Improving search across languages

By David Haskiya, Europeana’s Product Development Manager


At, we have content described in about 30-40 languages – all the languages of Europe and then some! This poses a huge challenge in developing our search function, as the user’s search keywords must match the words in an item’s description to get a ´hit´. If it doesn’t, it ‘misses’. Some examples: A search for Marc Antony would ‘miss’ an item about Marcus Antonius, a search for paintings would miss an item classified as ‘peintures’ (the French word for paintings), a search for Stolthet och fördom (the Swedish title of a well-known book by Jane Austen) would miss an item titled Pride and Prejudice and so on.

So how can we then make it possible to get more relevant search results across languages of description?

We’ve just added a new feature to the portal to help you find content across languages. Basically, the feature allows you to translate the keyword you search with into 6 languages and then the search is made with all of them. Let’s say you’ve defined English, French, Dutch, Polish, German and Swedish as the languages you want to search in. For example you would type in Marcus Antonius in the search box and your search would be translated into Marcus Antonius (German), Mark Antony (English), Marc Antoine (French), Marcus Antonius (Dutch), Marek Antoniusz (Polish), and Marcus Antonius (Swedish) and automatically expanded to use all these variations. The result is that you will now get hits in Europeana you would otherwise miss!


We call this query translation and it works best for when you search for named things: person name, place names, names for subjects and topics and for named historical periods. It doesn’t work well when you type in whole sentences like e.g., ´Please give me all paintings by Rembrandt´.

To activate the feature, you click on My Europeana in the portal menu and then on Language settings on the left-hand of the resulting page. There, you can choose your default language for the Europeana site itself, up to six languages to translate your search keywords to and, if you’re a registered My Europeana user, choose which language you want to automatically have item descriptions translated to. Then click the button ‘Save settings´ and the system will remember next time you visit the portal. After that just start searching!

We hope this feature will help you to better find what you’re looking for in Europeana and we plan to make further improvements to it during the year.

A thank you to the Wikipedia community for providing the technical service that powers the translations of the users keywords. We couldn’t have done this without them.

2 thoughts on “Improving search across languages

  1. Great feature. It works even when I’m not logged into my Europeana, which I think is good.
    When I type in ‘Mona Lisa’ (yes, we still love her, don’t we), I get many useful translations such a La Joconde and Gioconda, but I also get ‘Mona Lisa (film) 1986’, ‘Mona Lisa (verwijzingspagina)’. That suggests to me that you use wikimedia/dbpedia for the translation, and also that there is still some work to be done. Kudos for releasing this early version, it already increases the usability quite a bit.

  2. I find it surprising that none of the major search engines off a cross-language search feature. This would be particularly useful in Europe with the multitude of languages. I’ve developed a strategy for solving the problem, but would need a partner to implement it – using off-the-shelf software.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.