"What, you mean you only speak five European languages? But I need competition analysis for the whole EU..."
English is still Ė just Ė the lingua franca of the Internet. But already, half the websites you may need for a European research project are in other languages. The more nationally-targeted the research, the lower the share of relevant English-language sites. Local companies are moving on-line in their own languages, and multinationals are increasingly using local language sites to pull in customers around the globe. So do you have to be a linguist to handle on-line research? Not necessarily. Web-savvy researchers have found new ways to break through the language barrier.
Wish you could wave a magic wand and convert those foreign-language sites into your native tongue? Machine translation (MT) is the Net Researcherís answer to David Copperfield. By integrating a translation program with its search engine, Alta Vistaís Raging Search lets you search in your own language and translate sites into English, French, German and Italian at the click of a mouse. If youíre willing to part with your hard-earned cash, you can buy add-ons for Spanish and Portuguese. To translate a particular word, block of text or URL, use Babel Fish - same technology, but without the search function.
Is it a perfect translation? Well... no. In fact, the results can be hysterically funny. The point of MT is not to produce publishable text, but to give you the gist of the site. Itís a fantastic resource for tracking down hard data and reading news, press releases and references you might otherwise have to do without. Donít use it to look up original quotes for your wedding speech, though - the more colloquial the text, the worse an MT tool will perform. Test it out by translating a phrase from your own language into a language you donít speak, and then back again Ė the results will have you on the floor. (The previous sentence was garbled via the French as: "Do not employ it to seek quotation mark initial for your speech of marriage, although - the more familiar the text is, plus a tool of MT will carry out badly.")
A final health warning - donít even think about using a machine translation tool to convert your final report in a language you donít know. If MT-speak can turn John Steinbeckís "The Grapes of Wrath" into "The Angry Raisin", just imagine what your beautifully-researched report would look like mechanically rendered into German!
If youíre looking for information for a specific region, use a search engine with local depth. For Europe, EuroSeek is a good bet. Euroseek lets you target by both language and region, to help you find sites with, say, a dot.hr extension (Croatia) which might slip by the big search engine portals. Weíve also had good results with Fast Seek, which lets you target by 31 languages and, for searches outside of Europe, can handle keywords in other alphabets.
If youíre focusing on one particular country, itís time to test drive a country-specific search engine. Search Engines Worldwide and Search Engine Watch are both comprehensive directories with links to more than 300 country-focused search engines, often with bi-lingual search capacities. Search Engine Watch is also handy for technical and industry-specific searches, as is the Search Engine Alliance And donít forget to translate your keywords! For non-technical words, use an MT programme and use the result for your search. Technical searches will probably demand an industry-specific glossary - try Xlation for more than 1600 glossaries indexed by topic and language.
Network the Net
Love the project, but need to share the linguistic load? Create a virtual network of researchers and co-bid for the job. Post a message along the lines of "Hello fellow Net Researchers: Iíd like to propose a joint bid for this project. Iíll take on the Greek, Hungarian and Finnish sections of the search for £200; is anyone interested in the French, Spanish and Italian sections for another £200? Contact me directly on myname@myISP.com to exchange profiles, and letís work together." Provided theyíre satisfied with the credentials of each of the partners, Clients are generally happy to split the project with a qualified team.
Who knows, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
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