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Author: Kaija Poysti (Page 1 of 2)

Critical mass

Every now and then the question of critical mass pops up when discussing the uses of social media in companies and organizations. “How many users should we have before social media is useful?” IMHO there is no absolute answer to the question, as it depends entirely on what you use social media for. A wiki can be very useful for a project team of 4 people to produce project documentation – especially if they happen to reside in different countries. A board of directors consisting of 6 people can save time by having agendas and and meeting minutes stored in a shared workspace and edited by all members.

Social media is inherently social, so instead of defining critical mass one could say that the minimum mass for social media is 2 people. If writing a blog saves you a couple of emails, that is already good. Now, I am not against email per se (although my inbox is a disaster, and I never remember which folder I stored that email containg a really good link). It is just that email was never intended to be either a teamwork or an information management tool, although it is often used as such.

Tomorrow I will be talking about business opportunities in multilingual social media here in Helsinki. It should be an interesting event – more about it tomorrow. As for now, I want to conclude this entry by referring to the fact that lack of time is often mentioned as one of the main obstacles to using social media. This can well be a generational issue. The younger generation uses IM and Facebook and is almost constantly online. I still seem to spend a lot of time in meetings, or writing and preparing materials, or reading and evaluating a lot of stuff. And despite of coming from the land of mobile phones I prefer calling people to sending SMS or Twitter messages. A good friend of mine has done a lot of research on learning, and has pointed out that learning requires long enough quiet time to absorb and understand new topics and ideas. In an environment with constant instant messaging, where do we find that quiet time for learning?

A question of fluency

I was recently talking with a CEO of a company which operates in several countries all over the world. Not surprisingly, they use English as corporate language. But although they assume that new employees can work in English, there are differences in their fluency – and that can lead to misunderstandings, or people spending more time in communicating and understanding issues than they would in their own language.

I asked whether they tested the level of English skills when new employees were hired. It turned out that a tailored test based on the special terminology of their industry and also of management would be helpful in defining their skill level. After all, most of us would describe ourselves as fluent speakers of a language – but fluency is a very movable beast. Having spent most of my professional life writing an reading in English, I still manage to make errors of various seriousness practically every day. At times, such errors really obfuscate the meaning.

I repeat myself, but to me, the real future of the language business is in all the various new and yet even unimagined tools and solutions for employees working in a multilingual environment. As we exchange messages and develop ideas across contries, cultures and languages, we need new and faster ways to cross the language barriers. Using crowdsourcing for multilingual needs will open up interesting possibilities, just like in Google Translate where users can suggest a better translation.  Similar applications for crowdsourcing multilingual solutions inside companies and industries should proliferate.

Btw., an interesting point was made by another person responsible for training in a large global organization. He remarked that using social media in training allows them to evaluate the results better: they can tap into the conversations of the community and trough them see what people have learned and where they need to improve the training. Great idea!

Social action in the Arctic

In addition to contributing to the Globalization blog, I will also be blogging a bit about what is happneing in social media in Europe. I will start form my own region here in the north, but will move also southwards!

Although it is still cold here close to the Arctic regions, the social media scene is humming. One site to visit is, where Ville Vesterinen and his friends blog about social media business in Scandinavia and the Baltic region. In addition to the blog, which tells about the latest news about internet and mobile startups in the Nordic and Baltic region, they are also helping to create a buzzing ecosystem of sharing ideas and growing companies together. Great job!

Another place to get acquainted with Finnish social media companies is

There are plenty of interesting social media companies in Scandinavia and Baltics – some of them even surprising. Muxlim,, a global Muslim community, has its roots in Finland. Games are another strong area here; is a great site to follow news about the Finnish game development scene. Max Payne came from Finland, and there are several interesting new companies, such as Frosmo (

In addition to consumer social media, things are happening in the Enterprise 2.0 area, but more on that in next entries!

