Friday, November 13, 2015

Don't Let Your Translation Turn into a Bad Joke

Recently, we have noticed a reoccurring article popping up in our Google searches about a small Spanish town, As Pontes, advertising for an upcoming food festival.  The local municipality decided to use Google translate in order to advertise for the event, translating words between Spanish and the local language. Unbeknownst to everyone in the town for weeks, the online translator had misunderstood the word “grelo” a locally grown green being featured in the food festival, and rendered it into a term for a body part in the female anatomy. This went unnoticed for some time before people starting catching the unfortunate mistake that had been made resulting in a big embarrassment. 

We see many examples of these types of errors that may only be one word off, but like we see in this case, that one word can make all the difference.   What is interesting and very important when considering online or automated translation, is the comment made by a spokesperson from Google directly.  He admitted that, “Google Translate is an automatic translator – that is, it works without the intervention of human translators, using state-of-the-art technology instead.” They also went on to say “since the translations are generated by machines, not all translation will be perfect and sometimes there will be mistakes or mistranslations.” This is the problem.  People are more and more frequently turning to online translators to avoid the costs associated with using an actual translation company. However, no matter the level of technology you are using, there are special nuances in language that only humans are able to detect.  Even the best translation tools will translate word for word; only the words it knows or has in its dictionary and does not consider the context. It can possibly be at best grammatically incorrect, but can also turn into complete unrelated nonsense or even something derogatory, as in the case of the food festival.

This is not to put the blame on the tools themselves; they are doing the best with what technology exists right now. It is up to the individuals using a translation tool to make a judgement call as to the costs being saved by using online translation and foregoing a real linguist. Are you willing to risk the bad press that may come with an incorrect translation, turning your message into a joke and negating any information or promotion you are trying to convey? With the added cost of a professional translation comes peace of mind that what is translated is appropriate to the market and the situation at hand.

Friday, May 15, 2015

“Domestic” Globalization

Appearing in teQ Volume 20, Issue 7

The United States was always considered the melting pot of the world, and it continues to be so. Those that recognize this diversity will be quick to gain loyal market share. Don’t overlook the easiest and fastest way to increase sales within the United States: the simple translation of product labels, advertisements, websites, software, instructions and safety information for the growing non-native- English speaking population. Be the first in your industry and have a unique selling proposition, or be second and try to keep up with your competition.

Some industries already understand the need, and even the government requires specific material like insurance documentation, health information and student testing materials to be translated. Walmart's 3,700 stores in the United States also stock tens of thousands of their consumer products carrying bilingual English-Spanish product packaging to appeal to the rapidly growing Spanish-speaking market. Other big store chains like Sam’s Club, Lowes, Home Depot and Best Buy have followed with the use of bilingual signs, making things easier for shoppers.

The Data
Spanish was the second most common language in the country in 2012, spoken by approximately
38.3 million people, which is expected to increase to 40 million by 2020 according to the US Census Bureau. The United States holds the world's fifth largest Spanish-speaking population, outnumbered only by Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and Argentina.

Interestingly, about 17 million of these Spanish speakers were born here. It is estimated that over 70% of Hispanic households primarily speak Spanish at home, not English, including second and third generations that have lived their entire lives here. The word “Hispanic,” in fact, was first coined by the U.S. Census to try to classify the Latin Americans living in the United States.
Reviewing data on speakers of languages other than English, and speaking ability, provides more than an interesting topic on a changing United States. This data is used to create legislative policy, research applications, legal, financial and marketing decisions on how to effectively communicate with non-English speakers.

For example, after reviewing statistics on Tagalog and Vietnamese, each with over one million speakers in the United States, as well as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, these languages are now used in California, New York, Texas, Washington, Illinois, Alaska and Hawaii elections. This data is used to address critical safety, health, legal, public service and government related communications. Correct translations can mean the difference between life and death in some instances.

