When we first started out in the web design business, creating foreign language web content as an English speaker was an exciting challenge. I remember writing my first web copy in French and German for a client who was selling ice machines and because I had studied both languages I was excited at being able to type the content straight into Dreamweaver. However, when the client expanded into new markets and got distributors on board from different countries such as Portugal and Sweden the challenge took on a new perspective. Thankfully there was an online machine translation tool available at Babelfish – in those days it was part of Alta Vista, a great little search engine that I remember well and included many times in rankings reports for clients. Alta Vista was subsequently bought by Overture who in turn were bought by Yahoo!.
Although Babelfish offered fewer languages than they do today, it was nevertheless a great boon to have instant online translation assistance. This enabled me to do one of two things. I could machine translate the standard English copy approved by the client and then ask the distributor to check it over and correct where necessary or the distributor could send me their suggested copy in their own language and we could check it on Babelfish. Machine translation in the early days was far from perfect but it did at least offer the opportunity of checking that the copy made basic sense. We couldn’t afford the risk of a third party getting the specification wrong or making false claims.
So the client got his web pages about máquinas de gelo and ismaskiner and, indeed, they achieved high rankings and brought in enquiries and sales. One thing the client did struggle with, however, when it came to foreign languages was being able to have quick and clear discussions with distributors and customers in other countries. Email was the fastest option but often there were replies in broken English which created misunderstandings and problems. Those were the days before Skype.
Skype has without doubt revolutionized the way we communicate both in our personal lives as well as business. Quick and easy to use, Skype is enjoying unprecedented success around the world. The stats speak for themselves – over 300 million users per month logging 2 billion minutes of call time between them. Skype is one of the most important icons on our desktops, tablets and smart phones … and it’s about to get a whole lot better.
Imagine having a distributor or customer in another country who speaks a different language yet you need to communicate with them urgently. If it’s an important issue, perhaps a problem that needs to be resolved, then you would prefer to speak with them face to face and, ideally, be able to make yourself understood without the need for an interpreter. Thanks to years of work by Microsoft engineers, Skype is almost ready to deliver you that opportunity …. with real-time translated conversation.
The technology has not been fully perfected yet but as you can see on this video clip it is not far off and certainly good enough for many people to want to try it sooner rather than later. Read more about Skype’s real-time translation on the official Microsoft blog.