As I said a few entries earlier, there are many estimates of the size of the translation market. EUATC, the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies, has published an interesting paper about the market size and growth at .
The study points out that the translation market is going towards more consolidation, i.e. the bigger agencies are gaining more market share and growing faster than the 5% of the overall translation market. Then again, there is still a lot to consolidate: according to EUATC, about 3,000 translation companies manage 25% of the market, whereas about 200,000 free-lancers take care of 75% of the market, worth over $9bn.
As companies begin to see the importance of multilingual communication, instead of looking at translation only as a cost, they will need more complex and extensive services. At the same time they will still require a lot of individual skills. Managing a high level of personalized service to companies operating in several geographical locations is going to be an interesting skill in itself.
In my previous entry I wrote about the effect of working in a foreign language. I think that we will see interesting developments in tools and services targeted to people who need to work in a language other than their native language – simply because this is a rapidly growing group. Obviously there are more and more non-native English speakers using English daily at work. But as European call centers relocate to Poland and the Czech Republic, we will also see more people using German as their second language.
An interesting question is: what will happen in China and India? According to Wikipedia, India has 23 official languages (one of them is English), 800 spoken languages and 2000 dialects. In China, there are 6 to 12 main regional groups of Chinese, according to classification. A friend of mine said that China could choose English as their official langauge, just like in India. I am not quite so sure. With about 800 million Mandarin speakers, maybe we will all be learning Mandarin in the future.
Anyways, I checked the most popular blogs from Technorati, . The top 30 “most linked to” blogs included 8 blogs in a language other than English. To me, this is just a reminder that there is a world outside English.
In my previous entry I said that I think multilinguality should be a strategic issue for companies. When companies operate globally, they should think about the impact of languages on customer satisfaction, internal efficiency, increased sales, feedback from product support to prodct development etc., instead of just looking at translation costs.
For compliance alone, language can have a huge effect. What if your Chinese subcontractor did not understand your English instructions properly, and made a serious mistake? Who is responsible? How do you ensure or measure the language understanding level of your subcontractors or employees in other countries?
I would like to welcome comments on this issue. Is it enough to say “Our corporate language is English” and that takes care of it? Does the personnel all over the world speak English so well that this is a non-issue? Do non-native English speakers spend more time reading and writing in English, and would it be easier using one’s own language?
I know several Finns who say they prefer to read everything in their special field in English, as that is the language in which they have learned their speciality. Is this the norm, or would working in own language be preferable? (When talking about working, I mean both writing and reading in a language.)
I really liked this term I saw at TAUS, the Translation Automation User Society http://www.translationautomation.com/index.php. Putting the emphasis on the word “useful” is what discussions on machine translation (MT) has needed.
OK, we all know examples of MT shortcomings. My very old favourite is the MT system which translated the biblical sentence “The flesh is weak but the spirit lasts” into Russian as “The steak is rotten but the vodka is good” on the days before Glasnost. Machine translation is not perfect – but it can be very, very useful. Allowing me to understand what a Chinese web site is about without knowing a single character of Chinese is very useful indeed, especially when I am doing market research on China.
The fact is, there is not enough time – and definitely not enough money – to do human translation on even a fraction of the information that is being produced. So, if MT helps people to become aware of your message, it certainly should be considered as a tool, even if the result is not perfect. Useful is often enough.
Besides, there are quite a lot of MT systems available, both free and commercial ones, more than many might imagine. Several of them already do a good job on a specific topic, and can be improved further with special terminology. The Translation Guide at lists over 520 links to MT systems in 56 languages – sadly, the page has last been updated in 2003. Wikipedia offers a shorter, but more current list at . And for one great resource on MT issues, see Jeff Allen’s site at .
Just a short note: In December Cisco appointed Wim Elfrink as its Chief Globalization Officer . This certainly brings additional emphasis to globalization in corporations, and will probably result in more CGOs being appointed.
