Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Paradigm for Language Services

If you are a subscriber of Multilingual magazine, you must have already received the September issue, which focuses on Arabic language issues and opportunities. If you aren't a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Click here and subscribe now!

The last page of the current issue (called Takeaway) brings an article that collects my recent thoughts about innovation and impending changes in the translation and localization industry. I had a hard time recognizing myself in the pre-LASIK picture that they used to illustrate the article, but who am I to complain.

Here's the full text of the article for your enjoyment. Comments are welcome.

"I have been reading and thinking a lot about innovation. My motivation is an impression that there is very little of it in the language services industry. I also sense that the industry is on the verge of a major change, so I have been trying to pinpoint the signals of the shift to a new mindset.

But first, why change? Why the need for a new paradigm for language services? Because we need to do more with less, we must improve productivity. The growth rate of content is much higher than the growth rate of translators. I can double the volume of translation in one year, but I cannot double the number of translators that are available in the market. It takes many years to create a professional translator.

For a few years, I have been saying and writing that there are three dogmas that prevent progress in the industry.
  • Translation memories are an asset. This brilliant idea probably came from the founders of Trados in the early nineties. While an excellent argument to sell tools, this concept is a fallacy. In fact, translation memories have no intrinsic value -- they are only useful if there is a match and when the translator knows how to use it -- it is impossible to assign an economic value to them. Translation memories are at best a cost-saving tool and fulfill their purpose more efficiently when widely shared.
  • More eyes improve quality. The TEP (translation-editing-proofing) process is so ingrained in the collective mind that even industry standards like the EN 15038 have been designed around it. The reality is that any quality system predicates that more steps in a process increase the probability of incorporating mistakes and invite human error. The solution is not “catching mistakes,” but finding and paying the best resources to “translate it right the first time.”
  • Fewer translators produce more consistent output. The fact is that most of the consistency issues in translation are related to style and terminology standardization. These are elements that can be agreed up front and even automated, so that as many translators as available should perform a translation. There will be 30 to 40 writers who write the content in English, but we still believe that only one or two people should do the translation. More and better trained translators working together will produce good translations faster and cheaper.

In “Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation,” author Jim Utterback stresses that competitors in most industries not only resist innovative threats, but actually resist all efforts to understand them, preferring to further their positions in older products. This means that companies that are investing in the existing technologies, processes, and standards in our industry don’t think that change will happen and feel safe with their offerings.

The sign that I was looking for came in the form of Google Translator Toolkit. The first salvo of a revolution that is going to take hold of the language services industry. The tool itself is bare bones and not ready for significant commercial use, but for the first time, a significant player has challenged the three dogmas that I described above.

Instead of trying to "out-Trados" Trados, or trying to increase the productivity of processes and pump up technology that is old and cumbersome. Google Translator Toolkit incorporates machine translation and all the collaboration features that allow multiple translators to work on the same project, in addition to providing an environment for translation memory sharing.

The innovation guru Clayton Christensen says that breakthrough innovations come when tension is greatest and the resources are most limited. Now that buyers of language services are forced to cut cost and reduce staff, technology offerings from companies like Lingotek, Elanex, Sajan, and Lionbridge, which can easily incorporate the features of Google Translator Toolkit, suddenly become more attractive and much more affordable than the traditional desktop and client-server solutions that have dominated the market for the last 20 years.

Ultimately, as the next generation of localization managers starts making technology and service procurement decisions, the dogmas will fall and innovation will take hold. The new mantras will be collaboration, knowledge sharing, and increased translator output. At least until these ideas also become old.

Renato Beninatto is the CEO of milengo, a full-service worldwide provider of localization, engineering and testing services with operations in 18 key markets across the Americas, Europe, and Asia."

1 comment:

  1. I work in video game localization, a market that has been steadily growing, almost untouched by the economic crisis. This leads to an influx of new translators to match the needs of the industry and thus to a reduction of quality, because, as you say: "It takes many years to create a professional translator."

    "The new mantras will be collaboration, knowledge sharing, and increased translator output."

    It almost sounds like an open source philosophy, doesn't it? Anyhow, just wanted to say thanks for an interesting read,