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Author: Kaija Poysti (Page 2 of 4)

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.

Consolidation of translation market

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.

Blogging languages

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.

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