How to Make Your Online Business Website Multilingual

By Greg Holden

One of the best ways to expand your online business to other countries is to provide alternative translations of your content. You can either hire someone to prepare the text in one or more selected languages or use a computer program to do the work for you. Then provide links to the web pages that contain the translated text right on your site’s home page, like this:

Read this page in:
French
Spanish
German

One translation utility that’s particularly easy to use — and free — is available from Microsoft’s search service Bing. Just follow these steps to get your own instant translation:

  1. Connect to the Internet, launch your web browser, and go to Bing’s Translator.

    The Bing Translator page appears.

  2. If you have specific text you want to translate, type the text in the left box or copy and paste it from a word processing program; if you want the service to translate an entire web page, type or copy and paste the URL in the same text box.

    Be sure to include the first part of the URL (for example, www.mysite.com rather than just mysite.com).

    Obviously, the shorter and simpler the text, the better your results.

  3. Choose the translation path (that is, from what language you want to translate) by clicking the Translate from or Translate to drop-down list.

    At this writing, the service offers translation to or from 39 languages, including Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

  4. Click the Translate button.

    Almost as fast as you can say “Welcome to the new Tower of Babel,” a new web page appears onscreen with the foreign-language version of your text. (If you selected a web page to translate, it appears in the new language. The title of the page, however, remains in the original language.)

A computer can never be as good as a human being when it comes to language translation. If you try a computer translation, attempt only the simplest of sentences. And get someone who really understands the language to proofread the results.

Instead of creating a foreign-language version of your web page, you can provide a link to the Yahoo! translation page on your own page. That way, your visitors can translate your text for themselves.

You can download the software behind the translation service, Systran Translator, from the SYSTRAN Software, Inc., website. The program costs anywhere from $69 to $749 depending on the number of languages you need. It is available for Windows and requires at least a 1.2 Ghz processor, at least 1 to 2GB of RAM, and at least 500MB of hard drive space and 90MB of space per language pair during installation.

If you need translation to or from Japanese, Chinese, or Korean (or from Russian to English), look into SYSTRAN Premium Translator, which starts at $899. This program has the same software requirements as the less expensive Personal package, as well as a driver for displaying Asian fonts, which is essential if you’re translating into Asian languages.

You don’t have to translate your entire website. Just providing an alternative version of your home page may be sufficient. The important thing is to give visitors an overview of your business and a brief description of your products and services in a language they can understand. Always include a mailto link so that people can send mail to you.

However, if you aren’t prepared to receive a response in Kanji or Swahili, request that your guests send their message in a language you can read.

Although you probably don’t have sufficient resources to pay for a slew of translation services, having someone translate your home page so that you can provide an alternative version may be worthwhile — especially if you sell products that are likely to be desirable to a particular market where a different language is the order of the day.

Consider hiring a competent graduate student to do some translation for you. Plenty of translation services are available online. Yahoo! has an index of translation services at

dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Business_to_Business/Translation_Services/website_Translation