Reach a Larger Audience with Content Translation Tools

Jan 20 2010 by Jon Raasch | 26 Comments

For most developers, cross-browser testing is standard practice to ensure sites reach as many users as possible. But what about language translation? No matter which language you speak, foreign languages are spoken by over 60% of internet users. If a browser had a 60% market share, would you support it?

Reach a Larger Audience with Content Translation Tools

Of course, your visitors can use third party tools like Google Translate or Babelfish to translate your site themselves, but you should never rely on users to do anything.

Laziness is king on the internet, so always make things as easy as possible. Think how social media icons increase traffic even though users have browser bars and bookmarklets that they can use.

Fortunately, you don’t have to hire a professional translator to support multiple languages on your site. Thanks to wonderful APIs such as the Google Language API, there are a number of free and easy-to-install translation solutions available. Although these automatic methods will never be as good professional translations written by translators, they provide an attractive opportunity to offer internationalization at no cost.

Google Translate Tools

Google Translate Tools

First, Google Translate provides a simple widget that you can copy and paste onto your site for a basic dropdown of 52 languages. When a language is clicked, the user is redirected to translate.google.com to see the translation.

While this widget is easy to install, it’s a bit "old web" with its unstyled dropdown and ugly branded button. However, a larger issue is that it boots users to Google for the actual translation, so you lose any linkbacks or tracking data.

The TranslateThis Button

The TranslateThis Button

An alternative to Google Translate Tools, The TranslateThis Button is another translation widget that can be copied and pasted onto any webpage. Leveraging the Google Language API, it provides the same 52 languages of translation as Google Translate Tools, but with a better user interface including dropdowns, overlays, and flag icons. Most importantly, users are not redirected to Google.

The translation runs in JavaScript, replacing portions of the page as it receives them from Google. In addition to producing a nice transition effect, JavaScript allows the script to work significantly faster than Google Translate for most pages.

Additionally, the TranslateThis Button provides some customizable options: Google Analytics tracking, customization options for the look and feel, callback functions, and a scope restriction. Read the docs for more info.

Overall, the TranslateThis Button is advantageous because it provides a rich user experience while staying relatively lightweight (the script is under 12kb). Running on the client-side allows it to translate most websites quickly, however sites with a great deal of content might benefit from a server side script with static caching features.

jQuery Translate Plugin

jQuery Translate Plugin

Another client-side translation option is the jQuery Translate Plugin. Similar to the TranslateThis Button, this script parses the page content and sends it to the Google Language API using JavaScript. Instead of building an interface for accessing the languages, this plugin provides a couple of handy translation functions you can use however you like.

The jQuery Translate Plugin has certain advantages and does a great job concatenating short pieces of content to limit requests to the Google Language API. However, it still tends to run slower than the TranslateThis Button since these requests run consecutively.

Additionally, even without the jQuery core, this script is the same file size as TranslateThis.

Global Translator (WordPress)

Global Translator (WordPress)

Client-side translation can be fast, sleek and easy to implement. However, for high traffic websites, you can’t beat a server-side solution with caching.

Global Translator by Davide Pozza is a WordPress plugin that does just that. Providing 41 languages of translation for any WordPress site, its features include a fast-caching system and SEO-friendly permalinks. No client-side method can boast all that, and what’s more, this plugin allows you to choose from four different translation engines: Google Translate, Babel Fish, Promt or FreeTranslations.

If you have a WordPress site, Global Translator is definitely the way to go. It is significantly better than the Google AJAX Translation plugin, which just leverages the jQuery Translate Plugin.

Where is translation headed?

Automatic online translation has made some amazing progress recently and is just getting better. The number of languages supported by the Google Language API is constantly increasing, allowing you to reach a growing user base. Also, the quality of the translations and speed of the API are steadily improving.

In the future, Google will hopefully increase the length of the language strings that can be passed to the API. The max is currently 1,000 and if it were increased to 2,000, a number of Translation plugins could run significantly faster.

Additionally, Google Translate recently announced Text to Speech support, and Weston Ruter released a script that combines this with HTML5 audio.

