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.