Posts Tagged ‘translation’


why translation matters

Friday 9 July, 2010

I came across this article in Foreign Policy magazine A New Great Wall by Edith Grossman, who wrote a book entitled Why Translation Matters.  She raises some interesting issues.   Unfortunately, she confirms many reflections of American parochialism.  My concern is that English-speaking publishers are contributing to this parochialism by filtering out great literature by non-English writers.

Americans are lazy enough when it comes to foreign languages, so to expect them/us to learn another language & experience the best writers in their native tongues is probably too much to ask.  For that reason, especially with the shrinking of the world, I’d expect forward thinking editors to be scouring the Earth for new writers in other languages who have something to say.  Apparently this is not the case.  True to English-speaking form, British & American publishing houses are turning their backs on ever-more accessible foreign writers.  It’s particularly distressing that these gatekeepers are not opening up these opportunities, but rather are willfully slamming these doors shut.  We are being denied opportunities to learn about the rest of the world even in our our language.

When learning German @ Thunderbird, we were required to read a book in German & write a book report in German about it.  I read “The Corporal from Köpenick,” a story which provided great insights into the German character.  The protagonist got stuck in the conundrum where he couldn’t get a work permit without a residence permit, so he dressed up like a Corporal & took over city hall.  This story depicted German tendency towards bureaucracy & willingness to fall in behind a strong “leader.”  It was written in the 1880’s, so it confirms that these traits are deeply-seated in German culture.  When I visited East Berlin before the wall fell, I bought a book in English entitled “A History of the United States” which depicted the American civil war as the rising up of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, a decidedly communistic revision of our history, which enabled me to learn more about America from another’s point of view.   They must have intentionally planted this book for English-speakers, because although it agreed with the East German view of the world, it certainly wasn’t targeted @ Germans.  There is great value in reading foreign authors, whether in their language or translated into our own.

Current trends in media indicate that this head-in-the-sand approach will continue & exacerbate the death spiral in hard-bound literature.  My impression of young people today is that they are exchanging information across borders at a rate most adults have never experienced, & are thus interested & curious about other cultures to the same degree.  I think what readers are interested in is interesting stories, wherever they are written or set.  To ignore good stories from other countries in other languages is closing off prime opportunities to learn about the rest of the world.

From a business perspective, I fully understand that translation can be expensive & despite technical innovation, is not getting any cheaper because it’s still a service which requires human eyes & ears, & is not yet a reliable computer-oriented task.  On the other hand, again from a business perspective, perhaps this spells a great business opportunity, to seek out great writers in foreign languages & have their works translated & published.  I hope some investor goes for it.


global branding & marketing from Interpro

Tuesday 25 May, 2010

The Chicagoland Chamber hosted a program organized by Interpro Translation Solutions:  How to Brand & Market Your Business Globally. Here are the presentations they gave.  Tom Earll of Nexus Business Solutions pretty much just read his presentation, so check that out there.  John Schwartz of Aumne added these tidbits to his presentation:

  • every department should have specific launch lists when launching new products
  • changing the translation for 2 words into 30 languages costs $1000, so get your translations right the 1st time
  • most local employees prefer translations to be done by professionals so they can focus on their real jobs rather than doing translations themselves
  • get foreign URL’s. (ex., etc.)
  • small businesses should still follow the big guys in terms of style guides, etc.

Bill Johnson of Interpro contributed these beyond his presentation:

  • the best brands focus on cultural differences, i.e. even Coca Cola & McDonald’s alter their products to fit local tastes
  • never proof your own translations-hire professional linguists to do that
  • in-country translators are always better than transplants elsewhere because they are the most up-to-date
  • the top 10 localization companies control only 20% of the industry’s revenue in a $25B market, so no few firms have huge advantages over others


  • make global connections through trade & business associations, academics, & government groups, such as foreign trade commissions & the US Dept. of Commerce
  • crowdsourcing & social media are a new sales channel & the future, so use, discussion groups-the marketing mix has now changed into a virtual loop
  • search engine optimization in foreign countries is a different animal & must be done individually for each country/language:  choose key terms 1st, then translate them, keeping in mind that the context changes.  Whereas formerly headers & metatags determined search engine rankings, now it’s a soup of many different determinants, so in-country expertise is required.

As I’ve said many times before, localization is a great way to go global quickly, but I don’t see many firms doing it.  Although as a professional service, it’s not cheap, but the potential returns are great.  It’s also good to see someone in addition to SDL putting on these kinds of events-more information & education about localization can only help spur its growth.

disclaimer:  Interpro did sponsor the columns I contributed to in 2009.


interpret/translate @ US Dept of State

Friday 9 April, 2010

The International Visitors Center of Chicago hosted Matthew Klimow, Director of the Office of  Language Services, & his associate Julien, who flew in from Washington, D.C. Department of State to present Privilege of a Lifetime; Serving at the State Department.  Their focus was mainly on opportunities for those who speak multiple languages & speak/write them well enough to perform those functions professionally.  Klimow heads up the group which provides interpreters (for spoken interpretation) & translators (for written translation) for the diplomats @ the Dept. of State.   He heads a staff of 65 linguists in D.C. & Geneva, CH, & works with 1800 contractors.

He opened by relating the story of a secretive document requested by the President to go to the head of a country with which we have a frosty relationship.  They debated the meaning & intent of each phrase as both art & science.  (Machine translations for this stuff would be comical.)  They were sworn to secrecy, but 2 weeks later the letter was leaked to the New York Times, but regardless, they had accomplished their mission.  They were just working on the START treaty with the Russians.