One of the areas which I will be interested to follow is: how will European social media companies address the question of handling languages in social media? Although many communities will be monolingual, I think there are enormous needs in corporations to handle multiple languages in the various Enterprise 2.0 applications. And with multiple languages, I mean much more than the user interface: all the user-generated content, communicating with customers, open innovations etc. Thoughs or comments on this?

From Finland with love

After a long pause, I am happy to be back as a guest blogger here!  The quiet time was well spent, though: last year I co-authored a book on using, and especially about how to start using, social media in corporations ( Available only in Finnish, I am afraid, but for a good reason: when talking about a new topic, it IS important to write in the language of the audience to introduce it.

Over the years I have heard both pros and cons about using local language. Some say that it is much better to write everything in English: wider audience and discussion, no need to invent translations for concepts. Others are as adamant about the fact that non-native English speakers are better off reading about a new topic in their own language to understand the concepts. For me, there is no right or wrong answer; both are needed.

Another very nice event was having Frank visit Finland last fall to give an excellent talk at the KITES seminar. KITES is a Finnish association for multilingual and multicultural communications; more about it in later blogs.

The Social Language

Although it is already mid-January, I would still like to wish everyone a very good 2008! It definitely looks to be an interesting year.

Back to blogging, after a very long pause. The reason was my major geographical transition: after 8 very nice years in Boston, we returned to the bi-lingual Finland and the very multi-lingual European union last autumn. The time required for a trans-Atlantic move is not to be underestimated!

Leonor’s interview with Director General Lonnroth about the languages in the EU is an excellent description of the world on this side of the Atlantic. On a very personal note, I love tuning to YLE Mondo radio every time I am driving; a local station broadcasting news from several different countries. I even get the NPR! I listen to German, French, Spanish, and Italian news, and at the same time notice the differences there are not just in the language, but also in the content. Even more fun is to listen to news from Australia and South Africa, which really change the world perspective. A good reminder that from Africa or Australia, many things do look different than from the US or from Europe. How lovely it would be to understand what they say in Chinese, Japanese or Arabic, to name just a few languages!

Anyways, things are finally starting to find their places in their new home, so I am back to blogging. We had a wonderful Gilbane conference in Boston at the end of November; it got so many ideas going in my head, especially about the social aspects of content, search, collaboration – and of course language. The question “Where are languages in social media” was asked in the conference, and the first answer was on the lines of: gee, that is a tough thing to solve. True – and yet I am convinced that we will begin to see very new types of tools and solutions. It was interesting to note that several examples were given on how in corporations social media enabled people find a language speaker inside the organization. “Through our collaboration tool, we found someone who speaks Japanes and can check our translations.” “We realized someone in our German office could translate the materials we needed.” Language skills become yet another skill to be shared in communities.

Another interesting point was that MT and its usefulness came up. With the amount of user-generated information exploding, there is no chance to human-translate everything. Could this be the real coming of age of MT?

I spoke with one multilingual service provider who said that they have started receiving requests for checking user-generated content in corporate community sites. Interesting. I would guess that need for automated checking of “bad words” increases as more content on corporate sites comes not from employees but from anyone in the web. Enterprise searches have to be multilingual, but there is always room to improve.

As Leonor pointed out: collaboration yields knowledge. That knowledge is multilingual.

New Solutions for a Multilingual World

I have said this many times before, and will say again: the world is multilingual, and more and more people are working daily in a multilingual environment. In companies, this multilingual environment is not only about translation, but about working with customers and colleagues whose native language is different from one’s own. That can lead to a lot of miscommunication, and I think that nobody has even started to measure the real costs or missed sales arising from it.

Communication starts with terminology, and that is where I see a lot of needs (and opportunities) for new solutions. Corporate terminology – “that which we call a widget by any other name goes in other companies” – is something that I think benefits from active input from corporate experts. Wikis seem an interesting way to enhance corporate communication, so I emailed with Greg Lloyd, CEO of Traction Software to ask whether he has seen wikis used for handling multilingual issues. He can be reached at

Traction Software has been in the corporate blog/wiki business since July 2002, and has 250+ corporate customers. According to Greg, Traction’s TeamPage is best described in terms of Doug Engelbart’s NLS/Augment model, re-imagined for the Web (more at Traction Roots | Doug Engelbart.

