Earlier this week, Google announced “Google Cloud Machine Learning.” It is a new, all-encompassing platform that allows you to incorporate some of the same services into your applications that major Google applications use. The services include image search (Photos), voice search (Google app), Smart Reply (Inbox) and Google Translate.

As Google writes:

Google Cloud Machine Learning provides modern machine learning services, with pre-trained models and a platform to generate your own tailored models.

Among the features of the machine learning platform is access to the Google Translate API. It allows you to link to Google Translate for a fee and can be used for both websites and applications.

However, did you know that there is a freebie way to use Google Translate on your website? It’s called the Google Translate Gadget and it is not new. It’s been around since 2009.

In a nutshell, the Translate Gadget allows you to provide a little translate button on your webpage. Usually, it is implemented as a drop-down box and allows anyone on your page to have the content translated into one of the languages listed in the drop-down.

In other words, rather than translating your content and having multiple, multilingual versions of your website available, you can allow your readers to translate pages “on the fly.” Best of all, it’s free!

Using the Translate Gadget is incredibly easy. You incorporate it on your webpage and, voila, your content gets transformed into a different language. No more arduous, costly, “real” translation. No more having to maintain multiple websites for multiple languages.

“Now wait a second…” you should be thinking about now. “Do I really want to have people use free Google Translate on my precious web content? Without my intervention? Who knows what the translation will look like in Brazilian Portuguese?!”

And if those thoughts are running through your head, I commend you. You’ve been paying attention. Free translation is just that: Free translation. Not guaranteed. Not validated. Not in-brand for your company. Just free.

As most of my readers know, I am definitely not a fan of using free machine translation (MT) for anything more valuable than reading a letter from your dear Aunt Francoise who lives in Paris. Surely, you wouldn’t want to use free MT for real content.


After listening to a talk by John Yunker of Byte Level Research the other day, I am beginning to see some potential uses for the Translation Gadget on a business website. Here are a few that I’ve come up with:

  • User-generated content. User-generated content is definitely one of the most difficult types of content to translate.  Plus, the nature of user-generated content is fluid. It is not planned, there is no sprint, no scrum. It just gets there, on your community page, whenever someone decides to write it.

The good news is that no one really expects the translation of user-generate content to make any sense. After all, the source content often barely makes sense. Most people cannot put together strings of sentences that are grammatically correct. So there is a great level of acceptance for poor, even non-nonsensical translations of user-generated content. But, hey, at least its somewhat translated. And maybe the translation will be passable.

  • Knowledge base articles. I’ve been told that people are also quite forgiving of poorly-translated knowledge base articles. As your support engineers create and publish them, it would be very handy to have the Translate Gadget on the page, in case someone needs the information in a different language. Again, much knowledge base content is fluid. It is often published as people request it, with no time for a grammatical review, localization effort, and full-on translation event.

Better to have somewhat intelligible support information available in different languages than nothing.

  • Less popular languages. Let’s face it, localization and translation (when done well) can be time consuming and expensive. Perhaps you have a small market in another country – not large enough to justify the expense of real localization and translation. It is possible that using free Google Translate will work well enough on your content to satisfy the people of that small market. Again, better to have somewhat intelligible information available than nothing at all.

Regardless of your use case for the free Google Translate Widget, there is one thing for certain: the more grammatically correct your source content is, the better results you are likely to achieve. So before you go and slap the gadget on your site, make sure that your English site is global-ready. That is, make sure your content is optimized for translation.

If you need help with global readiness, drop us a line. We’ve helped lots of companies over the past 22 years. We’d be happy to help yours.

Val Swisher
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