Cross-border Selling

The PeC Review: Bing’s Language Translator

In some ways the Internet is like a giant global mall, with shoppers from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico mingling with like-minded buyers from India, Japan, and Spain. To better serve that mall, many online merchants choose to present product information, site navigation, and store policies in a customer’s preferred language.

To really get translation done well, an ecommerce merchant will probably want to use a professional translator, but in this week’s “The PeC Review,” I decided to try out a free online translation tool.

“The PeC Review” is my weekly analysis of the products or services that could help an online merchant improve his or her business. My goal is to both identify and then rate these products or services, providing good decision-making information. This week I reviewed Bing’s (Microsoft’s) free translator tool, which earned three and a half stars out of a possible five in this “The PeC Review.”

Video: Bing Translations for eCommerce

Nice Features

Bing’s translation tool had some pretty smart features. For example, I could paste up to 500 words of copy or simply provide Bing with a URL for it to translate. The tool also automatically recognizes the original language, and there was a JavaScript widget that I could add to my site, allowing visitors to translate pages in real time.

Testing Bing’s Translator

To test Bing’s translation tool, I put together a few blocks of copy that I knew how to translate, and then I asked Bing to translate these ecommerce-centric phrases for me. In the end, I hoped to see how well the tool did its job.

  • Test Copy # 1
    French: Vous n’avez pas d’article dans votre panier.
    English: You do not have an item in your shopping cart.
  • Test Copy #2
    French: Ajouter au panier
    English: Add to cart
  • Test Copy #3
    German: Abonnieren sie unseren newsletter
    English: Subscribe to our newsletter
  • Test Copy #4
    Castellan Spanish: Comprar por Marca
    English: Shop by Brand
  • Test Copy #5
    Dutch: Inschrijven. Wachtwoord vergeten?
    English: Register. Forgot your Password?

Translating to English with Bing’s Translator

First, I tried each of these bits of test copy in Bing’s translator to see how well it (1) recognized languages (it offers automatic language recognition) and (2) how well it did at translating the copy.

  • Test Copy #1
    I put in “Vous n’avez pas d’article dans votre panier” and Bing offered up, “You don’t item in your shopping cart.” Well that’s close, but not perfect.
  • Test Copy #2
    I pasted in “Ajouter au panier” and Bing replied, “Add to cart.” Perfect. Bing got it right, but it was a three-word phrase, so that is not a huge success.
  • Test Copy #3
    Bing translated my German-language newsletter appeal, “Abonnieren sie unseren newsletter,” to “Subscribe our newsletter.” Hey what is a preposition like “to” worth anyway?
  • Test Copy #4
    I love Spain and the classic Latin-based Castellano spoken there. So I had high expectations when I pasted “Comprar por Marca” into Bing and clicked translate. The tool returned a very respectable “Purchase by Brand.” But I was hoping for “Shop by brand” which was the dynamic equivalent. A human translator would probably have replaced “purchase” with “shop.”
  • Test Copy #5
    I input “Inschrijven. Wachtwoord vergeten?” and Bing returned “Inschrijven. Wachtwoord vergeten?” The tool’s automatic language detection thought I had put English in. After I told it that I was trying to translate Dutch, it returned “Enroll. Forgot your password?”

Translating from English to French, German, Spanish, and Dutch

Three-and-a-half stars

  • Test Copy #1
    I offered “You do not have an item in your shopping cart,” asked for French, and got “Vous n’avez pas un élément dans votre panier d’achat.” Not perfect, but not wrong either. When I translated the phrase, I omitted “shopping” in the French, because I have not heard the French use it. Bing brought the word back in the form of “d’achat.”
  • Test Copy #2
    I pasted “Add to cart,” and again asked for French. Bing returned, “Ajouter au panier.” This was a perfect match both in terms of words and meaning.
  • Test Copy #3
    Translating “Subscribe to our newsletter” into German netted me, “Onnieren Sie unseren Newsletter ab.” Now, this one’s a problem. My German is pretty weak, but I think Bing just told me to “Online service you our newsletter.”
  • Test Copy #4
    In Bing “Shop by brand” became “La tienda por marca.” So Bing is consistent. I had translated “comprar” which is rightly “purchase” as “shop.” But when I visited a few Spanish language sites, these used “comprar,” as I had. So Bing was literally correct, but the more common Spanish phrase and thus the better translation might have been “comprar.” You can see an example of a Spanish language site with this phrase at Domestico Shop.
  • Test Copy #5
    When I typed “Register. Forgot your password?” and translated into Dutch, Bing’s translator produced, “Registreren. Uw wacht woord vergeten?” So again, Bing might have done a better word-for-word job than I had. I used “inschrijven” to translate “register,” when it is probably closer to “enroll.” Bing produced “registreren,” which is “to register.”

Summing Up

I still believe that machine translation is not a great solution for ecommerce sites. But it was clear that Bing did not commit any huge errors. And the tool was certainly easy to use. With a bit of work it would seem that you could use Bing’s tool to translate your site from one language to another.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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