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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