In SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has created the Multilingual User Interface (or MUI for short), which allows administrators to provide an easy way for users to work with SharePoint in a language other than the default. This can be useful when working with branch offices in multiple countries.

The MUI won’t perform a direct translation of the content of a SharePoint site, but it can translate the SharePoint interface—including some user-specified content such as navigation—into a number of available languages, provided their SharePoint 2010 Language Pack is installed on the server.

SharePoint Foundation 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 each have language packs that must be installed prior to using the MUI. If you are running SharePoint Server 2010, you’ll need to download and install both the Foundation and Server language packs. (Visit the SharePoint Team Blog for more information.) After installing the language packs, you’ll need to run the SharePoint 2010 Products Configuration Wizard to make them available for use in the farm.

After you’ve installed your desired language packs and run through the configuration wizard, you’ll need to enable the MUI in any preexisting SharePoint sites. When creating new sites, you’ll have the option to choose the languages you want to make available in the MUI, as well as which language should be used as the default.

Enabling multiple languages is handled on a per-site basis and can be found by navigation to Site Actions > Site Settings > Language Settings. Choose which languages you’d like to make available and click OK.

Once you’ve enabled some additional languages, users will be able to click the drop-down around their name, then choose Display Language and pick one of the available languages. Links and menu items will be displayed in the selected language. Some column headers that are automatically provided by SharePoint (such as Title or Description) are also translated.

It’s even possible to set up custom navigation translations by opening the Modify Navigation page while using a different language other than the default, selecting the navigation element you want to modify, and specifying your own value. Once set, this will help other users navigate the site more easily, since the navigation items will be translated for them.

SharePoint 2010 Language Packs can make the process of deploying a farm to multilingual users a much less daunting task than it might have otherwise been.

Ryan Keller is a consultant with SharePoint 911.