Sell Globally, Speak Locally

Robert Richardson

It’s an age-old lesson: When in, parlate Italiano

Want access to a few million customers who’ll be glad to see you coming? It’s simple: just speak their language for a change.

You can debate the exact numbers–the statistics listed here come from a compilation of studies at www.–but the Net-savvy population overseas is respectably large and growing rapidly. An estimated 66.4 million Internet users favor a language other than English. Think of it as a whole new Web where you can still beat the crowd.

For example, almost 14 million German speakers are online. And those Germans, Austrians, and Swiss who aren’t comfortable using English aren’t well served when it comes to purchasing online goods and services in their native language. Yes, there’s a German Yahoo (, but its listings look anemic compared to the English version. There’s a German-language (www. for buch-buyers, but only a handful of other “.de” sites offer convenient online transactions.

Hier Clicken Can you just take your Web site and run it through one of several available software translators to reproduce Votre Site Web in one fell swoop? Not a chance, says Ian S. Simpson, CEO of LanguageForce, an Orange, Calif., translation software company. Simpson says LanguageForce’s Universal Translator product line (; $99) has 72 percent share of the machine-translation retail market, but neither his product nor anyone else’s can match the results of hiring a professional to massage the idiosyncrasies of translated syntax and semantics.

If the software can get your site close, however, it makes it that much easier for living, breathing translators to finish the job. That’s the thinking behind Lernout & Hauspie’s Power Translator Pro 6.4 (, a $149 application that creates draft-quality translations of documents, including Web sites.

If you aren’t concerned with perfection, you don’t need to do anything else. If you want to get rid of the just-been-translated feel, hire someone to edit your foreign language site after the software has done its job–it’s much cheaper than having someone start from scratch. Power Translator translates French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish to and from English. L&H also has a service called iTranslator Publish available online that makes any Web site visible in multiple languages with a single mouse click. It costs $399 to sign up, and you pay a $100 monthly subscription fee for each month you use the service.

For immediate interaction, Language Force is releasing a series of language-specific products, collectively called the Instant Language 2000 Series. The software modules “give you instantaneous voice translation in chat rooms,” according to Simpson. “I speak English in one chat room and it comes out in Spanish, and in another room it comes out in Chinese.” The list price for a module translating between English and one other language is $59.

You can also get free translations back and forth among English and five European languages by keying in data at Digital’s AltaVista site (babelfish. Or try Systran Software’s Systran Personal for Windows (, a bidirectional translation tool that retails for $49.

The Human Accent Machine translation is fast, but when it comes to creating a slick, polyglot Web presence, mere software can’t take a whole slew of cultural translation issues into account. For example, does your product fit into the greater context of your targeted foreign markets? And if the product fits, does your current marketing plan make sense in the various cultures?

Hiring specialists to help you answer such questions is expensive. And hiring a general-purpose human translator will cost 15 or 20 cents a word, Simpson says. The expense will increase with each additional language, so you’ve got to be selective. “If you’re selling home office products,” Simpson says, “you definitely have to have Japanese and German. Beyond that, you need Spanish and, believe it or not, Portuguese. Brazilians have a lot of money these days, and they really want to talk with the world.”

Creating a Web presence in five additional languages will be costly enough that it’s worthwhile only if high revenues are likely to result. But some multilingual approaches make sense almost no matter what. Any non-English site is crying out for an Anglo rendition, for instance. Also, some products make particular sense in a specific foreign language–a Canadian company that sells a French-language HTML editor, for instance, would be well advised to have a bilingual site. And if you’re already fluent in a foreign language or two, well, translate your site yourself.

Whatever languages you adopt, and however you get your translations, don’t neglect to market your site in your targeted foreign markets. Euro-Marketing Associates, based in San Francisco, offers a $495 Global Reach Starter Package that translates a one-page summary of your site into German, French, and Japanese, then lists your site in 20 indexes per language. The site also lists a wide variety of similar indexes, so you can do the subsequent marketing work yourself.

Dollars for Drachmas Putting up product descriptions in Greek is one thing, but multinational Web traders had better keep international currency hassles in mind as well as language issues. Or better yet, let a company such as Octagon Technology Group ( in Schaumburg, Ill., take care of the hassles for you. Octagon president Jeff Punzel says that if your customer in Athens pays with a check written in drachmas against a Greek bank account, Octagon’s IntegriCharge service will make sure the corresponding amount of U.S. dollars makes its way into your stateside account–all for about a buck per transaction. Should a customer return a product, Octagon will issue a refund check in drachmas.

Punzel says Octagon also provides some assistance with another vital area that must be considered when doing business in foreign languages: requests for support. Octagon translates any transaction-related customer messages and your replies as part of the basic IntegriCharge fee.

One other thing before you sink money into your global Web presence: Check for international trade laws that could hang up your business. Try the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration at as a jumping-off point for your research.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Line56

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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