Chrome added an annoying translation feature

Problem

Recently Google has added a built-in translation feature to Chrome that has some usability issues. Since these issues haven’t been fixed in the past couple of releases, they might be here to stay. So here is how it works: if you visit a page that is in a different language than your system language (or the main Chrome language), Chrome shows that little popup in the image below and asks if you would like to translate the page. Neat feature if you occasionally use it. However that is not the case when you often visit pages with another language. By the way, there’s a joke that goes like this:

What do you call a person who knows three languages? Answer: Trilingual. What do you call a person who knows two languages? Answer: Bilingual. What do you call a person who knows only one language? Answer: American.

So probably “Americans” designed Chrome but for the rest of the world, this is just a painful UX.

Why U visit pages in other languages?

Why U visit pages in other languages?

Let’s demonstrate with an example. Baidu is one of the most popular search engines in China. When you go to www.baidu.com you just want to start typing in the search box. This is a standard behavior in www.google.com. Many people do it almost mechanically without even looking at the screen. However the translation popup gains the focus and doesn’t let you type. You have to click “Nope” or press “Esc” key on the keyboard so that the page regains the focus and you can type again. Note: as one reader reported, while the popup is open many other keyboard combinations on the browser level don’t work either. For example CTRL+W doesn’t close the tab.

Baidu in English Google Chrome

Baidu in English Google Chrome

Unfortunately this awesome language aid creates a bad user experience on many websites. The only options that are available for preventing this UX issue is to disable translation on the entire site or for that particular language altogether. But that’s not good if for example you are learning that language and still want to have some help when you need it. Besides there is a hidden tax: Chrome analyses every page upon load to guess its language and see if it needs translation. This costs an extra CPU usage and battery life for every single page (not a good thing on mobile devices). If you click “Nope” and visit the page again (or just refresh it), the stupid popup is going to ask you the same question again like you never rejected it a few seconds ago. Yup! Computers are stubborn, specially when programmed carelessly. It’s ironic that in an age where popup blockers are a built-in feature of the web browsers, they return even more annoying. Check out the comments on this post and Hacker News to see that people have actually left Chrome for its rivals just because of these UX issues.

Never translate this site or language

Never translate this site or language

Another examples: Try searching prices on prisjukt.nu (Sweden’t Pricerunner) and you have to pay that popup tax before you can do anything on the page. This annoyance appears in almost every interactive website that is in another language.

Reminder

The UX wasn’t better before. There was a yellow bar at the top of the screen that asked if you want to have the page translated. This made the page jump a little to the bottom (to make space for that yellow bar) right after it was loaded. This visible jump was annoying. For example if you were going to click a button or link before Chrome found out that this page is in a different language, the page would jump right before you click the button. This special sequence of events may not sound very likely but has happens a lot. For example when a user is a regular visitor, his/her brain remembers where to click (for example navigation bar, menu or links) but this sudden jump makes it harder for the motoric part of the interaction and slows it down. This creates the perception that Chrome is slow even though it was just the language detection feature that took place after the page was loaded. The new interaction model with popup solves that problem. However the yellow bar still exists on the Chrome for mobile browsers (Chrome UX designers figured there was something off with it, so they changed its color to white probably to make it less distracting! Didn’t it help?).

Chrome mobile translate

Chrome mobile translate

Solution

Add an option to disable this proactive popup approach.

Let the users choose if they want automatic translation

Let the users choose if they want automatic translation

There is a similar setting under Settings > Languages (hidden under advanced settings):

Chrome Settings > Languages

Chrome Settings > Languages

This checkbox can be selected by default to comply with the current behavior of Google Chrome (occasional users of this feature will not be bothered to leave it selected). But when the user deselects this checkbox, Chrome should give up on guessing the page language every single time. Though the translation icon will be right there if it’s needed (see image below):

The translation button is still there

The translation feature is still there

If the user chooses “Nope” on a page, please remember this answer and don’t ask on every single load. The popup has a little tiny arrow at its top that makes it clear where it is coming from. User will be able to translate the page when needed. If usability tests show otherwise, add a “translate” menu item to the page menu right after “Find…”.

The translate menu in Google Chrome

The translate menu in Google Chrome

PS. one of the readers kindly suggested that such workaround already exists on Chrome. All you have to do is to disable translation altogether (using the aforementioned Settings > Advanced Settings > Languages) and whenever you want to translate a page, just right click and choose the translate menu item as shown below:

Chrome has a page-wide translation menu already

Chrome has a page-wide translation menu already

What is your experience with Google Chrome’s translate feature?

PS. If you’re from Google, take a look at the comments in Hacker News and help us reach the right people to fix this problem.

Google’s Response

This post got a lot of attention (10,000+ views) and fortunately it was noticed by Google engineers. Here is their comment:

I’m Kenji Baheux on the Chrome team and have been overseeing this feature with our UX team.

