Using the web to get found in translation

It goes without saying that we are in the most advanced era of human communication. Geographic location no longer matters when it comes to delivering communication data to and from individuals around the world.

However, if you think about it, we’re still very much in the dark ages.  Despite all the advances in communication we’ve seen in the last 100 years, you can still step across a border and be completely unable to communicate with another human being. It’s actually quite amazing. You can have two people with the same mental aptitude staring at each other fumbling around trying to figure out how to convey even the most basic of information like the location of the nearest restroom.

Given that there are over 6000 different living languages in the world, I’d say we have a long way to go. The most popular language in the world measured by number of native speakers is Mandarin Chinese.  English has the largest number of non-native speakers, a group ranging between 250 and 300 million. This is quite a small subset of the world’s some 6.5 billion inhabitants.

So while we all have something to say, we are still quite limited in our audience.

We’re probably many, many decades away from a universally spoken global language, but fortunately, we are beginning to see promising translation technologies emerge. I believe that most of this is being driven by the popularity of social media, a phenomenon catching on worldwide.

In an earlier post, I discussed the dramatic spread of the Internet in the last 10 years. It is estimated that there are now over 1.5 billion people that access the Internet worldwide. Comscore reports that two-thirds of Internet users now access some form of social media. If effective translation technology can be embedded in social media platforms, that means about 1 billion people can actually talk to each other—in real time. (This is a nice step up from using English as a universal language.)

The good news is that you can already take advantage of translation today.  If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can use a Twitter app called Tweetie 2 to translate what people are saying on Twitter.  I’ve personally found its translation ability quite good, and it has enabled me to communicate with people in both South America and Japan. The fact that I can connect to people who speak different languages is fascinating to me.

Looking farther ahead, collaboration technologies like Google Wave will provide platforms not only for translated conversation but real collaboration. In other words, people who speak different languages can work together and get things done. An example of Google Wave translation in action is given in the following video (you may want to expand it to full screen mode for best viewing):

For more of a marketing perspective on translation, see blogger Una Coleman’s post “To translate or not to translate? That is the question,” in which she discusses using website translation to increase market reach.

If you’ve found online translation services helpful for either personal or business use, please share your experiences in the comments.

[Photo by greekadman via Flickr]

Language stats:

* http://www.vistawide.com/languages/language_statistics.htm
* http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=number+of+internet+users

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