Translation effectiveness
It is important that the data be used properly in determining languages and versions for translation. Restaurant Depot has in-store maps translated into Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese for their customers, since a high number of restaurants in certain cities are operated by non-native English speakers.

Taking just the Hispanic market into consideration, it comprises dialects and cultures from over 20 Latin American countries including Mexico, South America and Central America, and if you were to use Spanish for Spain it would be very different, ineffective or insulting to them. If you intend to use the translation over a large area in the United States, the key is to make it as “universal” as possible. However, if you are marketing to a particular region, it is sometimes necessary to use the correct version of Spanish. New York has a higher concentration of Puerto Ricans. Marketing campaigns targeted more generally to the “Latin American Hispanics” are not as effective there as compared to other areas in the United States. Los Angeles and Houston have a Mexican influence which is different from Latin American Spanish.

A senior life company uses a universal Latin American Spanish for Fort Myers Florida, but for Lehigh Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania, they know they need to adjust text and translate into Puerto Rican Spanish, based on demographics. Having that knowledge and making slight adjustments increased effectiveness and created a positive image.

The reality is that Spanish is relied upon by millions to live their daily lives. A company from Italy would not consider using packaging or content in Italian to target Americans, so why should Spanish for use in the United States be different, given the size and purchasing power of the market?

So do your homework, review your data, and go global domestically first.

I Hate Translation Projects!

I have heard this from clients and, although I own a translation agency, I have often said it myself. Usually the frustration is related to feedback from a client review, stating that a translation is “wrong,” due to the fact that the “reviewer”:
  • Used an online translation tool and got a different word for something.
  • Was never given the source English that the translator had
  • Doesn't speak English well enough to be able to compare the source text with the translation adequately.
  • “Studied” the target language only primarily in school and is not a native speaker.
  • Is not familiar with industry-specific terminology.

After investigating, it is usually discovered that this “wrong” translation:
  • Is the standard term understood and used in the industry or context, but the reviewer wants to replace it with a Google translation.
  • Is a correct translation of the source text, but the suggested translation to replace the “wrong translation” strays from the original and is more of a re-write of the material.
  •  Is perfectly acceptable and only a synonym was provided.
  • Cannot be substantiated with concrete reasons or suggestions: a red flag in the translation business.
  • After discussions, is recognized as the correct translation, because the reviewer misunderstood the original English.

Translation is subjective and can be purely preferential. There can be several ways to translate something, none of which is wrong, and one must simply decide which to use. Specifically used industry or company terminology provided by the client is welcomed and can be incorporated by translators and put into a translation memory for future use.

This can be confusing and controversial, as languages are constantly in flux. That is why you need professional native-speaker translators. We actually have some translators and editors whom we will NOT put on the same project, as their writing styles differ too much. They can even end up disagreeing over terminology in their own language. And each of these professional translators is very talented and works well when paired with someone else.

“I hate translation projects” has also been stated by company employees who are given the task when it is not part of their job. When a company grows, often no consideration is given to who will handle the new task of communicating in a foreign language, so everyone fends for themselves and is then saddled with the additional work of managing the translations. Even a two-person company may need to communicate in another language. For these people, translation can be frustrating and even scary. Usually the translation is urgently needed, highly confidential or an extremely large amount of material. They may feel they have no control and must trust that it is done correctly. And they wonder what it is they are paying for. Why does it cost so much? They view it as a necessary evil. I cannot tell you the number of times a first-time translation buyer has said “How will I know it is done correctly?”

Sometimes larger or growing companies with ongoing translations hire a dedicated employee with “translation” in their title or make it a department function. They receive internal requests and send them to the appropriate translation vendor(s).These employees may have an international background and find the process fun, adventurous, challenging, or educational. They love languages and culture. Usually they are detail-oriented and very organized. But even they can “hate” translations when told something is wrong that was supposed to have been professionally done. They may have had bad experiences working with international counterparts, independent translators or other translation companies.

