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Blog Translations: The Next Web Frontier


Weblog Tools Collection is doing it. So is the Blog Herald. Are you doing it?

These and other blogs are hiring translators to translate their blog into different languages. Blog Herald began with Japanese, based upon a study released by Technorati stating that Japanese is the most used language on the blogosphere. Weblog Tools Collection offers Español and Deutsch versions of their blog, expanding into Europe.

Those of us with little or no money to spend on human translation services resort to translation WordPress Plugins or turn to Google’s Translate Language Tools or Altavista’s Babelfish. Machine translations aren’t perfect, but they typically do a fair job getting much of the concept across.

Having lived overseas among non-English speaking folks much of my life, the early days of the web was filled with anticipation that free instant translation would be available through our browsers. Click any link on a web page, and your browser would detect the language, magically translating it into your desired tongue. Websites in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, Hebrew, German, French, Arabic, Norwegian, Swahili, and everywhere would be immediately accessible for my reading pleasure.

I dreamed of learning about all these diverse cultures, getting an inside look at how they live and what their thoughts are on their lives, government, work, friends, and family. I wanted to ask them questions and seek their opinions, translated through the magic of web browsers. I wanted to learn from and about them, and I hoped they might want to know a little about me, too.

It never happened.

I don’t know why web browsers didn’t follow through on the promise of instant international language communication. The whole idea of HTML was to create a code format that any browser on any machine anywhere in the world could read, developing a standard format for web page design and development. By removing the pretty designs from the structure of the page with CSS, browser technology took another leap by allowing the user to customize how they wanted to see and read web pages, which also increased accessibility standards. The web opened up to the blind and visually impaired as well as disabled. But it never opened up to different languages.

Imagine what our world would look like if Microsoft developed language translation within Internet Explorer? Or if Firefox ran with it now? What would our blogging world look like if web technology had put their energy into crossing language borders as much as operating system borders?

As much as everyone wants to brag about Web 2.0 moving into the social networking and interaction generation, most of us are still living behind a great iron curtain, unable to easily cross the language border with our blogs.

Even with today’s amazing technologies, the process of reading a web page in another language is tedious and frustrating. Yes, I can fairly quickly get a machine translation through WordPress Plugins, Google and Altavista. However, it’s one sided.

Crossing the Border of International Blog Conversations

Blogs are about interaction, a dialog between the blogger and the reader and other readers. When reading a translated blog, how do I reply to what I’ve just translated in the blog’s original language?

Through another machine translation?

I have two choices in responding to a blog not in my language. I can post a comment in my language, putting the burden on the blogger to translate what I’ve written. Or I can use a machine translation of my response converted into their language.

The best method of replying would be to write it in your language and leave the burden of translation to the blogger. If they read English, then they can read it and provide a translation to their readers. This is best as it limits the risk of a convoluted translation. If they can’t, hopefully they will use a friend or a machine translation to convert it into their language. Either way, how would you know if they got it right?

If I put the burden of translation upon myself, I can use Google’s Translate or and Babelfish to type in my response in my language and have it translated into over a dozen different languages. It’s a machine translation so while not perfect, it may get the point across.

To use this, I have to go back and forth from the translated page to the translating page to copy and paste the translation of my comment into the post. This is a lot of work. It also comes with some trust issues.

I don’t know if the post I just read translated by machine or otherwise is really an accurate translation. I have to assume that it’s close. The translation of my reply is also based upon an assumption, since I don’t know if I used the appropriate words which will easily translate to get my point across, so how do I know if the machine got that right? I’ve tried translating translations – messy business. Translating translations loses even more in the translation. Without another recourse, I have to trust that the machine got it “close”.

Here’s an example of the confusion translations and translations of translations can cause. In a recent announcement on the Blog Herald, one of the articles I wrote called “It’s Catching: Blog Disease” was determined to be the most popularly read article in the Blog Herald’s Japanese section.

Translations of Blog Herald Bio of Lorelle VanFossen in Japanese and English

While there is much English to giggle over in Google’s translation of the Japanese version, let’s look at the bio at the end of the article and compare them.

