August 19, 2011

Foreign language websites

If you want to get to the source and find out about cars as they are offered to consumers outside the US, chances are you will encounter websites in foreign languages. Don't be put off. The vocabulary around cars and their performance is really not that large, and pretty obvious (In most West-European languages it's easy to recognise the words "Technical Specifications"; "Cylinders"; "Price" etc.). Try using an online dictionary like translate.google.com to get you going.

Outside the Romance and Germanic languages, you can still get a ways by looking at the units of various quantities, such as "l/100km" for fuel efficiency. You do, of course, miss the cultural opportunity of seeing just how differently a car is sold in, say, Finland - unless you trust Google translate to that extent. But you can at least decipher the numbers you need.

Websites that use non-Roman alphabets are a challenge on a whole different level. For instance, I would love to read Japanese and Chinese carmaker pages but find the kanji impossible to parse: it doesn't use spaces so you can't even tell where the words start or end. However, English speakers have one huge advantage: most computerese is based on English, and all operating systems use the Latin alphabet.

So here is the strategy: Say you are at toyota.jp checking out the real spectrum of cars they make. After you enjoy the immensely different use of graphics, you can start hovering your mouse over the various navigation buttons. While you're doing that, watch the bar in your browser that reveals to what file those buttons point. Invariably, some button will point to a file of which the name contains a hint of the contents, such as the name of the model. Thus, after not all that much messing about, CelloMom arrived at a file called "http://toyota.jp/estimahybrid/spec/spec/index.html" which contains the technical specs on the hybrid version of the Toyota Estima minivan.

Did I say it was easy?

If this level of sleuthing is too painful, you could always invite a friend who knows the language you're trying to decipher, and surf the carmakers' sites together. Share a beer, engage in some cultural exchange. Beats watching re-runs of Star Trek.

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