I remember a Polish translation project with thousands of software strings, which were out of context and connected to other strings, with coding we needed to work around. A client contact not working on the project volunteered his 89-year-old Polish grandmother to review it. She spoke little English, knew nothing about software or its function and said “sounds funny, makes no sense, has typos.” It came back to us stating it needed to be fixed. Fixed how? Of course it sounded funny; so did the English, which was just a list of words that didn't form complete thoughts, within software coding.

Whether using a decentralized or centralized approach to translation, be prepared for conflicts. Having someone say “this is wrong” after completing the translation accurately, on time and within the budget puts the kibosh on all the hard work. I am sure there are many who would disagree about the use and meaning of kibosh and how to translate it into another language! And here we go again…

Monday, April 27, 2015

The “Normalization” of Relations with Cuba

Now that there has been some normalization of relations with Cuba there are some things to consider about the island nation before thinking of pursuing this market.

Most businesses and properties are still government owned and privatization will take place at a very slow pace. The big problem with Cuba is the lack of technology, mainly the internet. Internet availability beyond usage by the government is only at about 22%. Up until 2008 people weren't even allowed to buy their own computers. So if you have or have access to a laptop or tablet of any sort, you are probably a government worker or in some type of intelligence department. Most only have access to a radio if that.

Due to the way the country has been and is still functioning, in Cuba an average worker makes the equivalent of about $20 a month. As most rent and living expenses are still subsidized by the government, Cubans are still worried about paying for the basic necessities and don’t have any spending capital. Those who have been able to visit Cuba in the recent past comment on the old fashioned cars they still drive. So the latest trends are not known or have been lost there.
Businesses - the few that exist - have little disposable income. And Cubans, don’t want to attract businesses simply to make money. There will be bureaucratic red tape and you will likely have to deal with a local intermediary if they will accept you. All business deals between Cubans and foreigners, as well as any formal business deals between Cubans themselves, are made with the explicit knowledge and approval of the Cuban government and its structured more for socialism than open capitalism. Any “business” has to meet both the social and economic need in the country, determined by the state and not simply the consumers, so most entrepreneurs have to check their egos at the door and be prepared to do things the Cuban way.

Even hotels and restaurants have limited services and are owned by the government as a way to get hard currency. And it’s all cash. Due to the fact there’s no real viable internet and most don’t even have bank accounts, credit card machines and other means of electronic payments are few and far between.

But if you are forward thinking and venture out and try to break into the market, consider a translation vendor with access to Cuban Spanish linguists. The unique political situation today has led to the development of words which are specific to modern Cuban culture. There will be many different preferential words for things, words that aren’t the most widely used in other Spanish speaking locales. Over the years of being isolated, the language has become debased by "street" language rather than any foreign influence. It's also become very pedestrian, although a normal "high" register of language can be expected in formal and business communications. English is known by some but used more in the hospitality and recreational industries.

Bottom line, even though there is much talk about Cuba opening up, we may not see a great commercial sector to play with right away.  

The Impact of Translation

Finding actual statistical information is very difficult, so for those who are driven by numbers, it will be hard to find any. Who wants to take part in a survey to say they missed the boat? The translation industry itself has not engaged in getting to the numbers either positively or negatively either. What can be told, are actual stories to support the need of translation in at least three main areas.
  •     Loss of Sales Versus Unlimited Growth
Several international studies confirm that, in spite of living in a globalized world, buyers still opt for proximity for products or services that are being offered in their language. This statement is based on the premise that we feel more at ease if we understand what we buy and if we do not clearly understand a product or service, we are reluctant to request it. To address your prospective clients in their language will convey the trust and proximity they need to utilize and purchase your products or services instead of those of your competitors.

As an example, a U.S. equipment manufacturer was doing business with a company in China. A new sales rep came on board and suggested to management that they translate the manuals into Chinese. The owner said there was no need and their client had never asked for it in all the years they were dealing with them. Several months later, a competitor from The Netherlands stole the business right out from under them and for more money. How? They approached the Chinese company in their native language and offered all the manuals and support materials to be provided in Chinese. Sad to say that with the loss of that one large client the company went out of business.
Reversely, another company saw growth from $3M to over $40M in ten years with market and global diversification, which included the translation of the necessary materials to support the strategy.

