International Buyers? Right In My Own Neighborhood?

November 22, 2006

Some food for thought just before thanksgiving about an interesting article I read the other day (http://americancityandcounty.com/mag/government_reaching_nonenglish_speakers/) . 

“In the 2000 U.S. Census, 18 percent of the U.S. population aged 5 and over — a total of 47 million people — said they spoke a non-English language at home. Those statistics represent an increase from 1990, when 14 percent, or 31.8 million residents, said the same thing. In the 1980 Census, 11 percent, or 23.1 million residents, reported using a non-English language in their homes.”

In short, the numbers and percentages are getting too big to ignore. Many local governments are beginning to “market” their services with translated materials (including video).  The article continues with the following:

“However, the adaptations were very literal translations that often failed to convey the proper meaning, says Steve Hansen, the marketing and content manager for the city’s Office of Television and Internet Services. The problem was with the state of automatic translation software, he says. ‘It hasn’t gotten much better technologically than when it was invented around 10 years ago,’ Hansen adds. ‘It’s pretty rough because basically it just matches word pairs from one language to another. It doesn’t take into account context.’”

So, with an 18% national average and with many areas of the West coast, East Coast, and South sporting much higher percentages, how can English speaking agents, brokers, and other service providers get involved?

Become Aware of the Shifts: Demographics are changing in the US and various populations are really gathering economic steam. Many populations regard house ownership as forming a key part of their financial future.

Make Information Accessible: even though contracts must be in English in almost all areas of the US, consider making a packet of supporting information such as the house buying process in languages that may be applicable for your area.  Remember that the falling dollar makes US real estate even more attractive to foreign buyers right now.

Form relationships:  If someone walked into your office that speaks a certain language, do you know right away who you would call? Perhaps on the agent side, you may have a pre-arranged referral agreement but what about on the legal side? 

know the (current) limits of machine language translation: online translation is very popular right now and, for words/short phrases, they can do quite well. Native speakers WILL appreciate the effort. However, keep in mind that for text beyond a few words, online translation simply does’t do a good job.  Try typing a short phrase into any online translator, converting to any other language, and then convert back to English.  You’ll see what I mean. 

(the above paragraph after using Google’s translator)

“to know the limits (of the current) of the translation of the terminology of computer science: the translation in line is very popular now and, for the words/the short phrases, can do absolutely well. The native ones will appreciate the effort. Nevertheless, to have present that stops the text beyond some words, does’t in line of the translation makes simply a good work. To try to in line type a short phrase in any translator, turning to any other language, and later to turn again English. You will see what I mean.

Consider outside contracts for your localization work: Since the ability to speak a language is only a small part of translation, you should consider contracting our your translation work. Your favorite search engine can be a great help here. Among others, Forsalebylocals.com offers inexpensive listing and listing video translation for all types of real estate. Co-branding is not required. 

In summary, the global neighborhood referred to on the internet may actually be your own. The relationships that you form and your ability to service a differing set of customers will likely be more important than any shifts in technology. Consider how the faces of your customer base may change in the near and long term….you hold the key to your future business prospects.

Have a great Thanksgiving….



  1. The limits of machine translation are evident for those who once used it, but the back translation is not a fair test for evaluating the MT quality, since errors accumulate with each new translation. The quality of translation doesn’t depend on the number of words, long phrase sometimes are translated in a better way than short, but syntactically difficult construction. A text may be translated not bad from one language to another, but the back translation would be quite different and even wrong. I’ve tried to translate the text in question with the help of http://www.online-translator.com (from English into French), and I’ve obtained the following results:

    savez les limites (actuelles) de traduction de langue de machine : la traduction en ligne est très populaire en ce moment et, pour les expressions de mots / les expressions courtes, ils peuvent faire tout à fait bien. Les locuteurs natifs apprécieront l’effort. Pourtant, tenez dans la tête que pour le texte au-delà de quelques mots, la traduction en ligne simplement does’t fait un bon travail. Essayez de taper une expression courte dans n’importe quel traducteur en ligne, en passant en autre langue et passez ensuite en arrière à l’anglais. Vous verrez que je veux dire.

    Except for some syntactical errors (one of them is caused by the error in the input text – “does’t” – the text is perfectly readable.

  2. Thanks for the note. Your post provides some great points – it also strengthens some of my thinking.

    I dont speak french so I cant comment on the quality of the translation but I do know that it is different from results that I get from babelfish.altavista.com

    “- savez les limites (de courant) de la traduction de langage machine : la traduction en ligne est très populaire en ce moment et, pour des expressions de words/short, elles peuvent faire tout à fait bien. Les naturels apprécieront l’effort. Cependant, maintenez dans l’esprit qui pour le texte au delà de quelques mots, does’t en ligne de traduction simplement font un bon travail. Essayez de dactylographier une expression courte dans n’importe quel traducteur en ligne, en convertissant en n’importe quelle autre langue, et puis convertissez de nouveau à l’anglais. Vous verrez ce que veux dire je.”

    Let’s assume that there are three levels of output for this example – professionally correct, readable, and less than readable. Readable may be perfectly acceptable in certain business situations. As I stated in my post, there are situations where people will appreciate the effort. As a non-French speaker, however, since I’m not sure whether any of the french passages above are professionally correct (excluding my own typo ), I’m not sure if I would either to represent my business in a french speaking area of the world.

    The back test for traslation has supporters and detractors. A quick look in the search will yield arguments on both sides. However, in my personal view, machine language translation will have met a reasonable bar for common usage when back translation consisently results in at least a readable level of output for non-specialized vocabulary….in both language pairs.

    We don’t seem to be there yet…at least with the online translators. Thanks again for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: