Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chipping away at the language barrier online

The internet and email have changed the way we communicate and do business.

Enterprises that previously could only ever have hoped to trade locally or nationally are now able to treat the entire world as their market, receiving orders and queries from across the globe as easily as across the street.

As a result of this we've seen many entrepreneurs take a good idea that may have once earned them a comfortable living and, thanks to the internet, create a business that earns a small (or not so small) fortune.

One only has to look at operations such as Amazon.com.

Before the internet there was just no way a "global bookstore" could ever have reached the heady heights of success that Amazon enjoys.

However, one last barrier has remained for many who have tried to extend their reach to the whole world: language.

Although English is considered the international language of trade and the internet, there are still many countries where the percentage of English-language speakers is tiny.

Savvy businesses wishing to reach such markets have been able to hire translators to produce foreign-language versions of their websites or (if they're saving pennies) simply use a link to Google's translation service. While these options are viable, it still leaves the tricky problem of receiving emails written in a foreign language from one of these distant shores.

Until now it's been a case of cutting and pasting the text into an online translation service but now the clever folks at Google have made that a whole lot easier. They've just announced the introduction of a service that provides automatic email translations.

Although it may not seem like a big deal to the average internet user, this has effectively expanded the size of internet by many hundreds of millions of users, for those who speak only one language.

Businesses and individuals will still have to be very careful of the subtlte meaning changes that automated translations often introduce, it would appear that the language barrier has just been lowered another notch.

Those companies who have been put off trading outside the English-speaking world now have one less excuse for not broadening the size of their markets and now you can get your spam in English, even if it was sent in Russian.

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