Problems with the use of Web search engines to find results in foreign languages

Lewandowski, Dirk: Problems with the use of Web search engines to find results in foreign languages. Online Information Review 32(2008)5, 668-672. DOI: 10.1108/14684520810914034

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Purpose – To test the ability of major search engines, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask, to distinguish between
German and English-language documents

Design/methodology/approach – 50 queries, using words common in German and in English, were posed to the engines. The advanced search option of language restriction was used, once in German and once in English. The first 20 results per engine in each language were investigated.

Findings – While none of the search engines faces problems in providing results in the language of the interface that is used, both Google and MSN face problems when the results are restricted to a foreign language.

Research limitations/implications – Search engines were only tested in German and in English. We have only anecdotal evidence that the problems are the same with other languages.

Practical implications – Searchers should not use the language restriction in Google and MSN when searching for foreign-language documents. Instead, searchers should use Yahoo or Ask. If searching for foreign language documents in Google or MSN, the interface in the target language/country should be used.

Value of paper – Demonstrates a problem with search engines that has not been previously investigated