KP: Do your customers use wikis to handle multilingual issues, such as terminology?
GL: We have an international pharma customer who wanted to provide an interactive online glossary of terms that have specialized meanings. For example, in writing a new drug application, many terms have specialized meanings and interpretations dictated by regulatory authorities in the U.S., Europe and other regions.
At this customer, glossary definitions are usually written by people with specialized experience in new drug applications and similar filings, but the glossaries are intended for working reference by everyone in the company – not limited to those who deliver translations. The company has offices around the world, but most working communication is in English or French. A majority of employees have very good reading knowledge of both languages, but aren’t necessarily aware of some specialized meanings and interpretations – including those which change as new regulations are issued.

We developed a “Glossary skin” to address this need. The Glossary skin is a Traction “skin” or UI presentation layer that in this case, provides a specialized and simplified Glossary view of the underling blog/wiki data stored in the TeamPage Journal. It gives the users versatile tools for handling terminology, such as looking up glossary terms, term definitions, guidance on how to use the term, and the possibility to comment a term or ask questions about it. All terms are in both English and French. Changes and additions can be tracked with standard blog/wiki features, and the users can also subscribe to RSS/Atom feeds on updates. These are just a few of the functionalities of the solution.

KP: Do the wiki glossaries integrate with other glossaries or localization tools, such as translation memories?
GL: For the Glossary Wiki there are no special translator tools built in. I believe that general purpose translation tools will likely best be loosely-coupled mashup style. I haven’t seen requests for industry specific glossaries from customers, but I think there may be a business opportunity.

KP: What kind of feedback have you received from your customer? Have there been requests for special functionalities?
GL: The pharma customer is very happy with the result, which is used company-wide. We’ve also demonstrated the Glossary skin to customers in Japan and other countries. Several have expressed interest and are piloting use of the Glossary skin, primarily for developing and delivering specialized glossaries for internal working communication as well as translating deliverables.

The ability for global enterprises to create interactive Glossaries for working communication among employees, suppliers and other stakeholders seems to be getting the most interest. Many global companies use English as a standard for internal communication, but the ability to add comments or questions in other languages is a big plus. The ability to create and delivery interactive Web glossaries in Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, etc. as well as European and other Asian languages is also very useful.

Traction uses UTF-8 Unicode to store, search and deliver content written in any combination of European and Asian alphabets in any blog/wiki space (or in the same page), so a multi-lingual global glossary is easy to deliver and can be simple to author using the standard Web browser interface.

KP: What have been the biggest advantages your customers have received from using a wiki to create a glossary, instead of using a specialized terminology management tool?
GL: The biggest advantages are: 1) Simple access using a Web browser, particularly when the wiki has specialized skin to make the Glossary application work with no training; 2) Simple group editing and history using the the wiki edit model; 3) Simple integration of comments and feedback; 4) Simple, scalable and secure deployment corporate-wide.

KP: Corporate wikis seem to be an interesting way to share information and expertise. Do you see them also being used for translation work?
GL: Yes, I can certainly see how the Glossary skin could be extended to support other wiki per-page translation models. At present the Glossary skin implementation is available to TeamPage customers as a Traction Skin Definition Language (SDL) plug-in. We’ll be packaging it along with its SDL source code as a free plug-in example later this summer. We’ll work with customers and partners to determine how to best provide translation wiki’s powered by Traction TeamPage.

Multilingual Communication: The Spoken Word

In a global economy, corporate employees increasingly need to communicate in foreign languages, whether in sales, internal meetings, customer support etc. I spoke with Janne Nevasuo, CEO of AAC Global, one of the relatively few localization and translation companies which also offers language, culture and communications skills training. A year ago it was acquired by Sanoma-WSOY, a major stock-listed European media corporation with operations in over 20 countries.

KP: How long have you been in the language training business?
JN: We started with language training already 38 years ago, so we have a very long experience. We offer language training services only to corporate customers, and currently train about 20,000 people every year. For the past 20 years, our language training business has been growing about 15% annually.

