Terena Bell is senior director of communications for Lionbridge. However, this article was written while she was an independent reporter covering translation for The Atlantic, The Guardian, MultiLingual and more.
Welcome to Client Talk, a column where we chat with people who buy translations. This issue we interview Juliana Rebelatto, a localization manager for the cell phone company Motorola.
Last issue marked the two-year anniversary of this column, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that while all clients say their needs are unique, we have found certain commonalities from one issue to the next. One of these is that buyers either understand the need to work with professionals or they don’t, and change management is generally a pain point. Taken together, what do these two years of interviews tell us about how buyers perceive localization as a whole?
Meet the client
Motorola has its headquarters in the United States, but Rebelatto works near São Paulo, Brazil. That’s where she earned her undergraduate degree in languages and translation, later earning a certificate in project management in the United States. Rebelatto speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish.
Her department processes more than four million words per year in more than 50 languages — and that number only covers software interface strings and customer support content for the company’s Android phones.
So what does get translated and how?
Of these four million words, not all are originally in English. “Some of our content is written in Simplified Chinese,” Rebalatto says. This work is translated into English to verify source consistency before localization into the target language. Translation partners are selected through request for quotation (RFQ). These vendors also perform quality assurance (QA) and internal technical account managers provide in-country feedback.
When new or edited content is sent to Rebalatto’s team, staff compare it with the translation memory included in their chosen translation management system (TMS). A second vendor then performs QA using internally-developed software repository management and automated user interface visualization tools. While the translation process itself never changes, Rebalatto says, “What varies is the amount of effort we dedicate to each of the languages.” That has to do with the needs of the company and the market, and “requirements which are measured — as an example — by the number of activations Motorola’s products get in each region and language.”
So on a scale of 1-5, how important is professional translation?
“From the moment users open the box,” she explains, “they expect that their new phone is in a language they understand, that its localized software supports the same basic functionality that the original language … does and they expect it to have the same level of quality.”
That’s why she rates the importance of professional translation at a 5, just like 64% of Client Talk profilees. But only 21% of the companies we’ve interviewed — including Motorola — only work with pros. “Translations handled by our department are 100% purchased,” says Rebalatto.
Yet despite her team’s heavy reliance on tools, she only ranks the value of a TMS at a 3: “It is important but not as much as the language service quality we could get without a well-established TMS.”
A resistance to change
Maybe this low rating is why Motorola had the same TMS provider for more than 20 years, despite what Rebalatto calls “new products and fancier functionalities [that] have become available for the public.”
Earlier this year, the company finally made a switch in their TMS providers. When MultiLingual asked what took so long, Rebalatto said: “We were pleased with what we had. Besides, we focused on more important aspects of the process, such as developing internal tools that brought us vendor neutrality, the centralization of a globalization team and bringing up motivated and well-engaged vendors.”
The problem with the solution, which leads us to our pattern
It’s surprising that a company that builds and sells technology would use the exact same system for more than 20 years — in fact, it’s downright odd. What if Motorola customers kept using the same phones they’d had since 1999 by default?
According to Rebalatto, keeping the same TMS for over two decades allowed her team to concentrate on centralization. That said, purchasing isn’t centralized — non-Droid, legal, marketing and other content route somewhere else. Looking through Client Talk interviews for patterns, it seems much more likely that May/June 2018 profilee Marriott International was right: it’s tremendously difficult for localization managers to effect organizational change. And as Georg Kirchner, globalization technology manager for Dell EMC, alluded to at TAUS Global Content Summit New York, sometimes buyers are afraid to adopt much-needed tools because then they’d be out of a job.
Whatever the reason, Client Talk has seen a pattern of some buyers avoiding change — even when it’s as humiliating as a high-tech company disregarding technological development for more than 20 years.