Terena Bell is an independent journalist writing for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language and was on the GALA and ALC boards.
Welcome to Client Talk, where we chat with people who buy (or should buy) language services. When do they say professional translation is worth it?
By talking with clients outside the sales environment, we hope to uncover what really drives translation purchasing. Each month offers a different profile to learn from. The challenge is to find patterns from one issue to the next: what do these interviews tell us about how clients see our industry as a whole?
Based in Berlin, Chloé Millet is localization manager for KAYAK, a US-based travel search engine that customers use to find flights, hotel rooms, rental cars and vacation packages.
Millet was born in France, but has also lived in the United Kingdom, China and — of course — Germany, home to KAYAK’s European technology headquarters. She attended Institut des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, where she earned degrees in English and Chinese. “I primarily speak English and French these days,” she adds, “but I also know Mandarin.”
The need and how KAYAK meets it
English is the language of choice for KAYAK’s internal communications, so even though the company has employees in more than 60 different countries working in nine global offices, there’s no need for human resources translation. When it comes to client-facing content, though, KAYAK and its portfolio brands operate in more than 20 languages.
Additionally, KAYAK has a voice-activated Alexa app available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and French. Millet doesn’t manage its localization, though: chief scientist Matthias Keller in the Boston, Massachusetts, office does.
Millet says, “First and foremost, we localize our websites and apps daily for all of our brands using an in-house CAT [computer-assisted translation] tool. We also run quality assurance tests after having translated strings to make sure everything is up to standard, makes sense in context and looks nice in the UI [user interface].” Brand marketing campaigns, press releases, social posts, blog articles, and “a range of ad-hoc documents” also get localized, “depending on the needs of different departments.”
Who performs this translation?
Definitely not bilingual employees! “While being bilingual is an invaluable skill in today’s globalized world, it does not necessarily mean you have the skill set required to professionally translate,” Millet says, which is a comforting change from the way others profiled in this column have approached translation. “Because of this, we do not ask our bilingual staff members from different departments to localize content,” she continues, “Instead, we have a team of in-house localization specialists who dedicate their time to some of our larger markets while we work with freelancers in some of the smaller ones.”
These in-house specialists translate the majority of KAYAK’s content. But Millet says the flight, hotel and car reviews customers read on the company site “follow a different workflow — they are first machine translated and then edited by a specialist. We do it this way for user-generated reviews because we want to make this content quickly available.”
What’s the budget?
Millet says that’s a hard question to answer. “Because we do a lot of the work in-house, it’s a combination of internal and external costs.” There’s not just the amount paid for outsourced translation, but also salaries and related costs for localization staff.
So 1-5, how important does KAYAK think professional translation is?
Millet is our first profile to not give a number. But she does say, “At KAYAK we know how important localization and translation are for business growth, which is why we’ve invested in an in-house localization team. And because of this, we’ve been able to enter new markets and regions quickly while presenting users with a product that is not only translated into their native language, but also adapted for their interests and needs. This can be a crucial factor in gaining trust among users in different markets.”
An emerging pattern
Comparing KAYAK to prior “Client Talk” companies, there’s a bit of a flip. Like others, KAYAK relies heavily on internal resources — but for editing and project management, not actual translation — which makes the company different. Editors aren’t bilingual employees forced into multiple roles, rather professional language specialists who just happen to be on staff.
It’s also worth noting that KAYAK is the first corporation we’ve spoken with that doesn’t work with a translation company anywhere in its process. Of course, they’re also the first we’ve profiled to centralize translation from Europe, not the United States, where public awareness of translation is stereotypically quite different. That — and Millet’s academic background in languages — may be partially what makes the difference.