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

Dirk Lewandowski (Department of Information, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 26 September 2008




This paper's aim is to test the ability of the major search engines Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask to distinguish between German‐ and English‐language documents.


A total of 50 queries using words common in both German and English were submitted to the search engines. The advanced search option of language restriction was used, once in German and once in English, and the first 20 results per engine in each language were investigated.


While none of the search engines faced problems providing results in the language of the interface that was used, both Google and MSN faced difficulties when the results were restricted to a foreign language.

Research limitations/implications

Search engines were only tested in German and English. There is 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 or country should be used.


This study demonstrates a problem with search engines that has not been previously investigated.



Lewandowski, D. (2008), "Problems with the use of web search engines to find results in foreign languages", Online Information Review, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 668-672.



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