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.
The most obvious argument for the use of translation software is the proliferation of the World Wide Web. Though we often refer to it as the "Web," the "World Wide" should not be ignored. The Web has opened up a whole new avenue for individuals and companies to share information. It's a place to meet contacts, develop sources, conduct research and sell your products or services. For the purpose of browsing the Web alone, you should invest in one of the incredibly affordable Web translation programs now on the market. Globalink's Power Translator ($149) or Transparent Language's Easy Translator ($49) are the most common choices.
These programs all work in a similar manner, adding toolbars to your Web browser and, with the click of a button, allowing you to change the basic text into the language you prefer (graphic-based text will not be changed). Don't expect translations that your high school language teacher would be proud of, however. Instead, these aids will give you the gist of the Web site you're viewing and enable you to decipher the information at hand.
Of course, your need to communicate with others goes far beyond the viewing of foreign Web sites in your native language. Because of this, these programs offer the ability to translate e-mail messages and word-processing documents, and even enable live, real-time translation for use in online chat rooms.
Easy Translator lets you translate text to and from English, Spanish, French and German. In addition, you can perform English to Italian and English to Portuguese translations. Easy Translator works within Microsoft Word 97 and Corel WordPerfect 8, and will integrate with Netscape Navigator 3.0 and Internet Explorer 3.0 and 4.0. The Easy Translator Notepad lets you cut and paste translated text to other applications.
For more intricate projects, you'll want to employ Globalink's Power Translator. Power Translator includes Globalink's proprietary Barcelona technology to facilitate full-sentence translation of text and recognition of grammar rules and syntax. This product is compatible with other applications, including most e-mail programs and virtually any version of Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer you may be using. In addition, Globalink comes with a customizable dictionary that allows you to add terms and phrases that are applicable to your industry or personal needs. You can also purchase one of the 31 industry-specific, modular dictionaries (legal, business, finance or computer, for example).
If you have more serious translation needs, you may want to indulge in Systran Software's Systran Professional ($995). This product boasts the most accurate translations and is able to retain original document layouts, text highlighting, font styles and more. For just $69 ($49 if you download it from the Web), you can try the much less advanced Systran Personal. This program works within a clipboard format and will translate up to 5K of text at one time.
Bigger and Better
Don't be fooled into thinking you can translate your entire Web site or a business proposal intended for overseas customers with these basic, utilitarian products. If you want to appeal to a foreign national in his or her native tongue, you'd be much better served by employing a professional human translator. Globalink offers human translators that enable you to localize your documents--this means not merely translating the words but also addressing cultural nuances. The cost can run pretty high, however, at 15 cents to 50 cents per word; the variance in price is based on the language.
There are other, less expensive options for translating your Web site. Globalink's Comprende WebMaster is directed at small companies that want to appeal to overseas customers. For a monthly subscription fee, Globalink provides on-demand translations of a company's site. This means a German-speaking visitor to your site will be able to click on an icon marked "German" to read the text in his or her native tongue. Globalink doesn't make any claims about the accuracy of these translations and says only that visitors will get the gist of the information. Still, it's an affordable option for reaching a worldwide audience. To get your site ready, there's a one-time setup fee of $250; after that, it costs $100 per month to provide translations for five languages (French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish).
Quick and Easy
If you're not interested in investing any money in translation programs or services, you can always turn to the Web to get quick translations. For example, http://babelfish.altavista.digital.com is powered by Systran, one of the biggest names in translation software, and lets users quickly translate information from English into French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, or the other way around. This makes it easy to translate short messages and cut and paste them into your e-mail program. Best of all, it's free.
If you have a large document that needs translating, check out Systran's online translation service, which is scheduled to be up and running this fall. For one cent per word (with a $2 minimum), you can have an entire document translated. This means there's no need to install another software program on your already crowded hard drive. It also means you can do it from any location. Say, for example, you're on a sales call in Munich and failed to realize that many of the individuals attending the meeting don't read English. You can employ Systran to translate your documents overnight.
It's difficult not to be completely overwhelmed by the power of computers and, more significantly, the Internet. Products like these prove that the time has come to think globally. There's no reason to limit your company to your own small corner of the world. The global economy requires that you think out of the box and experiment with the products and services available to everyone--your competitors included.
New and Notable Software
- FormTool Express: IMSI (International Microcomputer Software Inc.), the makers of FormTool 97, a high-end form-creating software product, has adapted its program to fit the needs of small-business users. FormTool Express offers premade forms, custom form creation, a flat file database, and label and report templates. For $39.95, users have access to 250 ready-to-use forms. FormTool Express' e-mail capability lets users send finished forms, such as proposals, purchase orders and invoices, directly to the people who need them. This product is for use with Windows systems only. For more information, visit http://www.imsisoft.com or call (415) 257-3000.
- Trellix Trelligram Utility: Have you ever visited a Web site and wished you could send a copy of it to co-workers or friends? Trellix Corp.'s Trellix Trelligram has a solution for you. Trelligram technology lets you package HTML and related files along with the Trelligram Delivery Service into a single file. To open it, the recipient simply double-clicks on the attachment icon, which launches their browser and lets them read and navigate HTML files on their desktop as they would with any Web site. For the time being, Trelligram is free; download a copy at http://www.trellix.com
- Event Planner Plus: Event-planning can be a huge headache. Whether you're planning a press conference, a trade show or a charity event, there are so many details to keep track of: invitations, mailing lists, RSVPs, travel and accommodations, seating and floor plans, name tags and so on. Certain Software addresses these issues with Event Planner Plus. This program is aimed at event and meeting planners working in small businesses; it promises to alleviate the stress of event-planning by supplying all the tools you'll need. This Windows-based product costs $495. Visit http://www.certain.com or call (415) 353-5330.
Globalink Inc., (800) 255-5660, http://www.comprende.globalink.com
Systran Software Inc., (619) 459-6700, http://www.systransoft.com
Transparent Language, (800) 752-1767, http://www.transparent.com