Common multilingual form problems, and how to avoid them

For documentation on adding translations to your form designs, consult this article: Translating a form into multiple languages. 

While SurveyCTO's support for multilingual forms is especially simple when working in the form designer, users designing forms in spreadsheet templates sometimes run into trouble. This article will help you troubleshoot problems you're having now or save yourself from headaches down the road.

Do NOT use the default language name in column headers

Only specify the language in a column header when that column is for a non-default language. SurveyCTO knows which language is the default language because the name is provided on the settings sheet, so it should not be used in column headers too. Otherwise, there may be issues when completing the form, and it can cause problems when exporting labels for Stata or SPSS.

For example, if the default language specified on the settings sheet is "english", there should NOT be a label:english column; the "english" label would just go in the label column. This applies to all visible field properties containing text for display, including the hint, constraint message, and media columns, as you'll see below.



Of course, that is only if the default language is "english". If the default language is "hindi", the Hindi label would go in the normal label column, and the English label would go in the label:english column. If the default language is "arabic", but the form will also include "french" translations, then the Arabic label will go in the label column, and the French label will go in the label:french column. No matter what the default language is, make sure each field property you use in your form (such as labels) has a column with no language specified.

Use consistent formatting for translation column names

Make sure the spelling and formatting of each language is consistent, or it will appear as two different languages. Check out the screenshots below: Because label:spanish uses a lowercase "s" and hint:Spanish uses an uppercase "S", they are being seen as two different languages.



Make sure that the case of the language name is specified identically throughout. Also, make sure that there are no spaces after the colon and just one colon between the property and the language.

To save time, only add the translation properties you need

If you don't include a translation for a visible property for a non-default language where the same is present for the default language, then the default language will be displayed. For example, let's say a form uses "english" as the default language, and columns are added for Hindi called label:हिंदी and hint:हिंदी. If a certain field only needs a hint in English, not Hindi, you can leave the hint:हिंदी column of that field blank, and the English hint will be displayed with the Hindi label you did provide for that field. The exception is for field labels when media is used (see below).



Feel free to take advantage of the above, but keep in mind that gaps in non-default translations can result in a mix of translation properties, which is often not desirable.

Note that the default language will only be displayed if all other languages are empty. If your form contains more than one translation, i.e. more than two languages, this behavior will be applied only if there are no translations for that field's property.

For example, let's say the default form language is "english", and there are also translations in "french" and "hindi". If a field has a "french" hint, but not a "hindi" hint, and "hindi" is the selected language, then the hint will appear blank, not in "english". You will either need to add a "hindi" hint, copy-and-paste the "english" hint into the "hindi" hint, or remove the "french" hint.

Always specify media in each language

Media needs to be specified for each language, or it will not be displayed when another language is selected. This is because images, audio, and video can be specific to a language.

Media_on_default_lang.jpg Missing_media_on_non-def_lang.jpg
Image from

You can use the same media for each language by specifying the same image file's name again (however, in the above example, Hindi speakers might appreciate an alternative map with Hindi labels). You can even use Excel formulas to easily copy each file name from one language to another.

Always include a label when a field has media

If a field or choice includes media, then translations are required for the label. Otherwise, the label will just be a hyphen.


Apple_with_image.jpg Missing_label_with_image.jpg

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