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Translation – How Do You Know Which Language is Which to Translate

I have a question, or maybe even a challenge for you.

I recently found a trackback on my site in a non-English language and I wanted to read it. This happens more frequently than you may imagine, but most of the time I am familiar enough with the language, like Spanish or French, to get a clue about what they are saying, so a glance at the trackback is enough. This time, it was in Dutch and I wanted to read it.

I went hunting and found that Google does not offer Dutch-to-English translations, though Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are currently in beta testing mode. I thought this was odd since the Dutch are more web savvy than most Chinese, but money does talk, and there is a lot of money to be had by Google in Eastern Asia.

I did some digging and found WorldLingo, a free online language translation site that includes a wider range of languages, Dutch among them, and free translation of text, website links, and email.

I pasted in the link and got this Dutch-to-English translation of the Blogsummer article “Hoe actueel is je weblog” about my post on “Do You Update Posts or Post Updates”.

A mail of today entitled Do you update mail or posts updates me has put, however, even to thinking. Scope of the betoog: how much energy puts you in current loving your postings? If in the past have posted you concerning for example plugin, watch you thus or there a new version of that concerning plugin appears and ensures you vervolgens also that you adapt posting or of it in any case report makes?

Granted, online translation services are still not perfect. I thought it was interesting how “blogger” and another word don’t translate. However, that’s not the question at issue.

The question is how do you know which language is which when translating?

How Do You Know Which Language is Which When Using Translation Services?

I think that this is a growing concern, and a question more and more users will soon be asking as the web becomes more international and demands breaking down language barriers.

Currently, online translation services make you choose from which language you are translating from and which language you want it translated to. You are given a drop down menu from which to make your choice. If you don’t know, how do you choose?

Free Online Translation Service Language Choices

Like most of you, I long for a day when I can do nothing and read any web page in any language without stress or strain. Until then, how do you know which language is which when trying to translate something?

Yes, familiarity with a language will help you identify it. I’ve spent years living overseas away from the United States and I’m familiar with most European languages. This doesn’t mean I can speak or read them? I just know when I see Turk, Dutch, or Russian. But can I tell the difference between the various Chinese, Arabic, or African languages? No. I can’t even tell the difference between the Scandinavian languages, nor many former Eastern Block countries. I haven’t seen enough of them to know.

How do you know which language is which if you want to translate a web page? If you don’t know, what do you do? Do you guess? To you just go through them, one by one, until something pops up in English or your native language?

Have you found an online translation service which doesn’t ask you to choose the languages? Is there one that automatically detects the language and translates it? Is that even possible yet?

On my main site where I have control over the content and code, I have put in a meta tag that identifies the language the content is written in to help search engines categorize my work in English.

<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en-us" />

If this was a standard requirement, could online translation software use such language tags to identify the language so we don’t have to? This would put more pressure on web page designers to include such codes if they want to be identified with a specific language. I believe that blogging tools like include a default language, but I can only find a language reference on this blog in the character set and in the doctype. There isn’t a similar meta tag to identify the language. Maybe the doctype and character set is enough to help online translation software identify the language of the blog or website.

So without such easy-to-use online translation services, how do you know which language to choose when choosing a language to translate from to yours?

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen


  1. Posted March 8, 2006 at 12:54 pm | Permalink


    Perhaps a little off topic regarding this post, but I’ll try to explain a little of the article you’re talking about. When I read a part of the translation of my posting “Hoe actueel is je weblog”, I couldn’t agree more translation services are far from perfect.

    About the post, I’ve asked the Dutch bloggers do they take care about postings which are out of date. I mean, my blog statistics show sometimes visitors using Google finding a post on my weblog. However, the post could contain links to particular plugins or tools which are old (a new version of the tool is available using some other link). So in fact, my weblog contains URL’s which are not very usable anymore: unhappy visitors are the result, because they are using my weblog and don’t find what they were looking for.

    In the comments a lot of discussion took place with a general conclusion it’s not possible to update all your blogs and it’s a hell of a job to avoid our postings contain old links (I don’t mean dead links, that’s something you should and can avoid using simple tools). In fact, a weblog is not an encyclopedia, that’s what people saying.

