I'm building a website where I plan to support multiple languages. Not only via UI, but via the content too.

I have several tables where I have text columns such as "title", "name", "description", "body" and so on. What's the best way to do so? Will I have to create an additional table for each one where I have text data I want to translate? For instance:

articles_content(article_id, title, description, body, language_id)

comments_content(comment_id, body, language_id)

And thus for each table I want to translate.

Any downsides of this solution?

Is there a better and yet simpler way?

  • 3
    I'd have thought the db structure didn't matter (to the scope of this question) as long as each language conformed to the schema and data types provided.
    – Hex
    Feb 6, 2018 at 16:22
  • 3
    It depends if you are more in the case "all articles will be available in all languages" or in the case "the amount of translations for an article will vary a lot from an article to another". The alternative method would be to put the language tag (please use RFC5646) inside the articles_content/comments_content and to have a primary composite key on (article id, language tag). Also have a look at how CMS deal with that, for example in SPIP or Drupal. Studying existing code could give you ideas... Feb 6, 2018 at 16:32
  • Adding to previous comment: depends on how/how often new languages are added. If you have a table per language, adding a language means making changes in the database schema, which is better to avoid if possible. So a schema where adding a new language/translation is just adding new contents in some existing tables is a better design. Feb 6, 2018 at 16:33
  • 1
    Also: do you need to link articles/comments in various languages together? Like saying content X in English is the translation of content Y in German? That has impacts on your DB design. Feb 6, 2018 at 16:33
  • @Raj, This is similar to the approach we've taken for an enterprise publishing company. However, we would have had language_id in the articles table, not articles_content. The reason for this is that articles were not always written for all languages, and if they were, we'd just have separate articles.
    – raterus
    Feb 6, 2018 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


Create each "table" as a base table (with the non-translatable elements) and a translation table. The language table will contain the primary key of the base table and the language ID. You can then create a view layer which joins the two together for a particular language (and which the UI will drive off of). This scenario avoids the duplicate maintenance of the non-translatable elements.


I would recommend not having a separate multi-lingual table per base table. I would recommend having a single table representing a multi-lingual string and a single table to store the value of that string in each language.

For example, the create table statements for Postgres would be:

create table articles (
    id serial primary key,
    title int not null references multilingual (id),
    description int not null references multilingual (id),
    body int not null references multilingual (id)

create table multilingual (
    id serial primary key

create table string (
    id int not null references multilingual (id),
    lang lang not null, -- custom lang type defined as enum
    contents text not null,
    primary key (id, lang)

articles_content(article_id, title, description, body, language_id)

This approach involves more joins than multi-lingual table per base table, so it could degrade performance unacceptably. However, it keeps the schema simpler.


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