Whereas English may at times seem prevalent online, the majority of people in the world do not speak it. Furthermore, only a small minority speak English as a native language. For all other languages, the audience figures look even worse, save perhaps for Chinese.
Therefore, providing content for people in their native language is an attractive idea for many bloggers and companies. A static website can be translated, no problem, but what about a blog, with comments and all?
There are three types of situations for translating a blog:
- Translating a blog through machine translation (automatic translation).
- Translating a blog with no access to inhouse resources fluent in the target language.
- Translating a blog with access to inhouse resources fluent in the target language.
Translating a blog through machine translation
Machine translation is pretty much the only way that has gained some prevalence in the blogosphere. Just add a plugin to your blog and you can have it in around 60 languages with a click of a button. Yeah, right.
The thing is, at least at present, machine translation does not work! The moment you step into any niche area, any specific jargon, the current machine translation tools are hopelessly lost. To be honest, they are hopelessly lost much of the time even when you stick to everyday vocabulary and subjects.
Machine translation is improving, and it is nowadays sometimes used in the translation industry to create rough drafts that are then corrected by a human translator. As this improvement continues, the drafts will get better and take less time to correct, thus increasing the productivity of the translator.
Machine translation supported by human correction is an important future tool, but when we are talking about fully automatic machine translation, it is so far away that I can’t even imagine all the hurdles that need to be crossed.
OK, so now we have established that you can’t get a perfect translation with pure machine translation. The next argument from a cost-cutting multilingualist will then be that surely, some translation is better than no translation? Wrong, this is based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes a translation error.
Yes, there are harmless translation errors that are no different from spelling and grammar errors anyone can make. However, there are also much more severe errors either because of misunderstandings or because of the fact that a single word in one language can correspond to various words in another. An incorrect translation can give completely wrong and potentially dangerous advice!
The same applies to blog comments, both for translating comments into the original language and for translating replies into the target language. The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that the potential for errors occurs twice in this process!
Translating a blog with no access to inhouse resources fluent in the target language
So, even if you have decided not to use machine translation and use an actual professional translator instead, you are still not in the clear.
I must emphasize that even human translation should be carried out by professional translators: any bilingual person won’t do, because translation is work that requires expertise. However, even if you outsource the translation, having an inhouse resource fluent in the target language is still valuable.
If there are no inhouse resources fluent in the target language available, then depending on the language, you may have no idea whatsoever on what the translation says, much less any comments. This is especially visible when dealing with languages with different alphabets, such as Japanese or Chinese. After a blog post is translated from English into Chinese, you may not be able to recognize even a single character!
Serious translation agencies have separate proofreaders and a quality assurance process, but this still does not guarantee complete success.
Your niche also presents its own challenges, which can be mitigated through long cooperation and well-defined terminology, including translations of key terms. However, if your blog is the first project to be translated, these may not be available yet.
Furthermore, blogs are especially prone to mistranslations, because the source material is rougher. They are also published on a rapid schedule, but even more importantly, the comments need to be monitored and translated back to the original language, and preferably quite quickly.
Add the lack of any inhouse personnel fluent in the target language to the mix, and this starts to look untenable: you would need to send all material to the translation agency, with short deadlines, and have no clue what the result says.
Translating a blog with access to inhouse resources fluent in the target language
Well, the first question is, if you have people speaking the target language working for you, why won’t they do the blogging in that language? There are nonetheless some good answers: perhaps they do not have sufficient expertise in the field or they just are not comfortable writing blogs.
Second, should these people translate the blog themselves? I would say only if they are professional translators, for example if you have a localization department working on the target language already.
However, even if they do not translate the blog, they can still be of valuable use:
- They can help the translators with terminology.
- They can review the completed translation.
- They can monitor the comments, and tell you which ones should be replied to.
This starts to look more promising.
However, I think it still falls short of the ideal:
- The people fluent in the target language need to spend some of their time on the blog, which may not be efficient. Time use could be minimized by not allowing comments, but this in turn takes away all reciprocity from the so-called blog.
- The people fluent in the target language may not have sufficient expertise to be of use (say, they work in your accounting and not on the products at all).
- Translation increases the time it takes to create a blog post and, more importantly, the time it takes to reply to comments.
- Some of the blogger’s voice is inevitably lost in translation. This applies to both the blog post and any replies to comments, and reduces authenticity.
In fact, there is only one way to achieve an ideal blog translation: the author must be bilingual and write both versions of the blog. This addresses all the concerns, including completely preserving the author’s voice in both versions.
If a blog cannot be translated, what can be done?
Without a common language, there can be no conversation. To an extent, this can be addressed through translation. However, translation can never fully convey the author’s voice, and some essential part of what a blog is, is lost.
What you can do, is grab some of your best blog posts, perhaps improve them based on the comments received, and write them into articles that link back to your original blog post.
These articles are easier to translate and there is no commenting. They also direct readers who know the original language to the blog post where it is possible to post comments and engage in conversation.
If you really want blogs, including conversation, in multiple languages, you need multiple people to write them.
Picture at the top: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson