Are Multi-Language Sites Obsolete?

Online translators work just fine if you want people to have to pick and dig their way through your information. So for those 5% of customers who are determined to buy from you no matter how difficult you make it for them, yes, online translators are just fine. For the other 95%,I hope your competitors all send you a thank-you card.

Here in Canada, most francophones can work their way through an English site. And many of them do…when they cannot find what they are looking for in French.

So the main question you need to ask is how badly you want the business you would miss by not offering the other language. There are costs and there are benefits to competing for that market, just as there are costs and benefits for every other marketing strategy.

Yes, google translate is fine for your personal use for getting the general gist of content, but like others have said, its translation is far from perfect and the result is certainly not something you’d turn in as a published work. It makes you look…well…somewhat illiterate to a supervisor, teacher, customer, visitor, etc.

I think the best thing to-do is to determine what your visitors want, for some reason people seem to feel that it’s OK to make decisions on behalf of the end consumer irrespective of what will make their life better / worse. In most situations my recommendation would be to use Google Translate for every language until such an occasion occurs that enough people use international versions to justify independent and proper human translations. Having a faulty Google translate is better than nothing but it’s certainly no improvement on the real thing. To see how bad the likes of Google Translate are, take a paragraph of text, put it in Google Translate and then translate it into another language, then take that text and re-translate it back into English… that pretty much sums up how poor those digital versions are. :slight_smile:

Oh, I just found this beauty. I translated the Danish sentence ‘Vigtigt: Når du skiller din motor ad, skal du altid huske at behandle tændrørene forsigtigt’, which in English is ‘Important: When you disassemble your engine, always remember to handle your spark plugs carefully’. In Google Translate, it turned into this:

Important: When you divide your engine ad, you must always remember to turn the tubes gently

I wouldn’t want to be the auto maintenance website that gave this advise to someone :wink:

Dig into your analytic’s and find out what your customers want. What language, search terms, etc. Not all websites require multiple languages but it is definitely necessary for large international sites. Just have a look at the biggest website companies. They all have multiple languages/sites that cater to individual languages.

Always use human translation, never Google for business websites. It will heart the business. Google translates automatically, no grammar, so no sense for more then 50% of the content. I been there, done that!
I always use translation companies for my clients.

Providing your web visitors with a Google Translation is a very bad idea indeed, for a number of reasons.

Firstly it looks incredibly cheapskate and amateurish, secondly you don’t know what kind of utter rubbish it is telling your visitors (and are there any legal ramifications to providing possibly dangerous or inaccurate information?)

If you can’t have appropriate ‘foreign’ language content written professionally (and that may require much more work than simply translating the original words) then it’s probably better not to offer anything at all.

After all, people who can’t understand your website are perfectly capable of firing up Google Translate themselves - but at their own risk, not yours. It’s only a single click away for most people.

Some of the language translations work surprisingly well to get the basic meaning across but others, for example English-Thai, are worse than useless, as quite often the meaning comes out completely the opposite to what was intended, and that’s not much use to anyone.

Google Translate is a fantastic tool for personal use, but publishing chunks of its quirky output on your website is always going to end in tears somewhere down the line.


Don’t :frowning: It’s already been mentioned and I’ll say it again: Google translations are not 100% accurate.

I’ve done several multilingual website. Most with English/French and a couple English/French/Chinese (simplified). The most complex has 6 languages but they all had translations done by human beings who are either professional language translators or individuals who spoke the language.

Years ago we did multilingual business cards for one of our clients and one Chinese translation for the owners last name was “slave”. Fortunately we were using a translation service and it was brought to our attention before running the cards… I wonder how it would have translated through google :blush:

As others have said, its best to go for human translation since google translation cannot understand slangs and other technical words.

However you need to weigh the cost and effort involved in creating and maintaining the site in multiple languages. Is the number of non-English users significant to justify the cost of whether to proceed with just English language for the website.

I see a several issues and it seems like there are patterns emerging in the responses too. One, you need to have a strategy for dealing with alternative language users. Yes, the topic is huge, but that just makes it more important. Language support is the #1 accessibility issue on the internet, too many times we just ignore that fact. You should at least have a strategy, even if its got holes in it. Do the best you can is definitely superior to being intimidated and not doing anything.

There are three categories you need to break down your content into. There’s stuff that needs translation, stuff that would be nice, and stuff that you’re not going to do. Are you going to translated your sales pitch? Your about us page? Your blog? Your blog’s comments? You don’t have to have the same strategy for different types of content. If you don’t have the resources to keep up with translating a daily blog, then that’s not going to be part of your strategy. Maybe you have the resources to translate all of your blog comments, but you don’t see the value is there to make it worthwhile. It all comes down to knowing your site and knowing your audience. I completely agree with the all of the folks who’ve said “Is there any reason you can’t do a quick poll?” These are the kinds of issues that user experience design is all about.

That also includes deciding which languages to support in which way. I’m sorry, but I work religiously in Unicode. There are literally dozens of language codes recognized for the web and Unicode supports encodings for alphabets, syllabaries, etc. in languages even beyond that. I don’t think anyone would seriously advocate for ensuring accurate translation of your page into Middle Persian? I mean, it’s a dead language. Come on. Is there enough value to translating your blog posts into a Native Canadian language that’s spoken by 50,000 people in Nunavut (that’s a pretty successful indigenous language, many have fewer than a 1,000 speakers)? Are you going to translate into Chinese if you don’t have shipping to China? There are a lot of Chinese immigrants around the world, but is it going to make more money than you’ll spend producing (and maintaining) the translations? Are you going to translate your shopping cart into other languages? How many? Which ones? How are your users going to access alternate languages? Are you going to search their HTTP headers for their preferred language or does your shopping cart plug in not support that? What’s your progressive enhancement strategy? When you sit down with a website, its usually pretty obvious where there’s translation value and where not. It’s pretty obvious which areas are going to be relatively static and you can contract out some translation, vs. where you’ll be making frequent changes and translation would mean having someone in-house or out-sourced for a long term situation. When you’ve done your research (study, analytics, user testing), then you can start making some informed decisions.

And I have to disagree with the folks who’ve said “well, its better than nothing?” The “slave” translation is just one example where a bad translation can do serious damage to your website. This is especially true for translations into languages that no one affiliated with the website speaks, because there is no official means of fact checking those translations. Problems can be public for long periods of time, undermining a tremendous amount of marketing, customer service, and operations dollars that are trying to make the website / organization look good. It is one thing for a visitor to run your website through a translation program and try to interpret the results. It’s another for you to offer it that way. People are going to have a higher expectation that you are vouching for the content, and in that case, I would recommend you not do that for text that you have no real idea what it says. There may be portions of the site where it’s less critical and providing an automated translation does have value, but that should be part of your strategy. I think it’s hopeful to say that the automated translation is better than nothing, but the technology has not reached that point yet. Machine grammar and human grammar are fundamentally different paradigms. Also, there is currently no compiler capable of declaring the words coming out of your mouth to be illegal syntax. If the task of automated translation is possible, it has clearly not met any relevant end user criteria yet, so think about what you do and don’t want translated on your site.

Dude, that is so totally an excellent post. Extra points for unicode++.

Narf!! :rofl: I can tell you this is my first “Unicode high-five”. Thanks!

We have French and Germany customers who simply find it easier, obviously, to read documents in their native languages than in English (my native language). The current product I’m slaving on is from day one designed for multiple languages. That’s not actually that hard to implement if you dedicate yourself to following a few rules of thumb.

While English is the international business language this does not mean all your customers, visitors, future in-laws, future ex-wives, are going to speak English as their first language. I believe it’s curtesy thing.