Is Automatic Translation for Business Blogs Useful?

I seem to be noticing more and more blogs with a little array of different national flags, clickable to transform the text of a blog instantly into a language of choice. And I know from stats reports that visitors to this site are by no means all from English-speaking countries. So while I imagine a lot of those visitors are fluent in English I’ve been wondering lately whether it would be a good idea, or not, to have automatic language translation installed.

The flags are of course not essential. Sun Microsystem’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog has a dropdown menu with the languages listed, on the header of the blog.

For WordPress blogs, there are plugins to provide a translation facility. It seems to me that there are at least three issues for anyone thinking about using one of these plugins for a business blog:

  • where do you find a reliable plugin
  • how do you install it and get it running properly
  • how good is the translation?

Where to find the plugins

Lorelle has a helpful post about where to find and download translation plugins. When I found that post, I had already been testing one of the plugins she lists, the WordPress Global Translator Plugin from Davide Pazza at Nothing2Hide.

Installation and operation

Basic installation of the plugin was not a problem, although as I’m in the process of getting used to using widgets systematically rather than just occasionally, there were some new tricks to learn. Not least about needing a PHP plugin in order to use PHP coding in a widget, as was required to make the translator show up.

After a few false starts I was able to get the links to display, but as text links, with no flag images showing. Not calculated to be instantly recognised by people who look for the translation flags. Going on the comments at the plugin home site, others have had the same challenge and had presumably found a fix or given up, as there is a dearth of response on the issue. I’ve left my own query there.

My current view is that if there is an answer that works for me, I might like to use the translator for a while. My caution on the matter is partly due to the fact that, in the course of reading through the comments on the plugin home site, I noticed reference also to another problem, namely Google treating translation requests as potential spamming. I discovered for myself how this manifested when I clicked on one of the links to check a translation and got this:

We’re sorry…
… but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can’t process your request right now.

This from endeavouring to access Google’s own Translator! It’s not clear to me from Davide Pazza’s site just how this problem can be overcome. If I use the plugin I would be monitoring that.

I realize that the problem may be peculiar to that particular plugin, but as I have now spent far more time than is probably warranted, experimenting with this one, I will pass for the moment on the possibility of using a different plugin.

How good is the translation?

I think the answer to this has to be, at best ok, but unlikely to be very accurate.

The old play on words in Italian comes immediately to mind: traduttore, traditore! – “translator, (you are a) traitor!” I’m no linguist, but I know enough of other languages to know that it is often difficult or impossible for even a person fluent in two languages to get the exact meaning across. Often the problem is solved, to a degree, by one language simply lifting a word or phrase from another – nuance, for example.

So it is fanciful at best to expect a mechanical translator to convey the fullness of meaning (or even, perhaps, a high degree of accuracy) in translating such idiosyncratic linguistic expressions as blogs are – or can be – into multiple languages.

This practical impossibility of having high level quality assurance for these translations raises in turn the question of whether it is prudent or not to use one of these plugins on a business blog.

It comes down to making a strategic judgement about whether the risk or even likelihood of being misunderstood, by virtue of an egregiously bad bit of translation by Google’s machine, is outweighed by the potential benefit of providing some level of access to people who would otherwise find what is on your blog quite impenetrable. According to some comments I read on Davide Pazza’s site, some people who have used his plugin claim to have increased their traffic to a not insignificant degree.

My hunch is that for my business purposes it is a risk worth taking. But it’s a hunch. It might actually be a quite a dumb move.

Just for now, I’ve taken down the plugin, pending resolution of the flag display issue and perhaps some more clarity about Google’s identifying of queries as spam.

By the way, I’m guessing that Jonathan Schwartz, with the resources at his disposal, might not be relying on free plugins, or even the Google translation machine, to serve up his blog posts in various languages. 🙂

Would you, do you, use an automatic translation tool on your blog? Do you have any feedback or statistics you would like to share on whether it works, or worked, in your favor?

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  1. Paul
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. An interesting idea, to have the options.

  2. Paul Urban says:

    A very interesting post and I can see both sides of the coin on this one.
    I do think that is shows a greater effort on behalf of the blogger to have there site available in other languages but again the translation needs to be of high quality, at present there is only about one or two tools available I would trust but that would not be 100%. I think the way to go would be use an online tool for basic translations of short informative posts, but outsource to a translator posts of high importance you require to be read internationally.
    Paul Urban]

  3. If you don’t want to rely on automatic translations, you can try

  4. True, automatic translations can sound so silly. It’s something translators just love to point out and make jokes about on their blogs 🙂
    No, the translation business will not be out of business any time soon.

  5. English Dutch Translation Services says:

    I would not recommend it. Usually these translated websites sound so strange that it is almost an offense to the reader to present it as a translation. Automatic translations can, however, be useful for oneself when surfing the web.

    Google translate is quite promising though, as this is human edited, so with a bit of luck after some time it might come up with translations that don’t make you laugh. Or cry, depending on how you see it 🙂

  6. It increase website traffic BUT “Automatic Translation” accuracy is always the questionable point Vs that is translated manually.


  7. Takuya Misawa says:

    I’m not sure the cases for other languages, but English to Japanese translation is a nightmare, so I don’t trust auto/machine translation.

    It takes time, but I blog both in Japanese and English rather than using translation.

  8. I’m a former English to Spanish translator and this is my feedback based on my own experience. Automatic translations are OK if you’re translating something trivial and using short sentences. The current software available is not capable of translating text that is more sophisticated, particularly when using long sentences. It distorts the meaning of your writing and could get you in trouble when translating important issues.

  9. The translations get worse when they go from one language family to another…

    English to Japanese or vice-versa is often a complete disaster.

  10. Easton Ellsworth says:

    Better to learn a foreign language and write your own posts in different tongues or hire a translator if necessary. I just think so few people typically need to see a translation, and machine translation is iffy at best and hilarious at worst.

  11. In my opinion, automatic translation can be useful for business blogs, but you need to subscribe to a system you trust. If you don’t speak the languages you translate your site into, there’s the possibility of inaccuracies.

    As director for an Australian company with a website going live in 2008, we will offer multiple translations for the benefit oof multicultural clients. However, this site won’t have a blog and we have chosen not to use an automatic translation system for it.

  12. I use the free tool from Applied Language. All you do is add a free pice of HTML code to your Blog template and the translation tool is instantly added to all entries at least that’s how it works on blogger. You can get the code here