The first is the Google Translation of the Japanese human translation of the English version:

Laurel [huanhuotsusen] Lorelle ON WordPress (laurel on [wadopuresu]) with has written [burogu] and [burogu] regarding word press. In addition long time word press is supported self-sacrifice. The laurel has appeared in traveling frequently, “you will go out with the camera”, with it has reported concerning itself trailer life. Furthermore with “history of my family” you contribute the history of your own family and the article regarding the lineage figure. You have contributed to also many [burogu] and the member sight and the magazine and the like to in addition to.

Why my name is spelled “Laurel” is odd, but a closer look reveals that Google translated it phonetically, not literally, from the Japanese. It’s spelled right in the “Lorelle ON WordPress” because that is a link and the Japanese translators left it in English. It didn’t require translation by Google’s machine.

Google translated WordPress into “word press”, which also might be a phonetic translation rather than accurate one. While I’m sure for , WordPress is a self-sacrifice, but is it for me? I love “you will go out with camera” for “Taking Your Camera on the Road”. I’d like to read a magazine called “Traveling Frequently”, wouldn’t you? I’d love to be “The Laurel published in Traveling Frequently”. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it. Inaccurate, but wonderful. As for the “lineage figure” in my family, I’ll have to think about that one. What’s “member sight”? The translation of the translation sounds like I’ve contributed an eyeball to a private eye bank.

If you read “above and beyond” the words, they make sense. It just takes some work to get the point, though maybe not about the “member sight” thing. Here is the English original:

Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress, and is a long time support volunteer for WordPress. Lorelle travels too much and reports about life on the road in Taking Your Camera on the Road and covers family history and genealogy on Lorelle’s Family History, and writes for too many blogs, ezines, and magazines.

Okay, so maybe the translation of the human translation missed by a few leaps and bounds. You see my point. Instant web translation isn’t yet ready for prime time.

It’s been over 15 years and I’m still dreaming of a world with no borders on the web. I’m ready to take blogging across the language barrier. Aren’t you?

“I see the world
Without any borders,
Without any fighting,
Without any fear.

So captain give the order,
We’re going to cross
the next frontier.”

Moon Rider
From Up With People, in collaboration with Eugene Cernan

Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

  1. maleksh da3wa says: 03/19/2007 at 4:26 pm

    as i guess, this is a really important issue… yes, we want to exchange cultures and be able to read about topics that interests us whatever language was used in writing it… but, there are words in some languages that aren’t available in other languages… so then we need some way to express them in other languages… and to express them they need to be in a way that fits the whole dialog and don’t appear as (…) between the words… so how can this happen?

    Also to do this we need to take a language or maybe some languages as a base to build on… and this language(s) need to be rich with words and expressions. at the end we will find that the language(s) that are included in the base will influence other languages (which are not rich) by adding new words to it (that didn’t have a meaning at the beginning).

  2. One idea would be to form a barter relationship with a few bloggers from other nations –
    if your blog has a high pagerank and is popular on Technorati – some Translaters might be willing to do free translation for a homepage link to their translation websites – a win-win deal, both parties gaining exposure

    Worth a try :-)

  3. Hmmm. My blog is virtually just pics and vids. Hence no translation required! I think I would prefer the little that I do write that people didn’t read anyway.

  4. Interesting post. Is there any better plugin out there that can do the job better?
    If that doesn’t happen yet, guess I better go and take Japanese and Spanish class, hehe ;)

  5. billjbreedlove says: 03/19/2007 at 5:26 pm

    My blog is virtually just pics and vids. Hence no translation required!

  6. I read this with immense interest: it couldn’t be of more interest to me, as I am Editor of a language school website translated into 9 languages, and we are in the throes of introducing student and staff blogging.

    As you illustrate, unless machine translation takes a leap forward, it can never convey the subtleties of language, particularly when you consider the specific tone adopted by so many bloggers: the very tone that constitutes their individual voice and readability.

    As an English speaker I am very well aware of how fortunate I am to be able to have my words read both on professional and personal blogs by people worldwide who are more educated than I am; they can even leave me comments in English. The flip side of that is that I struggle to read content in another language – content that looks most compelling, too. If I run the page through Babelfish, yes, I’ll often get the gist, but how much more am I missing out on?

    Can machine translation ever reach a high enough standard to make the internet truly accessible to all? While it’s a seemingly inviting idea, it would put many thousands of hard working translators out of a job, including the faithful team I use!

