Bite The Wax Tadpole

by Bob Nunn

Bob Nunn - Owner Operator Headgap Systems

Some of you are already familiar with that phrase. Coca Cola was faced with the translation to Chinese of their product name. The words that sounded closest translated to: bite the wax tadpole. They finally ended up with words that sounded close and translated: happiness in the mouth. You can read a few more hilarious examples at:

Jupiter predicted in a recent report that the number of Internet users in Latin America would grow from 9 million people today to 38 million within three years. A study released by Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., predicts that most Asian, South American and Western European nations will hit a point of electronic-commerce "hypergrowth" over the next four years, turning the Internet into a more global business engine.

The reason I bring these topics up is that the web by it’s very nature is global and a growing piece of the pie is going to be to people who don’t speak English. I own and operate a site called which features TeleFinder Server/BBS software that operates on the Mac platform. The program has sold Internationally and when we picked up the distributorship we ended up with world wide distribution.

There are many TeleFinder customers in South America and the only Spanish I know I learned at Taco Bell. We began getting correspondance asking for assistance with the program almost immediately and we had to learn to deal with it quickly.

I remembered that AltaVista at one time offered translation services for free over the web and they still do, and that includes web pages. will get you what you need in latin based languages anyway. They even offer Russian. They don’t however offer any of the Asiatic languages.

Okay now here is the problem. I am using a bit of copy from my main site page.

Original English:
TeleFinder Server is a package that gives you everything you need to set up a complete Internet site for your business, schools, or organizations. Use TeleFinder to keep in touch with off-site colleagues, clients, and friends. TeleFinder's Mail and Public Message areas provide quick and easy communication.

Spanish Translation:
El servidor de TeleFinder es un conjunto que le da todo que usted necesita instalar un sitio de Internet completo para su negocio, escuelas, u organizaciones. Utilice TeleFinder para permanecerse en contacto con los colegas, los clientes, y los amigos del apagado-sitio.

Translation from Spanish back to English:
The server of TeleFinder is a assembly that gives everything him that you need to install a site of complete Internet for your business, schools, or organizations. TeleFinder uses to remain itself in contact with the colleagues, the clients, and the friends of the dull-site.

When did I get a dull-site? I take it you can see the problem. We are back to the “bite the wax tadpole” problem. Does the Spanish translation really sell my product properly or did I just insult someones mother?

I guess the main point is that if you expect to put up a foreign language version of your site you need someone who is fluent in the language and that likes you. You cannot use a translation package to do all the work for you.

There are services out there that you can send your copy to and they will send back translated. is a place to start if you have a lot of material and a big budget. They provide the service so that you can receive quotes on translations of materials. There are literally hundreds of net based services, so shop around. If you can, get someone else that is fluent in the language to look over your materials before announcing your site. Even with a professional translation job sometimes things get translated out of context. Also remember for example, that Spanish has several dialects in the U.S. alone. Your material needs to be as universal as possible.

Useful Translators
The BabelFish translators of AltaVista do work with limitations, and I use them frequently to read a foreign language email and to translate back my answers. You can quickly handle responses that way and you wouldn’t want your customer to have to wait for the time it takes to get your responses professional translated even if you could afford it. I always include a line that we are using an automatted translator and apologize in advance.

I also use them to cruise the foreign newsgroups looking for product discussions of the products I carry and my competitors. While the translations are less that perfect we usually get by. If I were running a hobby or simple information site, I might risk the translation and hope that someone would help me out with the worst problems. This won’t do for an e-commerce site. How can you inspire confidence in your consumers.

Bob Nunn is owner, Operator Headgap Systems,,
Board Member, AppleCore of Memphis, Inc.,


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