Should You Computer-Translate Your Website?

I've been looking for ways to make my website more accessible to people who don't speak English well. Maybe it's a sense of mission. But I believe that learning about how to do business on the Web can give a tremendous economic boost to people around the world, and I want to help make this tool available to them -- and support my family at the same time.

I've had various schemes, all of which take more money or supervision resources than I can make available. My latest was this: provide at the top of major entry pages of WilsonWeb.com a gateway to machine translation into several languages, such as:

View this page in: Français | Deutsch | Italiano | Português | Español

Last month I gave it a try using links to AltaVista.com's Babel Fish translator , a service of Systran. Then I asked those of you who are native speakers of various European translations to assess the quality of the translation.

If this were to work, I would then invest in translating the main entry pages and advertise them in foreign language search engines. Each of these entry pages would lead to machine translated pages. Great strategy ... until I started getting feedback:

"I am a Canadian French speaker. I tried the Systran engine to get a French translation on your site. It is ugly. Very ugly".

"The translation given by Babel Fish normally is not very useful. We tried it once as a first step while translating articles, but most of the sentences do not make sense." -- Monika Gatzke, FTK - Electronic Commerce InfoNet,Dortmund, Germany.

"I'm a native Spanish speaker (Mexican and Spanish citizenship). I'm terribly sorry to say that on [your machine translated pages] I found many mistakes.... For example, the paragraph under your picture makes no sense, especially the last few phrases. And it keeps on like that all through the rest of it, including body text, links, section titles, other pages and virtually everything.

"I've tried translation machines/software myself. Plainly, they don't do the job. If and until software improves very, very significantly, I don't judge it will be a viable alternative. It may never be, as idiomatic expressions evolve too fast, English grammar construction is almost reverse vs. most Latin languages, and multiple possible senses or meanings for words exist, depending on their context.

"Mere translations are not nearly enough when you try to reach foreign markets. As with global mainstream advertising campaigns, an adapted (vs. just translated) content is a much more effective advertising and sales tool." -- Jorge Pelayo, NetAdapters, Mexico City, Mexico

"I'm a Portuguese native speaker and I tried to use your AltaVista translator option. Sincerely, I don't recommend it. Technical terms don't match, most of the text makes no sense." -- Armando Gaeta, São Paulo, Brazil

Your idea to use the "babble-fish" thing may be cost-effective, however I am afraid the result is more than laughable! German especially is a language you cannot translate word for word. You need to translate the meaning. The application you are using literally translates word for word and really it makes no sense -- absolutely none of it. I had read the English version first and still didn't understand the German version." -- Yvonne Alexander, Manchester, UK

"Sorry, but this kind of translation is of no use at all. It even makes no sense. More or less it is impossible to understand what the article is about." -- Jan H. Kuhlmann, Hamburg, Germany

"Regarding the use of Babel Fish for web page translations, I would strongly discourage you from doing so. The quality of the translations is very poor." -- Alain Lecoq, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

"Me spiace, Dr. Wilson, but the automatic translation of Its situated one is enough risibile. Creed that for the interested ones of Italian language with some difficulty with English will have to find an other solution. In any case it compliments! (P.S. This is the Systran translation of my original Italian message, just to give You an idea!) "-- Guido Maffi, Mafia, Italy

"Sorry to tell you that but the French translation is pretty poor and quite difficult to understand. It's nearly easier to understand the English text than the French translation if you're a French native speaker." -- Frederic Floor,Belgium

A final strategy might be to translate key pages and advertise them in language-specific search engines. It's clear to me that businesses that are serious about becoming global in scope must take translation -- and adaptation to the different cultures -- very seriously indeed.

For more information on how things can go wrong please read our Bad Translations section