Monday, July 1, 2013

Is the translation industry stagnant?

While there have been many changes in translation services over the years, there are some areas that remain the same.  Here are just a few:
  • People still believe that Google Translate, Babelfish and other online translation tools really work. Well they don’t. We hear about mistakes made on the smallest of translations that jeopardize IRB approval, product liability, or end up publicized all over the internet.
  • Bigger translation companies are still buying up smaller ones. Why? They choose to grow by acquisition and even retain the original companies name, brand and ISO certification. Let’s say it is a front door. All the translation work actually goes through the other agency, or back door. This approach also enables them to stack a bid or RFQ with as many as five different companies. So, on a multiple vendor award – you guessed it – three different vendors could get selected and it is really only one company.
  • Machine translation is still being publicized and promoted, but even with advancements, it cannot fully replace human translators. There are issues of nuance and culture that software programmers have been unable to address.
  • There has been a push for years regarding the consistency of the English source text to reduce translation costs. Whether controlled English or simplified English, it is hard to get people to change how they write, not to mention how many internal review cycles and hands end up contributing to the final English source text.
  • Companies in some industries do not plan for translation and it is still an afterthought done on a reactive basis, or not done at all. Usually these are related to manufacturing, construction, engineering and equipment sales.
  • People assume everyone speaks English, and that all parties will be able to understand the original English. When people learn English as a second language their understanding and command of the spoken language is usually better than that of the written language. So a hand shake or nod over a contract discussion may not mean the same thing as the written contract. When it is realized that the manual on contract needs translation for clarity, there usually is not a budget for it and price becomes the main concern and not the quality.
  • Translation is not used as differentiating sales tool to gain a competitive advantage. If companies are looking for a way to one-up the competition, they should do some research and look to see what countries they are selling in, and if they translate or not. And, if they sell consumer goods in the United States, they should consider translation into Spanish and even Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Vietnamese, depending on where they sell the product. Companies should be proactive when contemplating translation and not reactive so that they can plan and budget for it effectively.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Translation You DO Get What You Pay For….

So many times throughout my project management career I have followed up with a client or prospective client only to find out they got various estimates and went with the lowest bidder. This more often than not does not turn out well.

In fact, just the other day I followed up with a client and heard that they used a competitor who came in with a much lower quote only to have received a bad translation. How embarrassing for the client to have had to go to a native speaking colleague to fix what should have been a quality translation originally. He even used the phrase that he "got what he paid for".

The first red flag the client should have noticed is the disparity among the quotes. The lowest quote was less than half of what our estimate was. Typically this means the various parties are not quoting to include the same services or do not understand the scope of the project.

Most translation service vendors like to hear feedback regarding the other estimates. And if it’s reasonable the vendor may work with the client to align the quote with the others if cost is the only deciding factor. But, it has to be an apples-to-apples comparison of the work involved. Some vendors do not include editing, desktop publishing or proofreading and then will have to add this later on to the initially quoted translation.

Second, most quality translation agencies use educated and experienced linguists. And with that comes a price. There are agencies using low cost translation software, or they may be outsourcing out of country and quote dramatically low prices. The fear being the possibility the English comprehension is unsatisfactory so the messages may be conveyed incorrectly.

My best advice is to get all of the information you can from the prospective vendors. Make sure the quote lists the services that will be included and ask for references in the same area or field of expertise as your material is in.

Make sure that you are getting what you pay for. Because we’ve all heard the saying that if that extraordinarily low price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

[Propeller] Hats Off to the MadWorld 2013 Team

It’s been about a week now since the MadWorld 2013 Worldwide User Conference has wrapped up, and I thought I would put together some thoughts on the event.

When first hearing about the event, I was immediately excited for several reasons. Not only am I a certified MadCap Advanced Developer, but am also a huge fan of all MadCap products. I was really looking forward to the opportunity of meeting other MadCap users in person and being able to share mutual experiences/challenges. I also knew it would be a great learning event and a way to take my “Mad Skills” to the next level. The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, California was a great destination, especially after what seemed to be an endless winter in the east. 

Having said all this, I was still not 100% certain of the level of success I would experience. After all, developing and marketing a great product is one thing, but hosting over 200 users hungry for knowledge and insight about that product is something else entirely. 

It wasn’t long before I determined which direction my expectations should go.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I immediately knew I was in the right place. Behind the check-in desk was a floor-to-ceiling by 20 feet wide animated graphic of the MadWorld imagery. After visiting the registration table, I received a conference package that included a lanyard (aka backstage pass – after all we were at The Hard Rock Hotel), that granted me access to all MadWorld functions for the entire conference. For a few days, this self-proclaimed techno-geek turned rock star. For each special event I simply had to show my pass to security to hang out with all the cool people, (a la Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar in Wayne’s World).

