If you've ever traveled to a foreign country, you're probably all too familiar with the sinking feeling that comes when you're confronted with a situation where you don't speak the language. You find yourself fumbling with phrases such as "Habla usted inglés?" or "Parlez-vous anglais?" When the answer is a blank look or a resounding "no," you probably wish you had paid a heck of a lot more attention back in high school, or you may take the elitist "I can't believe they don't speak English in this country" attitude. Either way, you're faced with the Tower of Babel, and the only thing that may save you is a very good translation dictionary.
Now take this confusing situation and apply it to the written word: letters, faxes, e-mail messages, Web sites and so on. English may be the world's most dominant language, but it certainly isn't the only one. And English-speaking countries aren't the only place for you to sell your products or services. But how can you possibly communicate electronically with the international masses if you can barely remember how to count to 10 in Spanish after three years of language classes? The answer is simple: translation software. It may not be perfect--your cousin who speaks fluent German might laugh at your attempts to translate your Christmas letter, for example--but it certainly can't hurt.
This column takes a look at some of the many ways translation programs are helping the average businessperson expand his or her reach.
Cassandra Cavanah is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has reported on the computer industry for nine years.