistance of a machine translation tool. Many organizations opt for machine-assisted translation if translating everything by hand simply isn’t an option. Microsoft’s Bing Translator and Google Translate are two free options to consider. The SharePoint site is run through a translation engine and re-rendered in the selected language. Both of these options also offer widgets that can be added to a SharePoint site easily to assist multilingual users.

Although SharePoint can’t directly translate content, there are several options available to assist you in your multi-language efforts. The MUI and Variations features that SharePoint offers are good places to start, but if machine translation suits your fancy, there are options available for that too.

Ryan Keller is a consultant with SharePoint911.