As the web moves towards a fuller internet experience, accessibility issues are coming to the forefront. Translation should not be forgotten in this process.

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About the Author

Jon Raasch is a UX nerd and free-lance developer who loves jQuery, JavaScript and CSS. Focusing on user experience, Jon uses his front-end skills and design background to sculpt robust, accessible web apps. On the side, he develops a variety of free jQuery, JavaScript and WordPress tools. Check out Jon’s blog or follow him on Twitter: @jonraasch.

26 Comments

leo rapirap

January 20th, 2010

thanks for taking time to write the article. this is just what i’m looking for. :)

Magnus

January 20th, 2010

What’s wrong with the Microsoft Translator Widget for your web page?

http://www.microsofttranslator.com/widget/

Ken Adams

January 20th, 2010

Please update your list with SundayMorning. The best jQuery tool to translate content inline. Bookmarklet available.

SundayMorning
http://sundaymorning.jaysalvat.com/

Jordan Walker

January 20th, 2010

That would be one way of reaching a truly global audience, I wonder how well those translating services capture the actually meaning of a statement vs. its literal translation.

z0r

January 20th, 2010

Well, speaking about Russian, auto-translation makes the site unreadable. It cannot be translated on automation to russian, but from russian to english (and other not very complicated languages) is possible to read.

William

January 20th, 2010

Indeed great info. But have you tried to read this machine translated content? Can a professional website provide this low quality content to his global readers. We chose to pay more for human translation (We used http://www.tomedes.com )

Crop

January 20th, 2010

Nice post! In the first image of the post – the Hebrew word, on the bottom right corner (just above the “fish”) is written like it reflected in the mirror. :)

Imokon

January 20th, 2010

I was about to install such a plugin for a current WordPress project. Nice brief overview. I will be comparing the Global Translator and the Google Ajax Translator plugin.

You can never replace a live translator though I agree, recalling an old example – a computer sent a message to Russia with translation and it went from “Out of Sight Out of Mind” and came back “Invisible Maniac”

MLE

January 20th, 2010

Thanks for the article, Jon. I just wanted to suggest an additional tool that combines several engines, provides an analytics platform, and has professional human translators behind it who rate the automated translation tools by language combination using language evaluation software. It;s a really cool and free widget:

Virtual-Language

Antoine

January 20th, 2010

With Joomla, the component Jolomea can also helps you for the translation of your website.

Brian Harris

January 20th, 2010

nice article JR. Of the 60% that speaks a foreign language, what percentage speaks English? also keep in mind that these language stats come from the browser/OS language, so just because my os is set to spanish doesn’t mean i don’t speak english.

You’ve made a kick ass jquery plugin, but felt like giving you a hard time. ;)

Black Sand

January 20th, 2010

Thanks for article, I will be helpful for me. I always use google translater.

DesignLovr

January 20th, 2010

I really liked this article, but am unsure (just like others) if the low quality of these translations (I tried it several times on my own) is something you want to present to your readers…

ethnicomm

January 20th, 2010

Nice post!

Global Translator did not work for me but Google Ajax Translation worked like a charm.

As far as not providing decent translation, I’d rather have basic or marginal translation vs. not engaging the “foreign” client at all.

Zhu

January 20th, 2010

First of all, the list is very good and you did a great job of presenting all the tools available.

But as a person who speaks several languages and work as a translator, I’m sorry to say I really don’t believe in online translation. At least not at their current stage.

I don’t see how you can reach to a wider audience when the translation is just gibberish! I can give you so many examples it’s not even funny…

The only time I use an online translation service is when I get comments in a language I don’t speak, just to get a general idea whether it’s spam or not. And even for that, it’s not accurate…

Mike Unwalla

January 21st, 2010

@Jordan Walker: I wonder how well those translating services capture the actually meaning of a statement vs. its literal translation.

If text is optimised for machine translation, machine translation gives satisfactory results. For an evaluation of Google Translate, see the first two evaluations on http://www.international-english.co.uk/mt-evaluation.html (English to Norwegian, and English to Spanish).

