Surfing the Web when You Don’t Speak the Language

by Translation Guy on October 22, 2010
3 comments

For those of us trapped in the gilded ghetto of the English-language Web, all that stuff them dang foreigners is yakking about is not just incomprehensible, which is bad enough, but downright invisible. Type in a search for, say, “skating in the Netherlands,” and everything that comes up is in English, and there’s plenty that comes up, but if you want the real skinny, you’ve got to do that search in Dutch. This was driving me nuts last year after I had decided that I wanted to do the Hans Brinker ice-skating thang under the windmills of Holland before the whole country slips under the rising North Sea. I needed breaking news since the ice freezes so rarely these days in the Netherlands. If it hadn’t been for my friend and language visionary, Jaap van der Meer of TAUS (I’ve been meaning to post on his very interesting work for awhile), I would have been on thin ice because all the info on the canal freeze was strictly in Dutch.

So ever since I unlaced at Schiphol, I wanted to figure out how to get to the rest of the non-English Web more easily. Because I recently had my attention span shortened (as a fashion statement), it had to be quick and dirty. Well, quick anyway.

Since search begins and ends with Google for me, I’ve added Google Translated Search to my favorites and bookmarks.  It’s very easy to use. I just typed in “skating Netherlands” and came up with 8.5 million hits (proof that the Dutch are very serious about skating).

I was looking for canal skating, which the Dutch refer to as natuurrijs and Google translates as “natural ice,” so it’s not always completely intuitive, but a quick read of the bilingual results offers context that can help you understand. This is why I am so big on source and target display for machine translation. Google’s Dutch translation tool is awesome, thanks to the close relationship between English and Dutch and an extensive corpus of translated material that Google sucks up to power its translation engines.

So, from the search results, I clicked on “Natural Ice. Where can I skate?” All I need now is an airplane ticket and a deep freeze and I’m in business. So with this keyword translation search tool, I’ve not only unlocked the rest of the Web, but I’ve internationalized my browser too. I use the translate button in Google toolbar for that.

Take the following example. A Chinese dissident was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and I was curious about what the cadres were saying about that. A search of his name in simplified Chinese, 刘晓波, in Google brought up a page of Chinese search results. Now I had a few choices. The first was to accept Google’s offer to do searches only in English. Not what I had in mind. But the Google translate header generated by my Google toolbar gave me three options: translate, no thanks, and always translate Chinese (Simplified). With that last one selected, anytime I come across a Chinese page in my searches, it will translate automatically. Easy. And BTW, according to the Google translation of the Reuters website, the Chinese government is calling it “blasphemy.” Interesting choice of words.

3 Comments

  1. Erin Finch says:

    Even better is the fact that Google will not only translate the search phrase but also the search results making it a complete solution to search for results in a foreign language.

  2. Interesting article Ken. Do you know the story of how Studiviz managed to create a clone of Facebook in Germany, soak up all the initial marketshare and then sell what was basically a Facebook script with a German skin for 100 million Euros.

    Facebook have since learnt their lesson and have aggressively expanded to international markets.

    But if your startup happens to strike gold in your country, the lesson seems to be that you need to use all the tools available to make sure that noone reskins your idea and starts eating up market share elsewhere.

  3. Mr. Thug says:

    Righto Ken. A nifty use for Google Translate is to search in other languages, Google’s example is to try searching for “sushi recipes” in Japanese. Or “pasta recipes” in Italian. Very smart…

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