KP: So you started with training, and moved to translation later?
JN: Yes, we added translation and localization services, as our corporate training customers started to ask for help in translations. As we have always focused only on corporate customers, it was a very natural growth path for us, helping our customers to handle all their multilingual needs.

KP: What are the main languages you give training for?
JN: English is by far the biggest language, and has been that for practically all the time we have been in business. About 70% of our training is on corporate English, as English is the “universal second language” in business. Demand for Russian is growing continuously.

KP: That is interesting, as so many people now speak English and learn it at school!
JN: That is just the point: school English is not enough for corporate use. Companies need to get their message through to their customers, employees, and partners in several different situations: presentations, meetings, negotiations etc. One can only imagine both the direct and indirect losses accruing from miscommunications and misunderstandings, when people cannot communicate efficiently in English.

KP: So which do you see as the biggest trends in language training?
JN: First of all, corporate language training is actually “substance training”, i.e. training employees about the company’s product or service in a foreign language, and about handling different situations, such as negotiations or presentations, in a foreign language. So corporate language training is rather far removed from language learning at schools; we focus on the substance, key terminology and message.

Another important trend is that language training needs to become part of everyday work and daily processes. The learning should happen without the student actually realizing that he or she is learning, and it should happen during the actual work, using actual materials and doing actual tasks. Nobody has time to go to even a one-day separate course.

New technologies are brining us more efficient solutions for this, such as the extensive terminology tools AAC Global offers. I would like to point out, though, that this does not mean only teach-yourself language learning, as it does not work for everybody. Innovative solutions combining self-paced and tutored learning are needed.

KP: Is language training bought only by big companies?
JN: Certainly not. Companies of all sizes need to communicate in foreign languages, so we serve companies from small to huge global companies. A very important thing to understand is this: nowadays more and more employees in a company need to communicate in a foreign language, regardless of their task. 10 years ago there were a few designated people in the company, typically in the export department, who needed to speak another language. Now practically everyone needs a foreign language, whether in sales, support, business intelligence, marketing… and also when communicating with the company’s own people and partners in other countries.

According to research we have done, people spend up to 1 hour per day looking for the right term or doing a translation. There is thus a lot of room for efficiencies in daily work processes to help people become more multilingual. Actually in large corporations, language training is also part of their HR process, so that the HR department participates in getting just the right kind of language training to each employee.

KP: In previous blog entries, Leonor and Mary talked about the emerging markets. How do you see them?
JN: We have worked especially with Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries. The need for training corporate English is enormous there; typically the companies there have a few people who are fluent in corporate English, but then there is a large gap. Many young people have studied English at school, but still need training in corporate practices and terminologies. Still, these are the same needs as in all other countries.

The question of culture

I recently spoke about language needs with a person who works in a multinational company. She mentioned that although English was the official corporate language, and all employees in different countries spoke it, issues arose when non-native speakers communicated with each other. The problem was not with special terminology, which everyone knew well, but rather with an incorrect tone of the message.

My native Finnish is a good example of a language which is quite different from e.g. Latin languages. We use a lot of the passive tone, and rather straightforward sentences, with little or no flourishes. When “translated” literally e.g. into English, the message can sound curt or commanding, due to lack of words like “please”, “I would like to…” etc. A Finn could happily say “I want a steak” in a restaurant, without thinking that it sounds different from “Could I have a steak, please”. On the other hand, a Finn would find a typical US user manual with its extremely exact instructions almost offensive to his or her intelligence.

A translator or an interpreter knows such cultural differences and takes them into account. But an increasing number of people communicates daily with each other in a non-native language. (All the worse when the communication is done mainly via email, where short sentences, typos and too many recipients on the cc: line add to the problem!) Knowing the special terminology is essential, but not enough. This also means that companies need to think about testing the language skills of their employees, and about giving them language and cultural training. After all, a satisfied customer would expect to hear not just the right words, but the right message.

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