Our Thinking

Does it (Google) Translate?

If you are reading this, the chances are very high that you understand English. But what if you didn’t? What if your target audience didn’t? Or what if your target audience did understand, but felt more comfortable in their own mother tongue? The obvious solution: translate your content.

The not-so-obvious question is how. There are two main alternatives:

1. Custom Translations: On the surface, this merely involves sending the English text to a translator, and then posting the results on your website. Dig under the covers though, the reality is a bit more complex:

  • Choose the dialect of the translation, based on your target audience. The Spanish used in Spain, Argentina, and Miami are different. As is the French from Quebec and France.
  • Choose a translator.  A North American translator will understand your (local) context far better than someone who lives abroad.
  • Send the final test to them for translation.
  • Find an independent local person who can review and verify that the translation is actually correct.
  • Make revisions; this involves some back and forth between the reviewer and the translator.
  • Post the translation online.
  • Proofread the post, to ensure that the characters, encoding, accents, etc are all correct. Test it in a few browsers.

2. Google Translate: This usually involves putting a small bit of code on each website page. When a user gets to the page, they use a drop-down menu to choose a language for the translation. This solution is cheap, fast, and convenient. Unfortunately, it is not always best. Some downsides:

  • The system doesn’t take into account either dialect or localization.
  • The system is literally a “system”: it makes mistakes.
  • It doesn’t translate graphics.
  • It translates English-only names into French, if it thinks that the names are actually words.
  • If the user relies on the page for legal purposes, an automated translation – which may change as Google’s translation algorithm changes – would be inappropriate.

Unfortunately many organizations are not thinking beyond the bilingual, and those who are, may not be thinking of the pros and cons of the two alternatives.

This week’s action plan: What would it take to add another language to your website? This week, look carefully at your target audiences and ask whether there is an important enough group to justify a translation.  If you had to choose five languages – what would they be?

Bonus Insight: One need not duplicate/triplicate an entire site. Consider making each language site a 5 to 10 page “microsite” to start, and expand from there.  Even one page per extra language is a good start.