AMP online catalog shows way to support languages

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If you're looking into adding multiple languages to your Web site, consider AMP's example.

The Harrisburg, Pa.-based company's catalog site supports eight languages.

How? Fred DeCock, the company's manager of electronic communication development, says everything in the catalog of electrical connection systems is in a database.

"Each term is identified with a number. Then you choose a language from a table of translated terms, which presents it in the language chosen," Mr. DeCock says. "It's not eight copies of the catalog."

AMP decides which languages to support based on where its business comes from. Languages on the site, in addition to English, are Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, German, French, Korean and Italian.

To reach eastern European buyers, Mr. DeCock plans support for Russian this year.

However Mr. DeCock wonders how he'll synchronize presentation of different languages as the site changes.

One solution

Global Sight, Seattle, is among companies offering solutions to that kind of problem.

President Jorden Woods says his Ambassador Suite software "separates code from content on a Web page" and "keeps track of the whole translation process -- the work flow management."

Essentially, Ambassador Suite builds a database out of a Web site's elements. Mr. Woods estimates it can cut development costs for a multilingual Web site by 10% to 15%, but those savings increase with time.

"If you're talking about maintenance, savings can be 75% to 90%," he says. That doesn't include actual translation costs, of course, which can run from 20¢ to 30¢ per word, Mr. Woods estimates.

Machine translation systems like the one from Transparent Language, Marlow, N.H., can help cut those costs, he says, but they "don't deliver a finished product."

Steve Allan, senior product director for Alis Technologies, Montreal, agrees. "We end up working out a mix of human translation, machine-assisted human translation and machine translation," he says of his projects.

Human help needed

Human translation is necessary for home pages and corporate profiles, "where the sense of the message is important," Mr. Allan says.

Machine-assisted translation "gives you a database of what's previously translated," so you only need to translate what changes.

What languages are in most demand? Spanish for Latin America leads, followed by French, German and Japanese. Then come Italian, and Portuguese for Brazil.

So far, the leaders in Web site translation are a pair of Los Angeles sister companies, Bowne Internet Solutions and Bowne Global Solutions. They not only deliver Web site translations, but translation of software and local hosting through 22 offices in 17 countries.

Why host overseas? Bowne Internet President P.J. Safford says users in France and Brazil prefer the nationalistic .fr or .br to .com.

While a multilingual site is a great thing to have, especially if you're selling overseas, you shouldn't just jump in.

Mr. DeCock of AMP notes that, while his site supports eight languages, 87% of his users still use English.

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