February 26, 2009

Don't Speak the Language? You Can Still Participate.

If you watch your referral logs and search alerts closely enough, there will come times when blog posts, tweets or other social media activity will point your way, but not be in your native language. And while it may be intimidating to try and engage in a tongue where you are not comfortable, translation tools have reached the stage where you can respond, in best effort, in the poster's language of choice, and participate. And that little bit of effort is absolutely recognized.

While we keep hoping for a panacea where every person in every continent can share information in real time, language barriers are still very real. Even after four years of high school Spanish, three childhood years in Mexico and my entire adult life in California, I'm no native speaker of Spanish - and there's no way I have enough time to try and pick up another language or two to participate with other Web users, be they in Europe, South America, the Middle East or elsewhere.

But if I see a blog post that mentions me or something I'm interested in, or if I get an alert from BackType or Google, I do try to respond. A quick analysis from Google's Language Tools, or even online services that go between English and Farsi, can get me a good idea as to what they are saying. If it makes sense, I will usually also leave a short comment, even it's as simple as "thanks for reading, I appreciate it," but in their language, not mine.

For example, earlier today I got an alert via BackType from this post: La fiebre de twitter “incluso amenaza a google”, where a commenter wrote, "Totalmente de acuerdo con Louis Gray: Twitter es un radar estupendo de actualidad."

Loosely translated, the comment reads: "Totally agree with Louis Gray: Twitter is a great radar for now."

Google's Translation tools are good enough that you shouldn't be ignoring posts from other parts of the world. And if you're concerned that your words could be misconstrued thanks to bad translations, try to use short sentences and avoid slang at all costs.

Online translation services have enabled me to have quick conversations in Farsi on FriendFeed, or to browse articles as uniquely titled as Google naikintuvai ir kitos naujienos, which translates as "Google fighters and other news" from Lithuanian.

There is no question the tools are not yet perfect. Go ahead and try any phrase and convert it to another language, and then back, to see if it stays the same. But the combination of BackType Alerts and Google Translator has me participating without boundaries. Give it a shot.

Coincidentally, earlier this morning, Google announced you can now translate up to 41 different languages with their service.