Google Translate in the Wild - How to sell in Mexico when you don't speak Spanish

By Paul Browne
March 8, 2011 | Comments: 6

I always remember a scene from Saving Private Ryan, in the lull between the action on the beaches and the finale, where US Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) needs to communicate with some German soldiers. Despite not speaking of word of each others language, both sides get the point across using a mixture of gestures and references to early Disney films.

Try doing this 'keine-Deutsch' approach over the phone. Google Translate, is currently best in it's text not voice form; Even so, it takes us humans a while to learn how to best use the available technology. (an internet company helping people find the best treatment) are still in the learning mode. in this case, they're trying to learn how to talk to dentists in Mexico, despite having no Spanish. It's a long story, more details on Enterprise-Ireland's blog. A summary of what they've learned so far ..

  • Google Voice translation isn't perfect - they don't use it 100% yet. But you must still do a phone call to establish a person-to-person contact.

  • You can get away with a lot of mistakes and confusion on a phone call (and there is a lot of confusion!), as long as you follow up by email using Google Translate. Copy-paste-translate is you're friend.

  • In the internet age, a relevant product and a friendly voice are as good as, or better than, a slick localised presentation from a professional sales guy.

It makes you wonder what the guys are going to do with the conversation mode (the real-time speech translation on iPhone and Android) once it's quality becomes rock solid. What effect is Google Translate - both voice and text, is having / will have on your life?

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I use Google Translate sometimes as a quick way to find some words (Spanish is my native language and I am fluent in English). I have used it to understand things written in other languages. But the truth is that most of the time it makes me laugh.
My advise to the seller: learn Spanish.
It's my advice to all English-only persons in the US.
With the companion advice to Spanish-only persons in Latin-America: learn English.
And my advice to parents: make sure your children learn at least one other language, preferably two. If you start early it's quite easy for them.


You're correct - it's not perfect, and never as good as being a fluent speaker. But the point here is that if you accept it's limitations it can be 'good enough'

I beg to differ. It's good enough to get the gist of a web page. It's good enough if you travel two weeks to another country. But to conduct a business with another country you would be better served learning the language. It's not a question of fluency. It's respect for the other. And if you have to write materiel use a human translator versed on what you sell.


Before talking to what clinic I would have agreed with you - but I'm reporting on real-life experience that surprised me (hence my reason for sharing).

Very few technologies will replace knowledge of the language - but what if you're an Internet Startup looking to sell outside typical English speaking countries (US, UK , Ireland etc.)?

Do you try and learn every possible language? Or do you try and use the Web tools available to you and try the best that you can?

This is an automatic translation by Google Translator:

It's really amazing what make today's Internet tools. You can write in their own language in the world and everyone can understand. If you do not have high expectations and with the details not taken very seriously, it delivers amazing results.
You must not use foreign languages to learn more and also needs no human translator more - only Internet. But would you really buy something to someone who talks like that?

Google Translator is very useful Internet tools, I agree, but we have to remember that it is not completely perfect

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