  7. As far as translation software goes, I think for Chinese and Japanese, Firefox is the way to go. It’s not great, and results in a lot of wacky text like you mentioned above — but at least it helps take down the walls between east and west on the internet.

    Personally, blogging from inside China, I can say there’s a lot of intolerant (read racist) stuff written on the Chinese net, and I think some Chinese netizens feel a sort of immunity because they know people in the west can’t read it.

    I hope things become more transparent, in order to keep stuff like that in check.

  8. Japanese syntax and grammar is so different from English that good machine translation between the two languages is likely to remain a dream for many years to come.

    Meanwhile, if you need some Japanese translated into impeccable English, do ping me and we can work something out. My credentials.

  9. I am bilingual and work as a translator, among other things, so I think about this stuff a lot. In particular I commented in a recent blog entry that it is very rare to see an English language site linking to one in any other language (see here for some musings). The main reason is, most probably, the appalling lack of foreign language knowledge in the English-speaking world.

    But I cannot emphasize enough, “machine translations” are, and probably will always be, purely a tool which can help cross the language barrier. Language conveys MEANING (involving cultural, societal and a thousand other aspects), and until machines start “understanding meaning”, we are going to be getting mostly gobbledygook. Couple this with my belief that “meaning” is the preserve of the sentient, and that computers will never be truly sentient, and I believe that the only long term solution can be either to start learning foreign languages, or withdraw into the world of your own language. Commenting or blogging in a foreign language will remain dabbling at best…

    P.S. I would happily blog in my other language, Serbian, too, but the problem is… SEO! I cannot mix the two languages in one blog (at least, I haven’t thought of a hack to do it yet!) because it will confuse search engines and heaven forbid that should happen!

  10. If you use a machine translation (or even a bad human one), the readers on each end are likely to spend a lot of time scratching their heads, trying to figure out what you might have meant to mean. Or simply laughing their butts off – see Italy’s much-heralded (and much-vilified) new tourism portal, italia.it, for an example of how a lot of money was thrown away on a bad site, and none (apparently) on native-speaker translations.

    I like Security’s barter idea… I could even trade good English editing for good [insert your language here] translation.

  11. I’d really like to see the web compatible between languages. I’d love to read blogs from Palestine and Lebanon and similarly, I’d love for them to be able to read my account of what’s going on, for them to see that someone on the other side of the world supports their struggle. The web is a road to international solidarity if technology will take us there.

  12. Firstly compliments to Lorelle (Laurel). Nice post I’ll have to read more of your stuff over at WordPress. It’s nice to see Darren got some quality content for us while he’s gone, I’m keen to see what the other guests have to say.

    I’ve always fantasized about being able to speak (type) another language without actually having to learn it also. I’m surprised that some startup with some smart multi lingual folks aren’t trying to get capital for better machine based translations (or browser based). I am sure there is lots of investors out there willing to throw a bundle of money at it.

    I always thought Google would be the ones to really get this sort of thing going, it’s the type of thing thats right up there alley and they are probably the only folks with a chance of producing a good enough end result.

    Also part of their aggressive recruiting strategy is to get people from all over the globe to add to their team, so they already have a team of a beta testers ready to go.

    The problem with security’s idea is that the blogs which command that type of readership can afford to pay a translator to do it in the first place.

    I’m sure we will see a Web 2.0 community trading translations soon enough.

    If you are a university lecturer, get your students to translate blogs for assignments. Then you can use the comments to decide on their marks.

  13. By the way, do you need a portuguese version of this blog? :)

  14. Lorelle,
    Heard of a service called MultiBabel? The results from the service are somewhat hilarious but considering the subject of translations, you might be interested in checking it out.


  15. […] The idea was put on the back-burner until today when I read Lorelle’s guest translation article on ProBlogger. Lorelle writes some interesting stuff about what language you should use when commenting on a blog that’s written in a foreign language (i.e. not English). Should you use an online translation machine or type in English hoping they’ll get the message? It’s worth a read. […]

  16. Hi Darren, nice article, I was thinking about it for past few weeks

    You have a large blog community, u cud answer following issues –
    1) Will the translated version be treated as DUPLICATE CONTENT ?
    2) Should one get another domain? or add translations to the same blog.
    3) How can I pay someone to translate my blog? Someone who lives in China or Japan.

