Skip to main content

Providing information in other languages

Understand when to provide information in other languages, what to consider before you translate and how you can get information translated.

New Zealand’s languages

English is the most common spoken language in Aotearoa New Zealand, while Māori and New Zealand Sign Language have special status under the law as official languages. There are also more than 160 other languages spoken across the country. Our population is becoming increasingly more diverse both culturally and linguistically.

Our languages (Ō Tātou Reo) — Ministry for Ethnic Communities

Government organisations need to make sure culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities have fair access to important information.

When to translate information

There are many situations where translating information in different languages is important to create fair access to information, services and support.

If the information is ‘high-stakes’

For content involving high-stakes information or services that everyone in New Zealand needs to be aware of, it’s important that you provide information in different languages. You’ll need to use formats, modes and channels that are accessible to all of New Zealand’s communities.

Examples of different formats, modes and channels
  • Videos
  • Posters
  • Ethnic radio and media

High-stakes information is concerned with critical citizenship rights, entitlements, and services. Think about how seriously it may impact people if they cannot access the information along with everyone else at the time it’s published.

High-stakes information or services examples — Web Accessibility Standard 1.1

If CALD communities are the target audience

If the target audiences are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, provide information in different languages. Use different formats, modes and channels to reach these communities.

Examples of CALD communities
  • Pacific communities.
  • Chinese communities.
  • Indian communities.

Top 25 Languages spoken in New Zealand — Ministry for Ethnic Communities

Although many people in CALD communities could have high levels of English proficiency, having information available in their native language makes it easier to understand. This is especially true in high-stakes or stressful situations when people often switch to the languages they’re more comfortable using.

The Ministry for Ethnic Communities has created guidelines to help agencies:

  • decide which languages to translate their information into
  • share their information with CALD communities
  • understand the translation process.

Unlocking Language Barriers (Guidelines) — Ministry for Ethnic Communities

What to consider when translating information

It’s good practice to make translated information easy to find. This way a user’s English level is removed as a barrier to accessing information in different languages.

Make information available in one place

Have a specific page where all your translated information is available in one place on your website. That way, CALD communities know where to find all the relevant information in their language.

Example of government website where information in different languages is available in one place:

Avoid using PDF-based information

Avoid translations being published as PDF files that are only available on the page where the equivalent English information is published. This approach requires a base level of English, which may be a barrier to CALD communities.

Have a language switcher in your main menu

Having a language switcher in your main menu is a good way to make information in different languages accessible, as this will be available from any page on your website.

Declare the language of content

Specifying the language content is written in allows:

  • screen readers and other text-to-speech software to properly pronounce the content
  • browsers to display text using characters and scripts appropriate to the language
  • video players to display captions in the appropriate language
  • search engines to more accurately index content by language.

Language of content — Web Accessibility Guidance Project

How to create translated information

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) translation service provide professional translation and other language services including:

  • quality assessment
  • typesetting
  • transcription
  • cultural advice to businesses, local governments and the central government.

You can contact the DIA team at

The Translation Service – Te Pūtahi Whakawhiti Reo Services — DIA

Technical requirements for some languages

Work with your web developer and language experts (such as the translators of your content) to make sure information in different languages is formatted correctly and is readable.

Web-based information — Common challenges

Providing information in different languages on a website can present challenges, particularly when the content is in HTML and not PDF format.

For right-to-left languages (such as Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu)

The most common problems are:

  • incorrect word order, particularly if there are English words in the content
  • punctuation that appears at the beginning, rather than the end of sentences
  • numbers that are out of order — while sentences read right to left in these languages, numbers read left to right.

For other languages

The most common problems are:

  • incorrect fonts being used, causing them to not show up correctly (common for languages such as Burmese)
  • spacing between lines or spacing between written characters needing to be adjusted.

Downloadable or printable information

You’ll need to consider some technical requirements if the information or resources you’re providing in different languages will be published as PDF files.

Within software like Adobe InDesign, there are features that need to be enabled for information in some languages to show up correctly. If you’re using in-house designers from your own agency, it’s essential that a language expert reviews the final file before publication.

Most translation agencies will have in-house designers who can complete the design work and have this reviewed by language professionals.

Utility links and page information

Was this page helpful?
Thanks, do you want to tell us more?

Do not enter personal information. All fields are optional.

Last updated