During the European SharePoint Conference this week I spent some time in a workgroup focused on multilingual scenarios in SharePoint and talked a great deal about these issues with other attendees. As you may already be aware, Microsoft's solution for portals supporting multiple languages is Site Variations, a process that allows for content duplication between source and target sites and automatic redirection based on browser localization settings.
Essentially, Variations act as an advanced form of replication. A publishing site is created and assigned as the source (the base language is irrelevant). Whenever a subsite is created, the administrator selects the site language pack and localization (such as US or UK English) and the site is then provisioned as a target. Whenever content in publishing controls on the source site is modified, the content is replicated to the target sites and, once approved, published for viewing.
While this is a good first step, there are a number of shortcomings to the Variations model. For one, it only applies to content in publishing controls - no lists, web parts, or other content is replicated. In addition, there is no translation performed during the replication process - it is incumbent upon a human being to at some point perform content translation into the target language. Finally, it does not provide a single portal - by which I mean a single, unified URL - to be presented in multiple languages; visitors are simply redirected to a target site (for example, from www.example.com to www.example.com/en) if one exists that matches their localization settings; if not, no redirection takes place.
In the multilingual working group we identified these as the top three items of concern out of a list of maybe ten or eleven issues (including search optimization, metadata translation, post-provisioning language reassignment, and more). From this, the group formulated some ideas on how to introduce features in the next version, or provide add-on solutions in the interim, to address these problems. As this is an important area of concern for our customers, we are giving serious consideration to developing our own suite of tools and utilities for multilingual portals. Before we go down this path, though, we need more information from the SharePoint community. We'd like to know how you are dealing with multilingual issues, what your top pain points are, and what form you'd like to see potential solutions take (web parts, custom site definitions, a packaged set of features, etc.). So talk to me - post some feedback (in the language of your choice, of course) and let me know what we can do to make your (multilingual) life easier.