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The Cutting Edge

The Net Is Still Leaving Some Disconnected

Internet: Nearly 90% of the 1 billion-plus Web pages are in English, cutting off access to those with limited language skills.


For Yuko Tokumaga and her classmates at Glendale Community College's adult English course, the Internet is as aggravating as it is enticing.

They see others logging in, chatting with friends overseas and downloading various bits of data. But when they get connected, the experience leaves them feeling adrift in a sea of incomprehensible information.

"It's horrible, " said Tokumaga, 36, who moved from Japan to Glendale a year ago. "There is all that information there, and I can't access it. I feel like an outsider."

Indeed, nearly 90% of the 1 billion-plus Web pages on the Internet are in English, research analysts say.

But non-English speakers are getting ready to surf the Web in greater numbers. By 2006, more than half of all Web surfers will speak a language other than English, said Michael Erbschloe, vice president for research at Computer Economics Inc., an e-business consultant based in Carlsbad, Calif.

Only lately has the World Wide Web begun to live up to its name and become multicultural, as more sites go up in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and other languages.

"The top companies are realizing that they need to offer Web sites in more than just English," said Computer Economics research analyst Adam Harris.

But the changes are taking place slowly, and for now many non-English speakers have to download software that translates information word by word.

"Using software that translates is good for quick and dirty research," Erbschloe said. "But we cannot rely on them."

The students at Glendale Community College have learned this the hard way. When English speakers access the White House's Web page, for example, they are greeted with a banner that reads: "The Clinton-Gore Administration."

Using Spanish-language site, the students link to the White House page and click on "translate." But they get a very different greeting. The banner reads: "El Clinton. La Administracion de Sangre," which literally means "The Clinton: The Administration of Blood."

Because the software translates each sentence word by word, the word "Gore" becomes "blood" as if inviting Spanish-speaking users into the White House's horror version.

Student Leticia Castillo, 33, has to double-check every word when she relies on translating software.

On a recent day, the Glendale English student set out to find information about economics on the Internet.

She entered the word "economics" into a search engine and found many links. But when she opened the various Web sites, she found long and complicated words she had never encountered before.

She tried translation programs, but much like the White House example, it did not make much sense, she said. So she had to translate the old-fashioned way: with a dictionary.

"Oh my, it can be very time-consuming," Castillo said. "I just can't guess or interpret what the Web page says. It has to be exact."

But not everybody agrees. Eric Serrato, a 26-year-old student, says English is the language of business and more people should learn it.

If he finds a word he hasn't learned yet, he studies it; he'll recognize it the next time he sees it.

"Can you imagine if every Web page has to translate all of their information in five, six languages?" asked the Guadalajara, Mexico, native. "I think that's impossible."

The lack of diverse language capability hit close to home for some young e-business chief executives.

Carlos Cardona, 25, wanted his parents to experience the wonders of the Internet, but like most first-generation Cuban immigrants, they don't speak English. Cardona found a solution and created his own site,, in 1996 to serve Spanish-speaking Internet users.

The company is now known as Yupi Internet Inc. and has grown beyond its expectations, offering a search engine with up to 1,000 Web links, 12 navigational channels and other services. And it plans to go public this year. The company acknowledges that its translation software capability is not faultless, but is useful to those who speak little or no English.

"There is simply a big need for non-English sites out there," said Oscar Coen,'s president and executive director.

Tokumaga, the English student, said she can't wait until other companies realize that non-English speakers have a hard time accessing their sites.

There are papers to write and information to learn.

"The Internet is still very American," she said a recent day during class. "We need more points of view on the Web."

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