Albemarle : Outsourcing translation

The size of a gamble on the quality of an automated service.

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The feature

Albemarle, US-based chemicals company, uses a third-party service to provide automatic translation across its site.

Albemarle incorporates a universal Select Language dropdown menu at top left of its web pages, captioned with the information ‘Powered by Google Translate’. The menu offers a choice of 79 alternatives to English, from Afrikaans to Zulu.

Selecting a language launches an automatic translation of the page, with a Google Translate information bar added at the top that confirms the language and offers a second trigger point for the menu of languages as well as a return to the original (English). Fresh pages convert to the chosen language as the user moves around the site. The tool works on non-Google browsers (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari) as well as Google Chrome.

The takeaway

Has machine translation finally come of age, to the extent at least that companies can offer it as a serviceable assistant to non-native speakers of their website’s primary language? Albemarle clearly is ready to take the chance that the days of automatic delivery of broken tourist-speak and comedy literals that sank early adopters of the technology have been put to rest by Google’s continuous development of its Translate software. While the prize is considerable – an affordable multi-lingual site – Albemarle’s decision remains a gamble, however.

There can be no doubt that the company is putting its brand and globalist credibility at stake. While everyone warms to the foreigner who tries to introduce themselves in the local language, the effort here is on a whole other scale. Is the service really up to conveying your corporate values, sustainability efforts, investment potential, product offering etc as convincingly and persuasively as you need it to – and in 79 other languages? Even then, can it really be sensitive enough to local culture and usage to satisfy your need to show that you understand as well operate in a local market? Or will visitors recognise it as a back-up tool and use it as a handy phrasebook to help their browsing? The fact that most companies provide at best a limited suite of main-market languages, or limit translation to key pages and documents, suggests few are yet convinced the choice is automatic.
First published 03 June, 2014
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