The internet is global, multinational and multilingual.
Information should cross national boundaries, but language
is a huge barrier. Hiring native language speakers to translate every
word on even a small website is expensive, which is why automated
"machine translation" is becoming
ever-popular - despite some hilarious, misleading, sometimes even
insulting translations. It often produces just enough translation
for people to make sense of them.
In this review, I look at two alternative machine
translation solutions: AltaVista's "Babel Fish" and Ambatch's "Multilingual
Marketer. There are others, some of them much more expensive than
How Good Is The Translation?
It's not been easy for me to review this type of
product. I can, in about 5 languages.. (1) Order two beers (2) Ask
for the bill (3) Ask where the toilets are!
I am not a great
linguist! So, what I have done is:
- Ask the opinion of just a few native speakers of
a couple of the European languages how good a translation these
two products produce.
- Translate some non-English pages into English,
and see for myself how well I can understand them.
- Compare the translations from English into another
European language produced by the two solutions, and see how
similar they are.
The feedback I had from several French and German language speakers
was that there's not much to choose between Babel Fish and
Multilingual Marketer. Neither of them render the translation perfectly. With
some words and sentences, the translation was only just intelligible.
But with both of them, it was possible to make out the meaning of
I viewed a few translated pages from the website of the French newspaper "Le
Monde" and yes, I could just about understand the meaning
with both translations (from French to English)
How Do The Search Engines See The Pages?
As a test, I translated one of my articles on the Marketing Magic
website into French, using both methods. You
can see the screen grabs of the results here (opens
in a new window).
As you can see, the translations are very similar. But look at the
AdSense ads. Google sees the Babel Fish page as an English page.
The caption is "Ads by Google", and all the ads are in English. This
isn't going to get any clicks from the French market. And I think
that AdSense is programmed to look out for Babel Fish pages - look
at the cheeky ad for the Google toolbar!
In contrast, the page generated by Multilingual Marketer is seen
as a French page by Google. The caption is "Annonces Goooogle", and
one of the three ads is French. This screen grab was taken only 5
minutes after I'd uploaded and viewed the page. Subsequently, I've
seen all three ads in French - although this doesn't always happen.
I confirmed these results by using the AdSense "Preview Tool", which
shows all the ads that can appear on a particular page. On the Babel
Fish page, the Preview Tool only showed English language ads (some
of them for translation services!) On the Multilingual Marketers
page, the tool showed only French ads.
And now some details about each method..
AltaVista's "Babel Fish"
This is free, and is available from here.
It offers a translation of web pages from 6 languages
(English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portugese) into any
of these six plus Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
From AltaVista's webmasters' translation page, you simply select
the language that your site is in, and you are given a snippet of
translation box to appear (that's it, on this page, to the left of
the headline). This then enables users of your site to select their
What is more, when the translated page opens, every link in that
page that the user clicks on takes them to a page which is also translated
into the language of their choice.
Sounds great, doesn't it? It's free, it takes very little effort
on your part - and it translates every page linked to the original
page. Try it, if your native language is other than English. Click
here to go up this page, and select your national flag from the
Babel Fish panel. The translated page opens in a new browser window.
So, from a marketing point of view, what are the drawbacks of "Babel
The pages it produces are generated dynamically ("on the fly");
they are not real pages that search engines can index. So if you
want, for example, your Spanish-translated website to be available
on Spanish search engines, forget it. It won't happen with "Babel
Because they are not "hard-coded", real pages, any Google AdSense
adverts you have will not be in that language. And currently, Google
can display AdSense ads in 18 different languages - far more than
"Babel Fish" - even if it was capable of this number of languages.
So you could be missing out on Google advertising revenue big time
- and the revenue of other banner advertisers, such as Burst Media,
who have "geo-targeted" campaigns.
I've encountered errors from time to time. No, not translation errors
- they are numerous :-) But errors from Babel Fish saying, in effect, "Sorry,
I've fallen flat on my face". Not a good image to present to your
visitors. It seems amateurish and cheapskate.
When should you use "Babel Fish"? If
you just want to provide a "quick and dirty" translation service for
your visitors. At the time of writing this review, I'm using "Babel
Fish" on two of my main websites. Chances are, when you read this,
I might have switched to another system. I much prefer...
This isn't free. So if you're only looking for a freebie, stop right
here. Go and use "Babel Fish"! But it is very affordable.
So, how does "Multilingual Marketer" work? I'm going to save my
typing fingers and just call it "MM" from now on.
- First, MM is software that you install
on your PC (sorry, Mac users, this isn't for you). And,
no, it doesn't have
installed on your hard drive. It accesses many online translation
services seamlessly (you have to be online when you're using it).
So it's very easily accessible to you.
- Second, when you're using MM to translate your
website (it does it one folder - directory - at a time) it produces
web pages. This means that they have to be uploaded
to your web server, but there's a built-in FTP application, so
it can all be
within MM. It's more time and trouble, but it does produce
actual web pages which the search engines will view as pages
in that language.
- Third, if you don't want to translate whole
web directories, you can translate (a) individual
web pages by entering the URL
individual files - text or whatever. Incidentally,
I found this latter feature a bit of a pain. I wanted to respond
by email to one of my
subscribers in French. If I'd used AltaVista's quick-and-dirty
service, I could have copied my text into a box on their site and
got an instant
translation. With MM, I had to save my text into a text file and
then get MM to translate that file. That's just a small
complaint (Kelvin Hui - note that for version 2!)
So, what are the advantages of MM over Babel Fish from an internet
The second point above is the huge advantage. With
real, hard-coded pages you can get your translated site indexed on
many of the non-English search engines. And don't forget that Google,
Yahoo and the other big hitters have a lot of non-English variants
- the so-called "non-English local search engines". There are some
massive traffic markets out there. Google AdSense offers AdSense in
"Simplified Chinese". How big a market it that?
MM has a much, much bigger range of translation options than Babel
Fish - about 36 "from" "to" options as compared with Babel Fish's.
Although Babel Fish's "6 into 8" seems impressive, MM's selective
range is more useful. It can translate English into 12 languages, French
into 7 languages and many more minor options (such as Greek into French
With the opportunities to cash in on the huge non-English markets
(English is the native language of less than a third of the online
population), with hard-coded (even though imperfect!) translated
pages, I've got no hesitation in recommending
Marketer". On MM's sales page, tthere's some impressive proof
of the non-English coverage of the major search engines (such as
- 35 languages
on MM's sales page. There's also some excellent examples of how to
monetize foreign language websites.
Take some time to absorb the facts.
Here's where to go