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More and more websites use some automated translation into what they think is my language of choice, be that by relying on a browser setting (for which I'm looking for a fix) or worse by geolocation. Even worse, these (usually automated) translations are often both terrible and cannot be switched off. This is even more terrible when only a sites framework is auto-translated while (fortunately!) the actual content stays in the original language, since a mixup of languages is not exactly comfortable.

So, is this very bad design or am I missing a very sophisticated thought here?

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In case you don't notice this as much as I do, you're probably living in a country where English is the primary language and you don't stumble over non-English sites too often... –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 14 '12 at 13:23
    
Can you provide a few examples of sites where have you experienced this? I've never seen this behaviour before, and I access site in many languages (and don't live in an English-dominant area). –  msanford Aug 14 '12 at 13:30
    
@msanford sure, most recent example: modelingguru.nasa.gov/docs The contents are English, but for example I am greeted with "Wilkommen, Guest" where the German word for welcome is used while guest remains English. And if you click on a document, the link back to the index reads "Bis zu Dokumente" which should probably mean "Back to Documents" but actually translates to "Until documents" –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 14 '12 at 13:33
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@msanford positive example: w3.org/International/questions/qa-lang-priorities It is translated by a human and still offers a link to the original version. –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 14 '12 at 13:41
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@msanford Not perfectly: Assume I choose to assign the highest priority to English, since that is what most sites are. But now I visit a German site which thinks I'd prefer to see the automated English translation, and once again I'm stuck with this - that's why I asked that SU question. But why should a user be forced to change a fundamental browser setting to get rid of a language hodgepodge they didn't even ask for? –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 14 '12 at 13:50
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

TL;DR "yes".

This is a problem that touches on best practices for localization (commonly "L10n") and internationalization ("i18n").

The problem you've highlighted does seem rather common with CMS framework implementations that come with interface language packs.

From my own development experience, the rationale of community managers (like those at NASA for the site you linked) often goes something like this:

  1. Let's use a CMS framework to make development and maintenance easier.
  2. Cool, it also comes with "translations".
  3. Let's enable them to capture and please as many people as possible.

Unwittingly, this results in a terrible user experience: unpredictable, partly-translated content that ends up showing a lack of understanding of the needs of international users.

On a site like UX.se, though, this is preaching to the choir.

Mind you, there are some cultures in which mixed-language content is expected like South Korea (and many Asian countries): Apple South Korea's web site with mixed-language content

Basically, don't break the user's expectations.

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I certainly don't blame the guys at NASA (that's just the most recent example anyway), and I certainly prefer them using a professional CMS instead of some homebrew solutions I've seen elsewhere. It's rather the CMS author's responsibility to make the default settings sensible I guess –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 14 '12 at 14:11
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my personal opinion: content >> i18n –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 14 '12 at 14:13
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I wouldn't call that mixed-language content; all non-translated words there are proper nouns, technically they shouldn't be translated unless they're called something different in another language. –  Ben Brocka Aug 14 '12 at 14:16
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Ah, that makes more sense then. Transliteration is more of an issue with different alphabets though; a German site generally wouldn't need to transliterate any English. Different glyphs? It can be a problem, but as you said many east Asian countries like Japan and South Korea use Latin glyphs in situations like these. In contrast most English speakers wouldn't know what to do with the original Japanese spelling of Nintendo –  Ben Brocka Aug 14 '12 at 14:33
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@BenBrocka And those are entrenched differences in our respective cultures. You'll see "Android" written on a store in Japan, but you will (probably) never see トヨタ on a car dealership in New York. –  msanford Aug 14 '12 at 14:35
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