In Cisco’s case the CGO came from Cisco’s Customer Advocacy group. According to Elfrink, with the new globalization center “we will be able to best serve our customers by creating new ways to deliver information, products and services”. Creating and managing content in local languages forms a big part of serving global customers better.
Traveling in Europe during the holidays reminded me again on the importance of languages in the European market. With Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU the size of the European market increased yet again – and made it even more language-intensive. American companies wanting to sell to the European market, or outsource their business processes in the quite interesting former Eastern Europe, need to add yet a couple of more languages to be maintained in materials, web sites etc.
For those interested in reading more about the differences of language requirements in Europe, USA, and Asia, and on the solutions being developed for them, provides an interesting European view. With the rapidly growing requirement for faster and cheaper translations, maximal utilization of automation is the only solution to meet the multilingual needs. This will include a shift towards giving end-users more tools to both understand and produce material in other languages.
I believe that some of such new tools will come from outside the traditional translation industry: content management, collaboration tools or similar.
One of the big questions will be: can Machine Translation provide a solution? This will be the topic of my next blog.
It has been interesting to note that even inside the US, more and more languages start appearing in various services. Spanish is the obvious example, but at the Gilbane Boston conference we heard that e.g. a New England healthcare provider needs to think about providing information in Vietnamese and in Russian. The old saying “You can always buy in your own language, but you must sell in your customer’s language” still holds true.
Although English has become the universal second language, people still feel more comfortable dealing in their own native language. Maybe the next generation will be different (although I guess that has always been the expectation of the previous generation) and will communicate mainly with smileys – but I believe that languages will not go away.
One could assume that in the European Union with its plethora of official languages there would be a lot of language tools available. Well, there is e.g. Eurodicautom at , a multilingual and searchable term bank which includes about 5.5 million entries in 48 subject fields. It continues to be available, but it is currently not updated, as it is being moved into a new database – and the latest news about it are from 2003. So one can only hope that the migration will be completed soon and the updating can continue, as new words appear in languages continuously. Just think about “truthiness”, which was chosen as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2006.
There are several other multilingual general and industry-specific dictionaries available in the web, such as the European multilingual environmental glossary at http://glossary.eea.europa.eu/EEAGlossary/. Another example is the Microsoft multilingual terminology at http://www.microsoft.com/globaldev/tools/MILSGlossary.mspx. Googling e.g. with “multilingual glossaries” or “multilingual dictionaries” brings a lot of hits to various resources.
The thing is, multilingual content management and multilingual searches start from good multilingual terminology. There will be a lot of work needed in that area, both in general and in industry- or even in company-specific dictionaries. I will follow up on this topic later.
I am starting to blog here on mainly globalization and localization, and the many issues they bring to end users and organizations. To give you an idea about what my views and thoughts are based on, here is a short background:
As a native Finnish speaker I realized early on why languages do matter – very few people outside Finland speak any Finnish, despite its many quaint characteristics, such as 16 cases formed by adding endings to nouns. In addition, I studied operations research and systems analysis at the Helsinki University of Technology, which gave me a tendency to look at everything as processes which can be optimized.
For 14 years, I had a localization service company, Trantex, which translated a lot of software and documentation for major sw providers, such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, etc., and also did technical writing and training. In 1997 we sold the company to L&H and I moved to Boston, where I later became a consultant to Finnish high-tech companies entering the US market.
After all the years I spent in the localization world, I have kept following the industry, as I think there are very interesting developments and challenges ahead. In 1985 a translation customer told me that I should start looking for a new job, as all computer users will want to use only English software. Since then, the number of languages into which companies have to translate their materials has at least tripled. With the web and now with wikis and blogs, information can be published instantly 24/7 all over the world, and much of it is or needs to be in languages other than English. After all, only 5% of the world’s population are native English speakers (354 million according to Wikipedia).
I welcome comments and discussion – though preferably in English :0). For a wonderful description of why Finnish would make a great world language, go to .