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Best of the Banter: Translating Web sites
by Donna Stryk, Moderator of the Online Ads Discussion List

The Internet is definitely a global media. This is exciting because it makes it faster and less expensive to conduct international transactions. There is one problem that still needs a solution, however, and that is overcoming the language barrier. On January 16th, Ana Patino asked the Online Ads list members for their experiences with "having a web site translated to reach the Spanish speaking market."

Apparently, several automatic translation services have popped up, but how accurate are these services? Elisabeth Roche related a story about a friend of hers with a site in Hermosillo, Mexico. Some of his customers have used the Alta Vista translation feature to send messages back and forth. One of the first questions that his users ask each other tends to be "How old are you?" According to Elisabeth the translation said "Cuatos anos hay?" which means "How many of 'the places where the sun don't shine' do you have?" Although this is an interesting question, I don't think that is quite the first impression that they wanted to make!

This story sparked some very useful discussion on the list. Michelle Zelsman said, "I'd like to offer some words of wisdom to language translation: Cuidado! (Be Careful!)" Michelle brought up the point of varying dialects within the same language. She said, "In Spanish, you can say something perfectly innocent to a man in Bolivia, but incredibly offensive to a man - exact same demographic profile - in Chile." She mentioned that the key to overcoming this problem is to "know your target audience very well."

Shane Sacobie agreed with Michelle's advice. He added that language is only the first barrier of a truly global company. You must also look at the customs and traditions of the area you are trying to reach including the meanings they associate with certain colors. On the issue of using an automatic translator he said, "this is bad because, while the visitors probably get the general idea from the site, they're not getting a truly personal touch." Shane also mentioned that "they're running across various grammatical mistakes and issues with company and product names, not to mention the aforementioned customs/traditions problems that are sure to occur as a result of automatic translation." His advice for solving the problem includes researching the country and your audience and hiring someone who knows the language and the specific dialects, traditions, and customs of the area to do the translation.

As always, the key is research. Know your market. Determine the specific needs of that market. Address those needs appropriately. Thorough analysis of your target demographic can help eliminate the pitfalls of conducting business on a global scale.

To read all of the details that were brought up in this thread, go to

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