  • Employee Safety and Engagement
There is a growing concern regarding the increased amount of non-native speakers in higher injury risk jobs working for American companies either in the U.S. or abroad. The number of workers for whom English is a second language is expected to continue to increase in the future. Therefore, taking a proactive initiative is critical to ensuring worker safety. It is imperative to remember inclusivity in safety training versus exclusivity. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for all employees. Bridging the language gap in workplaces small and large with the ultimate goal of aggressively eliminating injuries, illnesses and fatalities for all workers, is essential for success.

English-speaking workers have the benefits of learning from each other. Traditional safety training is not effective for non-native English speakers or those who speak a little English, especially when it is delivered by a trainer who expects the worker will receive it properly enough to understand and use it. Furthermore, safety memos, tool box talks and posters are not as productive when only presented in English. Efficient communication with non-English-speaking employees results in fewer workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, as well as increased morale, productivity and profit. Injuries impact insurance and unemployment rates as well as leave open the door for law suites.

OSHA has alliances and public-sector outreach initiatives for Latino and Hispanic workers as well as other non-English speaking groups. Many OSHA publications and safety training materials are available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Creole, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.
  •     Costly Legal Ramifications
The legal ramifications of not having a translation of even the simplest of documents can have such an impact that a business could fail. The legal realm of translation is a really broad area and can cover any of the following both internally (employees, distributors, or vendors) or externally (customers or competition):
  • Product liability issues from misuse of the product and injury
  • Loss of proprietary information and trade secrets that result in loss of sales and court costs to rectify
  • Law suits from an employee who is let go, to a class action suit filed on the behalf of many injured parties
  • Breach of contract and use of logo
  • Patent infringement cases; such as infringement on a current patent held in another country 
  • Exporting or importing compliance and regulation followed incorrectly may mean a delay in being able to sell, as well as additional legal fees or IRB costs.
Certain industries like chemical, medical and pharmaceutical, and other countries as well, require the translation of specific material to be compliant. Product labels, instructions for use, or equipment warning decals may need to be provided in the target language. So know what you need to have in order to do business in a particular country.

Where there may not be necessary rules that mandate translation, there are the safety issues of products or equipment exported and the risk of injury and results that should be considered. Manufacturing equipment, safety equipment, electronics and consumer related items such as food, beauty items, and toys. Any that would present a hazard or danger if improperly used, should be properly communicated.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Stacking the Deck

Watch Out for Translation Companies That “Stack the Deck”

Several years ago a large translation company, which we won’t name, acquired smaller niche translation companies to basically buy a rolodex of their clients. However, said company, acquired these smaller competitors but maintained the individual identity of that company – name, logo, web site. The client roster of that company saw no change. And unless you had somehow been made aware the acquisition happened you wouldn’t have known any different. And things all seemed the same, at first…
Now the twist. All of these acquired companies were now operating under the umbrella of the larger company and began to bid on the same RFPs as if they were all separate entities. Doing this in order to “stack the deck” to ensure one of them would get the work.

In one case, 10 shortlisted translation providers were asked to bid and 5 were operating under the umbrella company. Yes, half of the bidders were technically all part of one main organization. This defeated the purpose of even using an RFP because the client’s main goal was to deviate from the using the umbrella company to begin with.
Now you might feel that this “stacking the deck” is an unethical way of doing business. And we couldn’t agree more. When the larger company bought the smaller ones, they implemented a different set of business practices which then affected the quality and delivery of the translations to their core customers. So the acquired companies actually started to lose their base clients. This umbrella company is known to use sub-par linguists for translation and skip on proofing and checking the final deliverables, which was not normal practice before the umbrella company took over.