    Arpit T

  17. Translation engines are not fast and sometimes non accurate.Though i am using a plugin that can be used to translate but then ho affective i am not sure.The bes thing is if you can write another version but then it needs you to be talented enough.The best is use of plugin now till the browser develops the feature

  18. […] To translate or not to translate. That is they question. By Peng I am an English speaker, and perhaps a bit of an ugly American because I don’t really speak any other languages. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because I have forgotten my elementary school French and my high school Spanish and I honestly haven’t had the time to refresh either one of them. But after reading this post by Lorelle VanFossen over at Problogger I am considering adding translation capabilities to You Did What???. […]

  19. Add Mashable to the list, (French).
    Someone once said that the inherent problem with MT is that computers can’t think, the day they can, the problem will go away – and not before.

    ps: I always enjoy reading your articles Lorelle and I’m pleased I don’t have to rely on MT for that.

  20. As a spanish blogger, machine translations don’t offer the necessary accuracy, is more like a tourist in a foreign country…
    Spanish market for instance is not that big, don’t expect huge amounts of new traffic. Another fact is that many readers read the english language blogs.
    Still it would be a nice idea to translate if the costs are covered with new traffic.
    As for duplicate content, if google translates like an alien, I don’t think they could identify duplicate content yet, not to mention it’s ridiculous…

  21. Just to make you aware of services such as ours which have been developed in answer to the problem to getting a fast, affordable and accurate translation.

    Live Translation connects you to a network of professional translators allowing translations in minutes.

    A typical 50 word translation would still be relatively expensive and slow compared to MT – $7.50 and 10 minutes turnaround – but if you have something worth saying it is always worth paying – Hmm, I like that slogan must remember that for my next mailing.

    Great blog


  22. Lorelle,

    Really interesting guest post. A friend of ours in Germany is majoring in Chinese and she speaks fluent German and English. We have thought about having her translate our blogs and websites into German and Chinese and maybe seeing if she was interested in starting a comapny doing translation services. From what she has told us, translating English to Chinese and vice versa wouldn’t be easy to do with software. It will be interesting to see how translation software evolves in the upcoming years.

    I can see the value in translating your blog to as many languages as possible. Nice post.

    All the best,

  23. Arpit, in answer to your questions:

    (BTW I don’t think Darren wrote today’s entry!)

    >1) Will the translated version be treated as DUPLICATE CONTENT ?

    Not if the translated content is properly implemented, e.g. with SEO-friendly URLs like /english/foo/article.html or /chinese/foo/article.html. SEs will NO way figure out it’s duplicate – and anyway, translations are original work of a sort.

    >2) Should one get another domain? or add translations to the same blog.
    See above, properly implemented, you can switch languages using a dropdown menu and keep everything on the same domain. Joomla has a plugin for this – Joom!fish (www.joomfish.net) which I have found to work nicely so far.

    >3) How can I pay someone to translate my blog? Someone who lives in China or Japan.
    You could post a request via a translators site like ProZ.com, which is very good – I get a lot of work from there :) Make sure you are prepared to pay a bit more for a good translation – there are a LOT of bad translations out there!

    Sorry for the long comment, but it’s my favourite subject :)

  24. Markowe: WordPress offers tools that will help you blog in more than one language. See WordPress in Your Language, Blogging in More Than One Language, and Translation and Multilingual WordPress Plugins for information on working with translations and multi-language blogging.

    Arpit: Translations aren’t literal copies, so they are not considered duplicated. You can host translated versions of your blog like Blog Herlad does with jp.blogherald.com and Wikipedia and others do as subdomains. You don’t need a new site. You can hire anyone do do translations, they don’t have to be in a another country. Or maybe they can. It’s up to you and who you hire. Payment can be done through PayPal, bank transfer, and many other methods.

    These are obstacles that are easy to overcome. Finding the right person who can translate what you write well is harder. Blog Herald hired a company. Weblog Tools Collection hired individuals. A company has a reputation to keep. An individual has a reputation to earn.

    MArian: When my husband took a refresher on his Spanish, CNN had just released their Spanish version. He would translate the Spanish into English with Babelfish and only refer to it if he couldn’t figure out a word. He came home one day laughing and showed me how the translation had turned “bombas” into gas pumps being dropped on cities., and freezing the funds of an international terrorist translated into the “government froze his bottoms”.

    Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese are among the hardest languages to translate. I think that the use of “poetic license”, metaphors, analogies, and dramatic language won’t work with word-by-word translations. It needs to be phrase-by-phrase, and concept-by-concept.

  25. Excellent tips of what you’ve learned. Thank you for sharing.

  26. I know it seems today if you don’t at least make an effort to translate your blog or webpage you are missing out on a huge potential audience.

    Though I make use of Google to translate my webpages I am always looking for a better way to do this.

  27. Thanks Lorelle and Markowe. That was helpful.

  28. Redneck Techy: Ah, very good point.

    It makes me wonder though. How many of you know where your blog traffic comes from? Does the majority come from English speaking countries or non-English speaking countries?

    How would you determine which specific languages to have your blog translated into? Which language do you think has the best chance of developing an audience or market for your blog?

    And a serious issue that needs to be considered:

    How would your blogging and blog writing change if you knew your blog was being translated?

  29. First off – this is a wonderful post.
    Now for anyone who might be interested, I’ve been working on a project for several months now that aims to address the notion of making content available in multiple languages. The project is called Kontrib and we just launched the public beta of the site at http://www.kontrib.com.

    Kontrib is a multi-lingual social bookmarking website that allows users to submit, vote, and comment on stories. The key difference between Kontrib and the many other social bookmarking websites out there is the ability for the content to be automatically translated using statistical machine translation technology from Language Weaver. Kontrib currently supports English, French, and Spanish along with limited support for Arabic (Arabic into English). For the public beta, all submitted content (stories, descriptions, links, comments) are automatically translated by the machine translation servers. We will add in support for translating user messages as well as add in additional languages over time.

    Kontrib’s ultimate goal is to foster communications across the Internet by slowly bridging the language barrier. Of course, machine translations has it’s problems (and many of you have already noted that here in this blog posting). Our goal is to try and provide a gist of what the original content provider is saying. It’s not always perfect but over time, we’ll ask users such as yourselves to help us improve the machine translation output.

    In the meantime, if you want to translate your blog content or publicize your site to a wider audience of readers, you can feel free to submit postings, stories etc to Kontrib. We’re constantly looking for feedback – whether it’s about the language translations, the site design, or anything at all. For the guys on my team, Kontrib is all about getting content to a wider audience – one step at a time. I hope all of you will find it useful!

  30. Thanks Darren – that really helped. i personally think that the Google one is better.

  31. Thanks for the translation info. I have some on my site but have not had positive feedback on it except that the flags look cool. It does show up strangely later in the hosting stats and when someone clicks to a different language later it is reported that page does not exist.

  32. Thanks for the info. After reading this article I added a translation plugin to my site since I have noticed a number of non-english visitors on my site. From my logs I can see that this translation is being used and that these visitors are viewing lots of pages. Of course, since I only speak English I do not know if they are getting some meaningful information from me or just having a good old laugh!

  33. Excellent. Because you see more traffic from an international audience, something must be making sense. :D

    Glad to help. Let us know if the traffic holds up over time.

  34. Great post Lorelle. Content globalization is a topic that is frequently discussed within the content management community. Many public-facing corporate web sites simply depend on it to stay (content) relevant. :)

    Bianca Prade

  35. Machine translation isn’t good enough at the moment. We try to build a community of people who translate blogs.

  36. […] Guest Blogging: Recent guest blogging events included two on Problogger, Blogging Is About Writing and Blog Translations: The Next Web Frontier, and Your Writing Persona: Who Are You? on Writing Great Ezines & Blogs from Patsi Krakoff, continuing to attract a lot of attention. […]

  37. I use google translator, in my FOODIEBLOG , under every post. But I still confuse, where is the right place to, add it, at header?at footer?at sidebar? or under every post like I did?Can you help me?

  38. how to tranlate blogs? After reading this article I hear about translation plugin.

  39. yeah . but on he contray these days peoples are making alot of money thurogh blogging which is the great cuase behind spamming , which i think is a bog crime

  40. well actually the blog translate thing is really inofrmative ..

  41. […] face it; most of us can’t go as far as translating our blogs, but an easier option is to put a translation tool (such as Google translate or a translation plugin) in a prominent […]

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