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sdl localization roundtable

Wednesday 31 March, 2010

I had lunch with the folks @ SDL who sponsored another roundtable discussion on localization.  There were representatives from a number of the area’s leading companies in attendance, such as GE Healthcare, Johnson Controls, Zebra Technologies, Encyclopedia Britannica, Hyatt Hotels, & Navistar.  A few notable non-profit organizations were there too;  Rotary & Lions Clubs.  Here’s what we discussed:

Localization leads to revenues, i.e. if you translate, foreigners will buy.  By not translating, you lose sales.  In many emerging (& growing) markets, English is not the primary language, so to reach those growth markets, you have to address them in their native tongue.  Speed counts too.  Being able to launch a product world-wide in multiple languages simultaneously has great advantages, but requires a tight timeline.  Translation should be included at the start of the product development cycle to be a deliverable as part of the product release.  Americans try to get away with as much as possible, but that no longer works.

Regulations require many documents in local language & in hard copy in many countries too.  Germany requires everything to be in German.  The Czech Republik requires some but not all to be in Czech.  In some cases, you can’t get products through customs without translations.  There are many translation certification processes & they vary by industry.  Liability can be an issue as well.

Organizations which separate international & domestic operations noticed that they’re becoming too intertwined, so they’ve become closer since the crash.  Localizers need to find a strategic budget champion.

Terminology management should be in place for tier 1 & 2 languages. Use best practices,  style guides, in-country reviewers  content management systems(CMS).  Optimizing the constantly evolving iterative process is key.   Lack of an organized process leads to last minute localization, which rarely works well.  Review & verify the 1st time to avoid costly time-consuming retread errors.  Track reviews over time with back-ups.  Edit before entering information into the CMS.  Make editors explain why they are making changes to keep within standards.  1 word change in 30 languages costs $12/word.

GE used the Interleaf publishing tool in-house in 1999.  Translations took 3-4 months to complete & cost $1M.  Their organizations were silo’ed.  Now they have 1 group of writers & us a Translation Management System (TMS) to streamline their process:  their # of changes has gone down, which has brought their costs way down to $60K.  They now use the automated structure of Framemaker.  (Be sure you own your own Translation memory).

As I’ve said before, many Americans discount the value of language & assume the rest of the world speaks English.  My counterarguement is that everyone is most comfortable conducting business in their native language, so for us to assume something different is simply arrogant.  I don’t see many firms approaching customers & partners in other countries in their own languages & that’s a mistake. We need to start dealing with the world on its own terms rather than trying to deal with them in a way that’s best for us, in English only.

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