Wednesday, May 04, 2011

SpeakLike and a New Category of LSP: The On-Demand Translation Vendor

I just saw a demo of SpeakLike and I was instantaneously brought back to a comment that I made in a recent post here on this blog: We never really talk about the future, we are only talking about a present in which we don't participate.

SpeakLike fits in an ever-growing category of companies that cater to web-based streaming content and small projects with fast turnaround times. Companies like MyGengo, Smartling,, LanguageWire, Tolingo, and OneHourTranslation have slightly similar (or slightly different, if you prefer) approaches to address their client needs, but they all center around Project Management Automation, one of the strong industry trends that I have been talking about. I call this category of companies the On-Demand Translation Vendors.

SpeakLike was founded by Sandy Cohen, a serial technology entrepreneur, with the original idea of integrating existing off-the-shelf technologies to provide online interpretation services based on machine translation, speech-to-text and text-to-speech. Some of the early prototypes I saw some years ago worked better than the speech-enabled version of Google Translate does today. But as it often happens to innovators, Sandy was early to the party and the demand for these services was not there yet. But there was demand for real-time on-demand human-based translation of chat communication at the enterprise level. And that is what SpeakLike has morphed into.

What is exciting about this approach to translation, which lies between the traditional time-consuming Translation-Editing-Proofing method and the often vilified pure Machine Translation, is that it provides a browser-based environment for experienced freelance translators to work on fast turnaround documents or customer support online chats. It's like telephone interpretation for text.

Some of the features that I like about SpeakLike:
  • Interface. The translator interface is like an improved version of Facebook Translate. Along with the source text (sometimes images or PDFs), the translator gets relevant terminology, previous similar translations (translation memory) and Style Guide information that is specific to the client at hand, with data about tone and format.
  • Speed. The system is designed to provide translations as fast as humanly possible. This means turnaround times of minutes to hours instead of days and weeks. It is a system that is ideal for streaming content like news, financial data, and online support chat.
  • Price model. Translations are cheaper than what you would get from a traditional LSP, but margins are still attractive for the business because once a client is setup, all tasks are automated and the overhead is minimal. 
  • iPhone App. If you are in a foreign land and cannot understand a sign, you can take a picture of it and submit it to SpeakLike, where a human translator will translate the sign and send it back to you. It's a manned version of Google Goggles or Word Lens.
The challenge for SpeakLike, as well as for the other companies that I listed above, is adoption. With limited funds, these companies need to invest in sales or other forms of mass dissemination of their solution in order flourish.


  1. Wow, after checking out Speaklike's website, I must say that their model is appealing, at least for smaller projects. My initial reaction is that I would love to use something like this, particularly if I were a small business.

    I agree that adoption is a challenge for this type of company. However, I would welcome the challenge of working in their sales department. This is exciting stuff!

  2. Once again, innovation in this industry comes from people outside the industry. And money goes to those people, actually entrepreneurs, who can see the money in the industry.
    Maybe someone who's not in the mood of making a living of translation (or anything else on his own) could smile when reading or hearing about "how to make (more) money", but this will remain the main rationale for translation and localization, at least as long as it will remain a business, an industry and we will be there at least for making a living.
    It is clear to me that Sandy Cohen has seen and sees the value of translation and localization, because money is what matters for him (maybe) and for the most of people he addresses with his innovation.

  3. Lucas2:28 PM

    interestingly, you forgot to include a link to speaklike on your post.
    here it is:

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