They do their own testing to fill these positions in Washington.  A security clearance is required.  Not all of these people are US citizens.  There are a number of scholarships & grants available to help build these skills:

The International Visitors Leadership Program needs interpreters throughout the country.  4400 rising star visitors come to the US in this program for 3 weeks.  Nikolas Sarkozy, 300 heads of state, & 40 nobel laureates participated in the past.


  • DOS is always looking for talent, including romance language speakers.  Russian & Chinese are in demand.  Look @ usajobs for jobs, but contracting positions are not there.
  • The Foreign Service Institute teaches DOS employees languages & other international informational programs.
  • President Barak Obama speaks Bahasa Indonesian from his time living in Indonesia.
  • Opportunities exist in US embassies, i.e. of the 900 in Frankfurt (Berlin?), 500 are Germans & 400 are Americans.
  • It’s generally acknowledged Americans do a poor job of learning foreign languages, so the best solution is intense in-country experience.  No formal training is required.  You just need to pass the test.  For example, Julien was able to learn Arabic by living in Morocco.
  • Interpreting & translating require different skill sets.  Interpreters need to be dynamic while translators are typically more bookish, detailed, & precise.

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.


international search interview

Thursday 7 January, 2010

I caught this interview in B2B Marketing magazine International search offers opportunities which I think is very helpful for a lot of technology marketers.  Here are a few highlights in my eyes:

  • I’m not sure that pay-per-click advertising rates have necessarily reached their ceilings in English-speaking markets.  I’d like to learn his source for that.  I think there’s still lots of room for growth in terms of numbers of customers as well as how much they’ll pay.
  • translation tools are of limited value, because translations still need to be seen by human eyes, even native speaker eyes.  I still speak pretty good German, but would not want to take responsibility for naming keywords in German.  I don’t know if it was the interviewees mistake or the editor’s, but they didn’t even translate some German in the interview correctly.
  • when I interviewed John Lee of Hostway for the Q&A: Founder John Lee of Chicago’s Hostway on Web Site Localization ,he verified the difference in Asia’s proclivity towards more busy webpages.  It might seem “foreign” to us, but it’s very comfortable to them.  I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that they use kanji characters instead of the roman alphabet & thus they look at their verbiage differently than we do.

In general, internet search is all about finding the right words, & just translating the words directly from language to language is not enough.  All those words are most effective in context, & translating them without context wastes money by ending up with the wrong words in translation & many times missing the correct words, which costs you in lost opportunities.

This simply underscores the fact that even technology firms which depend on 0’s & 1’s/bits & bytes have to pay attention to language differences, break down, & pay specialists to translate stuff.


another SDL Global Information Management conference

Monday 19 October, 2009

I attended another SDL Global Information Management Conference which was a bit of a disappointment because some of the material presented was a rehash of their events earlier in the year.  Anyway, there are some new tidbits, so there is still some value in checking it out.  Here are links to the presentations that were presented:

  • SDL’s GIM evangelist Andrew Thomas’  introduction
  • They did take my suggestion after their last event & add a small-business example, Jason Arnsparger of Caridian BCT.
  • Larry Arnold was back from Garmin with an updated presentation from what he presented earlier this year.

The most substantial trend which came out of this is the advent of DITA, (Darwin Information Typing Architecture), which uses .xml to design, write, manage, publish information by topic rather than by document, etc.  This is significant because it unhooks content from traditional sources & makes it more easily accessible in other formats, media, etc.

My assumption is SDL invited a new & different set of attendees to this event, but still, I would think they have enough customers that they should be able to find someone else to present who hasn’t presented before.  That way they can engage the same attendees with new material.  SDL is good & big, & good at what they do.  I expected more, & was disappointed I didn’t have the opportunity to learn more new stuff instead of what we saw a number of months ago.


translation ineptitude, problems, & solutions

Monday 20 April, 2009

I attended the American Bar Association Techshow & picked up a copy of the ABA Journal, which contained this article Lost in Translation. Interestingly, I came across this article the same day Illinois hospitals enlisting video translators.  Translation is a critically important component in international business, but fraught with perils, which the 1st article illustrates.  I think it also indicates the ineptitude even smart professionals like lawyers encounter when trying to solve these problems.  Lessons learned:

  • networking to find translators helps, but there may be problems with qualifications
  • writing style guidelines & guides resolve differences
  • ignore dialects at your own peril, they can create big problems

The 2nd article offers a potential solution for another profession.  It looks like a blatant outsourcing solution without saying that, but in connecting with translators located far away onlinie, that’s OK.  The most imporant thing is to be able to solve the problem professionally in a time effective fashion, which this seems to do.  (Some of the solutions in the legal article seem to be unacceptable, i.e. people not getting paid, detaining a witness for 8 weeks, etc.)  Ironically, the cost of the system is minimized in the context of avoiding costly medical errors.  $.80/minute used to be cheap for international long-distance calls, but now I’m sure this is done via VOIP (voice over internet protocol), so the actual cost of the call is pennies, &  the costs for translators, especially in developing countries, can be added on & still show a profit.  This also displays the power of the network, i.e. rather than having to track down a live translator for each foreign-speaking patient, being able to tap into a large network with many language capabilities on a moment’s notice offers real power to the solution.