Please accept my apologies for the trouble. We’ve been listening and are making the following changes:

1. we won’t show the infobubble and rely on the omnibox icon if the focus is on an editable field. https://crbug.com/313100 (fixed in M36)

2. the infobubble will stop stealing the focus: you will be able to type, perform shortcuts, scroll the page and so on.https://crbug.com/378643

3. we are experimenting with the idea of never showing the infobubble again and solely rely on the omnibox icon as soon as we observe more than X negative actions within a given timeframe T (starting with X=2; T=24h) https://crbug.com/379035

4. A few other adjustments around the “translated” infobubble (e.g. will not be shown for automatic translation, will not show up if the “translating” infobubble has been dismissed).https://crbug.com/319628

I’m eager to hear additional feedback and would appreciate if you could play with the feature in Canary as we land the different changes.

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19 thoughts on “Chrome added an annoying translation feature

  1. I honestly don’t understand what you are complaining about. Your use case seems to be only applicable when you only wants part of the page translated. Other cases are all good. I love the “never translate for this language” and “never translate for this site” features. If you are learning a language and only wants part of it translated, then just say never translate for this language and download some other plugin that does translate upon hovering, etc.

    1. As a user you can want one of three cases:

      1) No translation at all.

      2) Part of the page translated.

      3) The entire page translated.

      So even in the best case, this UI experience has failed horribly in over 33% of those cases.

      A 66% sucess rate on a basic test like this might be considered a passing grade in the United States, but in the rest of the world we’d consider that to be an abject failure that should bring shame and disappointment.

  2. Chrome is a UI disaster in so many ways. Just about everything about it is stupid, stupid, stupid. It’ll hide commonly used and useful functionality, but then it’ll subject users to pathetic annoyances like this over and over.

    The thing I really don’t like about this is that this crap is probably going to be copied in some way by the Firefox devs, and it’ll be just as poorly done. That’s all they’ve been doing lately when it comes to their UI: copying Chrome. It’s a real shame, too, because Firefox used to have a pretty good UI. It has gone down the crapper, though, since they’ve started imitating Chrome.

    1. Sadly what you say about Firefox is true and unfortunately other browsers have been “borrowing” a lot of UX ideas from Chrome. I hate to break it to them but that “Go” in “Google” doesn’t stand for God and the “Ch” in “Chrome” doesn’t stand for “Christ”! Just because a browser is popular doesn’t mean everyone in the block should copy them. Time to think independently. Really guys!

  3. I think that pop-up has another problem: it effectively disabled other shortcuts (e.g. change tab ctrl+tab shortcut does not work when this pop-up is visible).

  4. WTF!? Just disable translation feature in the Chrome settings. That’s it. Whenever you want to use the translation feature, just right click on any part of the page and select “Translate to English”.

    1. That’s a good solution. Though the annoying poopup needs to disappear. But I’ll add your workaround to the original article. Thanks.

    2. That’s almost as bad of a user experience as the problem itself.

      Users should never have to put forth the effort to disable broken functionality. It doesn’t matter how simple it is to do this. It is just something that they should never have to do.

  5. If you know 2 or more languages, automatic spelling correction is a complete disaster. Chrome tries to automatically detect the input language and change the spell checker and almost always gets it wrong. It’s very annoying. It should allow allow users to manually switch languages.

      1. I’m Kenji Baheux on the Chrome team and have been overseeing this feature with our UX team.

        Please accept my apologies for the trouble. We’ve been listening and are making the following changes:

        1. we won’t show the infobubble and rely on the omnibox icon if the focus is on an editable field. https://crbug.com/313100 (fixed in M36)

        2. the infobubble will stop stealing the focus: you will be able to type, perform shortcuts, scroll the page and so on. https://crbug.com/378643

        3. we are experimenting with the idea of never showing the infobubble again and solely rely on the omnibox icon as soon as we observe more than X negative actions within a given timeframe T (starting with X=2; T=24h) https://crbug.com/379035

        4. A few other adjustments around the “translated” infobubble (e.g. will not be shown for automatic translation, will not show up if the “translating” infobubble has been dismissed). https://crbug.com/319628

        I’m eager to hear additional feedback and would appreciate if you could play with the feature in Canary as we land the different changes.

  6. My use case can’t be that uncommon but it is an insane situation. I live in China but don’t read Chinese. When I shop on taobao i elect to translate the page into English. Whenever i mouse over anywhere that creates a pop up – it translates the popup perfectly – and then puts another popup over the top saying ‘do you want to contribute to a better translation?’

    No. Because I don’t read Chinese which is why I use google translate. And also no because I can’t even see what the popup says in English because you put another popup over it.

    Madness.

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