Machine Translation

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Speak English Will Ya?
by Mike Banks Valentine

I know a nice retired couple that used to like foreign travel
and used to take yearly trips abroad and used to regularly
broaden their horizons and expand their experience through
cruises, tours and vacations. I say *used to* because they
quit traveling after a trip to Portugal where they got very
frustrated because, "Those people don't speak English!"

It's a peculiarly American arrogance that we *expect* others
to speak our language, but we don't feel the need to even
attempt theirs. The same affliction seems to extend to email
communication among major U.S. corporations when they receive
foreign language email communications.

A recent survey conducted by found that large
U.S. companies, including Disney, IBM and Microsoft have
"inadequate translation capabilities". Now there's no doubt
that, a translation service, has an interest
in the outcome of such a survey, but we'll take their word
for it that 50% of U.S. companies don't even answer emails
written in a foreign language. Those that do reply seem to
take way too long to respond and sometimes answer in the
wrong language!

Now I recall those trips to Tokyo and Mexico City where
the kind folks in the hotels and restaurants all seemed to
speak English to me when they saw I didn't know their tongue.
But we don't have the same luxury when it comes to our web
sites and email. If a Portugese visitor comes to WebSite101,
they will find a machine translation option at the top of
the page so that they can get the gist of what the site is
all about by choosing their own language from the WorldLingo
menu options.

I am a guest expert on small business ecommerce at
where I recently received a question in Portugese that to my
untrained and uneducated eye appeared to be Spanish, so I did
what many do, I went to BabelFish machine translation service
at and entered the text into the form, chose
"Spanish to English" and got gibberish in response! Well, I
had heard that Portugese resembles Spanish, so I tried *that*
option and got an understandable sentence from the service.

I have to admit that I didn't respond to that question in
the same way I do most, because I can't entirely trust the
machine translation and wouldn't want to give an incorrect
answer. I requested a clarification, translated by machine
to Portugese from English. Now, short of learning most of the
worlds' major languages, how would a respectable ebusiness
deal with questions in a language they don't know?

According to the WorldLingo report offered on their web site:
one company responded with the following:

"I am in receipt of your e-mail. To forward this to an outside
service for interpretation would take several days, and not
allow us to respond to you in the quickest manner. Can you
re-submit your inquiry in English?" This assumes that the
person that sent the email can speak English! Why would they
be expected to know English? There's that peculiar arrogance

My wife went to Paris a couple of years ago and found that if
she struggled with her bad French that they had *much* more
patience with her than if she just expected them to switch to
English for her benefit. Perhaps that reputation that the
French have for disliking Americans is because those Americans
have that arrogant expectation that the French speak English!

As ebusiness expands, the English speaking world should expect
that they will be dealing with customers who don't speak English
and that the potential loss of business could be dramatic if
they don't find a way to address the needs of those potential
customers. Email translation service is available from several
sources as well, including

We could be arrogant about English or we could deal with it
by providing machine translation from our web sites. Some
businesses may find that it is worth their while to have
web pages translated by a human and posted in other languages
for the benefit of regular foreign customers.

Think about your potential audience and consider the possibility
of really going global, not just reaching the English-speaking
customers in foreign countries, but everyone who might buy your
product or service and can access your web site.

WebSite101 "Reading List" Weekly Netrepreneur Tip Sheet
Ezine emphasizing small business online
e-tutorial online at:
By week's end you're ready expand your business to the web!

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July 29, 2001