Getting things started was the opening kick off event that was held on one of the hotel’s roof-top bars. For me this was my first chance to meet in person many MadCap Software team members who I have interacted with via the phone and internet. It also was my first opportunity to meet many other MadCap users. One thing that struck me right away was the number of people who traveled great distances to attend. This truly was a worldwide event. I met people from Australia, Denmark, the UK, Canada, as well as of course people from all over the US. The conversation was stimulating and the food and drink was exceptional. After that evening the stage was set for a productive conference to begin in the morning.

We began each morning with a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit, pastries, bacon and eggs, etc. Each meal also was another opportunity to meet more colleagues. Finally the conference opened with an exceptional PowerPoint presentation highlighting the MadCap Software timeline musically accompanied with “Back in Black” by AC/DC, (again, the ever present reminder of our location). Founder and CEO of MadCap Software, Anthony Olivier, opened the conference with a few remarks, then introduced the conference keynote speaker, comedian – Wayne Cotter.

I have to admit, when I first heard that Wayne was going to be giving the keynote address, I was equally excited and perplexed. I have been a fan of Wayne’s for many years. It wasn’t until the kick-off event when talking to MadCap team members I learned that Wayne has a background in electrical engineering. He was a techno-geek just like me! Wayne was very funny and he is the consummate professional. He made himself available over the first 24 hours of the conference and I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with him and tell him how much I enjoyed him over the years. Wayne said that he does a lot of corporate speaking engagements now and I would highly recommend him.

The highlight of the conference and the main reason I was there was the sessions. The session presenters were the true “rock stars” of the conference. For each session time slot, attendees could choose from four different topics that ranged from basic to advanced levels of expertise. Most of the sessions that I attended dealt with the topic of translation/localization. The topics ranged from managing translation work flows, to how controlled language can save time and money in translation. One of the reasons I love using MadCap is it is very well suited for localizing projects through the use of MadCap Lingo. Each of the sessions I attended were excellent and highlighted many things that we are already doing as well as a few nuances that we can immediately implement. These will help us refine our processes and procedures and allow us to provide our clients with even better service and quality.

During the conference farewell event, MadCap asked attendees if anyone would like to make any comments regarding the event. The response was overwhelming. There must have been a dozen people compelled to say positive things like how great the sessions and presenters were, how great the venue was, and what a great job the MadCap team did, among other positive affirmations. If anyone was on the fence about going to MadWorld this year, I would say if you are a MadCap user in any capacity, I would highly recommend going next year. Many people commented that this was by far the best conference of any kind they had been to, and I have to agree. The MadWorld 2014 team has a very difficult task in trying to surpass what has been achieved at this year’s event.

In keeping with the conference theme, I raise my lit lighter…ah wait…I mean my iPhone, to the MadCap Team for a wonderful experience.

Ken Nagy, Vice President
Confluent Translations

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Looking Back on the Last 20 Years in the Translation Industry

There were a lot of changes in the translation industry over the last 20 years, partly because of advancements in technology, manufacturing, medical research, economic issues, and competition. Here are the ten biggest areas that saw change:
  1. Going from a cottage industry to being listed on the stock exchange; translation is a big business.
  2. What seems like more translation service providers for companies to choose from is actually European, Chinese and Indian translation agencies marketing in the United States. Having seen the potential and growth in the United States translation market, they strategically set their sights on it which has driven down the cost and quality resulting in confusion, lack of trust, and costly mistakes by translation buyers.
  3. FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish) gave way to companies having a standard of upwards to 23 official languages that they produce all material in (FIGS, plus Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, or Hindi)
  4. Translators are professionally trained, certified and tech savvy. One can no longer expect that just knowing a foreign language is good enough to be a translator. There are translation degrees, industry guidelines and explicit ISO and ASTM guidelines for translators.
  5. What was once considered not worth translating is now required, such as product labeling, instructions for use, and clinical study material. The localization of a product’s software, displays and help files are built into the cost of the product. Software developers cannot just rely on having the translation of manuals as being good enough to sell the product.
  6. Translation memory software is not a monopoly and there are options available for both agencies and translators which are, for the most part, fully compatible with each other.
  7. We have evolved from delivering hardcopy translations by mail or overnight delivery, to faxing them, to email and electronic delivery via ftp sites, using different types of desktop publishing software that was not available 20 years ago.
  8. Project Management tools developed and marketed specifically to the translation industry, as well as a real sales force in place for most translation service providers.
  9. Translation for use in the United States has increased. Stores in the United States like Wal-Mart, Sears, and Home Depot have bilingual signage and some stores require product packaging to be bilingual. There are communities of Russian, Arabic and Indian speakers that state school systems must be able to teach, communicate and test students as well as offer English as a second language programs.
  10. More material requires translation. It is not just the legal contracts to export material or printed sales sheets and advertisements. There are different types of methods we use to communicate with now. Consider the importance of the internet and web sites, e-learning, podcasts, voice command technology and apps used in today’s society. Customers use the web site to find people to do business with and even buy products directly. That information needs to be translated to gain more market share. Companies have more global offices and need to effectively train their employees with online materials, PowerPoint slides, or communicate vital information via podcasts.