If you're ambitious—and serious—in your desire to offer fully multilingual versions of your Web site, you'll need the skills of a human translator. If you have a flair for languages and plan to create your own translations, it's still helpful to enlist the aid of an editor or a focus groups of readers in each language to double-check your work. If you need something translated fast and no polyglots are nearby, computer-based translation can come to your rescue...but be wary of its treatment of slang expressions.
For free translation, try AltaVista's Babel Fish service. AltaVista will translate your text on the fly from English to Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, or Portuguese—or from any of these languages into English. AltaVista can also translate from Russian to English (though not English to Russian), from French to German, and vice versa. Although the quality of the computer-generated prose won't qualify for a literary award, it's very serviceable for translating short bits of text such as welcoming messages in several languages for your Web site.
Babel Fish takes its name from a very useful translation device in the Douglas Adams novel, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the book, intergalactic space travelers would insert a little fish (called a babel fish) into their ear in order to understand the languages they would hear spoken on distant planets. There is a 5K size limit on the amount of text you can translate. However, one way you can use Babel Fish to translate a long document is to copy and paste sections of your document, and just translate each section one at a time.
For offline translations, you can order and download Systranet for the Web translation software (which supports bidirectional translation for English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish) directly from a link of the Babel Fish service page for $49. You can also order the software on CD-ROM for $69. The software runs under Windows platforms and requires 20MB of hard disk space.
Integrating Translated Content with HTML
One good alternative approach is to extract only the necessary text from the body of your documents, and ship those off for translation. If you don't have originals of your Web page content available in a word processing format, both Netscape and Internet Explorer's File Save options include the capability to save a page in a plain-text format. Although this method is more manual and time-consuming on your end, it will save you time in the end in terms of avoiding potential corruption to your code.
In addition to the main body of your content, you'll also want to ensure that all text that appears as part of graphics—from search buttons to splash page imagery—is translated as necessary. Remember, too, to translate <ALT> text (for text-based browsers) and <META> tags (for better treatment by search engines).
Once you obtain your translated content, you'll need to consider whether it has any impact on your graphic design. In general, text that is translated from English to European languages such as German or Italian tends to expand greatly in length. This can pose an issue, for example, when translating a long row of horizontally arrayed navigation buttons in a masthead. If it was a struggle to fit in all of the English wording, how do you accommodate even longer wording in another language within the same dimensions? In contrast, content translated from English into Asian languages tends to conserve space. Do your pages look too empty without all that text?