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…