@William: Can a professional website provide this low quality content to his global readers.

You assume that machine translation gives low quality translations. See my previous comment.

For business, sometimes a lower quality translation is better than no translation. (Certainly, for literature, machine translation is not useful.)

Stéphane Bareau

January 21st, 2010

Il want to submit you another jQuery plugin using google translation API : http://sundaymorning.jaysalvat.com/

Jon Raasch

January 21st, 2010

Thanks for all the great comments everybody!

To everyone who prefers professional translations–yes these are clearly much better, but are also much more expensive. Automated online solutions like the one’s described here provide sites the ability to bridge a gap they otherwise wouldn’t. (But if you make a living translating websites, I’m sure you think differently heheh).

To all the people who mentioned other translation options, I’ll take a look at them and maybe write a second phase round up of these (although I’m a bit dubious of Microsoft’s ability to build anything worthwhile :))

@Antoine Thanks for pointing out that Joomla option…anyone know a good translation module for Drupal? In this case ‘good’ means that it runs on the back-end and preferably has some kind of cache.

@z0r Nice point about English->Russian translation. Some language pairs are obviously easier to transliterate than others, but I assure you that these translations are steadily improving

@Brian Harris – That 60% stat was actually based on English, which makes up 38% of internet users according to the figures here: http://bit.ly/6UHJA0 . This means that even you speak English, over 62% of the web speaks a foreign language. But great point about the stat being driven by the settings in the OS/browser. Also, the TranslateThis Button is built in straight JS, not jQuery (FTW!).

Sek

January 21st, 2010

It’s feel good to see my language(Thai) in this tool.

Now I know, How this language tool can really satisfy more number of audience.

Frank Tang

January 28th, 2010

>First, Google Translate provides a simple widget that you can copy and paste onto your site for a basic dropdown of 52 languages. When a language is clicked, the user is redirected to translate.google.com to see the translation.

>While this widget is easy to install, it’s a bit “old web” with its unstyled dropdown and ugly branded button. However, a larger issue is that it boots users to Google for the actual translation, so you lose any linkbacks or tracking data.

Jon: What you described is no longer true for several months. The OLD google translate gadget did what you described in the article- redirect to Google Translate web translation, but for several months, it already use a AJAX in page translation to translate the content inside you page, without any redirect. Maybe you want to try it again.

Jon Raasch

February 2nd, 2010

@Frank Tang:

Thanks for pointing that out, I confess that I haven’t used Google Translate in a while. However I still think the lousiness of the Google Translate widget’s UI makes it a second-tier option.

Kimmo Linkama

March 27th, 2010

I’ll have to go with Zhu on this. Depending whether or not the language pair belongs to the same language group, auto-translation may give you a general idea of what a site is about, or then it can produce absolutely incomprehensible gibberish.

For example, a translation may work between two Indo-European languages, but try Indo-European to Fenno-Ugric, for example. Just yesterday I clicked on a translation link on an English-language site to see how it translates into Finnish, and you really couldn’t make head or tail of the result.

So, even though online translation tools may be “improving”, they are still far from usable. If an audience speaking a certain language is important to your business, better have your site translated professionally.

Mel

August 16th, 2010

Google Translate app is wonderful for communicating with your friend and family, no doubts about that! However, before using it to translate your commercial website, pay attention to what happened to the Canadian mounties 2 weeks ago after they did just that http://www.articlesbase.com/international-business-articles/canadian-police-pays-3000-per-day-for-relying-on-google-translate-2994095.html

Craig

September 18th, 2010

Have always thought this would be a great additional usability feature to be able to translate the language on a page, I may wait though till a few more bugs are ironed out, Great post!

Raj Hasan

November 24th, 2010

Thanks for showing how many choices we actually have. I use global translator and I am happy with that. Thanks for the good post.

Mark

September 23rd, 2011

Another option is to contact a cheap native speaker to help you translate your website to any language you need. You can find a cheap translator at http://www.live-translator.net , for example.
Automated translated websites are not indexed by Google crawler and doesn’t help you to get more traffic.

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