    Hopefully, readers realise enough the information they find in a blog may contain these old links and therefor could be out of date. Google isn’t that intelligent to put new content on top by default. It’s a fact bloggers have to deal wit. For me your post “Do you update posts of post updates” triggered me to blog about this subject and to realise we have this problem.

    Hopefully my English was good enough to tell you what this post is all about, since the translation of WorldLingo will not help you at all, I’m afraid.

  2. Posted March 8, 2006 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I understood your blog from the translation. You’ve done a very good job explaining your point in English, too. While not all blog posts should be updated, ones that people rely upon for critical information, such as software, plugins, or most popular posts should be updated when and if necessary. I think of it as providing a service. As you said, it’s important we talk about this, which is why it was important for me to be able to read your post. I wanted to understand the discussion, which made me really happy, and the translation program helped, though not perfect for sure.

    Marc, your English is excellent, and I assume your Dutch is perfect ;-), but how do you handle the language conflicts, when you don’t recognize the language and you still want to read what it says? Have you found any resources to help translate websites without knowing in advance the language it’s written in?

  3. Posted March 10, 2006 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the compliment! About your question regarding the language recognition, I don’t know if there any tools available which can help us to recognize the language of the blog, I’ve never seen them. For the most common languages (English, German, French, Spanish, etc.) there are some translation services available, otherwise I don’t know if it’s possible to find out what bloggers are writing.

  4. Kris
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    I found your blog while googling with the exact same question you had… but I remembered having seen this solution once:

    In the middle of the page full of text boxes you’ll find “Identify/Guess Language”. Paste in some text in the unknown language and it gives you the name of the language. It does even seems to work :-).

    (Actually the site offers services provided by others. Funny: I noticed is that one of these “identify the language”-sites is Dutch)

    Best regards,

    I’m a Dutch/French speaking Belgian using English to communicate with Italian colleagues in the Czech Republic, so please ignore my mistakes 😉

  5. karen
    Posted May 1, 2007 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Thank you Kris (#4)…that website was great! I had an early 1800’s wedding wreath with the text on the mounting, which looked, German, but I wasn’t sure. I typed the text in and it indicated that it was Swedish! Great website for figuring out an unknown language.

  6. thebat1
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    My question was as yours.
    is the EXACT url to the GREAT ANSWER.
    Loved this blog.!!!!!

  7. Jaquisha
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Nullam nulla lacus, …

    ok can u please tell me what language this shit is written in becasue there is no site that you can just put the fricken test in and be done with. why cant yall just translate this and tell ME what language it is. this is gay but if you feel what im saying then email please i would love to hear from you

  8. Posted February 18, 2008 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    @ Jaquisha:

    This is the latin non-translatable text used for decades as “dummy text” to fill in word space in testing book, magazine, newsletter, and now web and blog designs so the designer can see what the text will look like by font, color, justification, spacing, and so on. You can learn more from Lorem Ipsum.

  9. Sandy Wendler
    Posted April 1, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,
    Actually there is an online translation software, babylon, which identifies the language for you when you click on the word and immediately translates it. you should try it, they also have a free service online. 🙂

  10. moatez
    Posted September 10, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    whats this language.

    Итальянская ассоциация

  11. Posted September 10, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    @ moatez:

    Russian. 😀 But I’m not the person to ask. I just recognize it from experience.

  12. Rajeev Chavan
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    A great blog.I was also wondering if it was possible to find the original language.
    This blog answered my question
    Thank you very much

  13. Posted March 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I also found another site, that does language recognition, and has been very helpful in identification of the language so that I can translate the message., on the same page I can also proceed with the translation from my English to another language, making it easy to reply to posts and emails, without having to open another site.

  14. Raveesh
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks T. Clay,

    I have tried all the language guessers sites mentioned in the blog and the one provided by T. Clay is best and most accurate site.

    Thank you very much for the wonderful answer and blog.


  15. Posted May 11, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    This is very informative. I just want to write an all in one article on this topic and your article help me lot. Thanks.

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