On the vendor side, translators are actually boycotting this umbrella company because of low pay, ridiculous turnaround and the splitting of work between too many translators to meet unrealistic deliveries. However, these same translators were still working for the acquired companies. But, word was quick to spread and so has this boycott.
Now it seems that other translation companies, rather than taking a stand, have decided to fight fire with fire and are engaging in the same practices of acquiring or merging and maintaining a separate identity. Confluent has been approached on several occasions because we are known in the industry for quality work and have long time client retention rate of 97%. But, we refuse to sacrifice our ethics and commitment to our clients and will not sell out to these larger companies and destroy the confidence our clients have in us.

So, when choosing a translation service, it helps to do some homework. There are many types of translation agencies: single-language, multiple-language, full-service, ISO certified, etc. And all of the companies should be able to explain their translation procedures. A quick internet search can also tell you if they are actually part of any larger organizations as well. That way you know who you are dealing with and can avoid companies that are not on a level playing field.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Worrying Trend - Using Automated Translation

From the home consumer to the corporate consumer everyone is trying to save money. However cheap, as we have all found out at one time or another, doesn’t go hand in hand with quality. We have all heard the saying “you get what you pay for”. I’ve said this before, in translation you really do.

This latest worrying trend is the use of automated software translation, whether it be internet or machine based, and then asking a “real” translator or translation vendor to edit or finalize it. This is a no win situation. More than likely what you have from these types of translation programs is unusable. Especially depending on the business you are in. Professional translators will not accept the job of trying to edit or fix it as it would be less time and cost intensive to start over from scratch. Wasting all of the money and time you already invested trying this “automated” approach.

We ran into this situation with one of our clients last week. They had a huge document already translated into Arabic (supposedly by an internal resource) and this year they wanted to have us edit some new and revised material this linguist would be adding in an upcoming revision. We asked for a sample of this “translator’s” work and I approached our usual linguists working in this language to give me a quick opinion of the quality. I received some interesting comments, “I will not be able to take part in this project”, “this translation is not going to be able to be edited, it seems that it might be machine translated”, “this translation has incorrect source interpretation and many errors in grammar, spelling, readability, etc.” So we had to turn down this project as I had 3 professional and competent linguists refuse to take it. All saying it was not possible to edit it; it needed to be re-translated.

The client is investigating what type of automation was used, but most translation software and internet based automated translation services are not up to par. Language and translation is based on context. A computer does not understand context. Underlying meanings and inherited understanding needs to be interpreted. And a machine cannot handle this. Language is more nuanced. It has to contain cultural context and even industry jargon.

We have all seen the funny mistranslations pop up on social media. Unfortunately these are true. If a software program can mistranslate something as simple as warning people to stay off of the “newly planted grass”; which software translated as “the little grass is dreaming”, it will surely not understand more technically written material where there may even be many different words for the same thing. And if you are using a web or software based translation tool, you will not get anything understandable in return. So if you include options to automatically translate your site or your material online, also using a type of translation software imbedded in the web site software or adding on an online software tool translation button, it will most likely be garbage.

Finally, software can only translate exactly how the source text is entered. So if there is complicated formatting or even places where there are different line breaks or a return is accidentally found, it will change the whole context of the translation. Electronic translation tools will translate word for word and do not notice if it is grammatically incorrect or incomprehensible as it is written.

If you are going to print or use that material for products and these will be used by customers, you may find yourself spending a ton of money to reprint or even rebrand your product if it is based on a nonsense and incorrect translation. It can even cause a potential customer to wonder whether or not you are a legitimate business.

In the case of our client, they had over 400 pages of an educational report that was mostly incoherent and sounded ridiculous. And this had been distributed to their Arabic speaking clients who did not look favorably upon them or the quality of the material they had distributed. They’ve lost clients and revenue due to this poor image.

You think it’s too expensive and will take too long to hire a “real live” translation vendor using professional human linguists? Wait until you pay for the problems caused by a bad automated one…and have to start over anyway.