One of the questions I frequently get asked is “does your software translate my website into other languages?” Historically, the way this was handled was through a database, with text stored in multiple languages and the page would display based upon the language chosen. The cost to translate a website could range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, localized sites have to be maintained, and the on-going costs to keep up a website to reflect ongoing changes to the local language could cripple most companies. As with many things on the internet however, there is a better way, and it’s free! You don’t have to spend large sums of money and month’s of a translator’s time.

Google has developed a method for translating web pages that uses the same type of statistical data as their search engine. Rather than doing a word-by-word or even a phrase-by-phrase translation, Google uses statistics.  In the case of search engine placement, Google figures that the site with the most other sites linking to it for a particular keyword, the more important that site must be (as it relates to that keyword or phrase). The site with the most links is the one that gets listed first. The site with the second most number of links pointing to it gets listed second, and so on.

The same logic is applied to translations: the more native speakers who say that a particular phrase is used in a certain way, that is what Google figures the best translation must be. Many professional translation companies have scoffed at this approach and discourage people from using any type of machine-translation, claiming that machines don’t understand the context in which a sentence was written. However, using this approach, translations are more accurate than trying to translate using rule-based models. As a result, you simply have to call the statistical translation engine, and Google will translate your web page as quickly as it performs a search.

OK, that’s great, but how can I put this on my website? Great news! The Google translation gadget is free. Just go to http://translate.google.com/translate_tools and follow the steps outlined. You can copy the code one time onto your homepage, and the user can then select the language of their choice. Your entire site gets translated in real-time and you can now start selling products into other markets around the world.

A final thought: Google is working on instant speech translation for cell phones, so in a couple of years you may be able to communicate directly with your global customers, not just on the web!