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 others.
Welcome to Client Talk, where we ask translation buyers when professional services are worth it and why. By connecting away from the sales environment, we hope to discover what really drives localization purchasing. For the last two years, every issue of MultiLingual has featured a different company. Some companies hire professionals, others don’t, but your challenge is to find the similarities. What patterns do all buyers share? What do their answers tell us about the way clients see our industry as a whole?
Mining software company RPMGlobal is our first Australian profile, based in Brisbane with clients in 125 countries. But don’t let the word “software” fool you — RPM clients don’t mine for data, but rather ore and minerals from the ground.
“Like any other industry,” manager of product internationalization Kirsty Taylor says, “mining has its set of industry terminology that can be quite foreign to those not exposed to it.” And this vocabulary can vary by commodity — as in coal vs. gold; local history and technique; above or below ground.
The company operates primarily in Australian English, but because it employs US English-speaking developers, Taylor says she has “to edit out some z’s and add in some u’s.” Her core focus, though, is on overseeing localization into Russian, French and Spanish. “We have some software products in more languages,” she explains, noting one that’s in 12. But as RPM’s first localization manager, it’s Taylor’s job “to prepare for more translation in the future — translating product content which typically hasn’t been translated in the past,” as well as new and forthcoming product acquisitions. Russia, Kazakhstan, South America, Africa and Canada are critical markets with occasional Portuguese and Chinese requirements. Indonesian is also a growing need.
In the past, Taylor oversaw translation for software company ABB.
The need and solution
A LocWorld conference regular, Taylor calls RPM’s needs “moderate” in relation to peers, explaining she oversees one to two projects per month, each around six files. The company doesn’t use translation management software, so Taylor isn’t able to track average project word count. Right now, she says her work really is concentrated on preparing “to improve [RPM’s] i18n [internationalization] capabilities, so that they are ready to localize when our strategy determines the time is right.”
Strings get localized, but not always software content or online help. “Only the product UI,” she says, and “training material when it was being delivered in a particular region and required the local language.” The company also performs consulting for mines and mining investors, so reports require translation as well.
The solution is to use translation services. Taylor says, “Almost everything that I work on goes to professional translators. Only a couple of our software deliverables are translated in-house, mostly due to having native speakers who are very familiar with the software in the software development teams. These are edge cases and I’m planning to move them to more of a reviewer/subject-matter expert role than an in-house translator role.”
On a scale of 1-5, how important does Taylor rank professional translation?
She says 5. However, as in the April 2018 profile of Papa John’s, Taylor makes the distinction between a true professional and simply working for an agency: “The most critical element of successful translation for us is the experience of the linguists that our vendor uses. They must be very familiar with the mining industry; otherwise our terminology will be largely confusing to them. We have to ensure not only that the translators understand tonne vs ton from a locale and spelling perspective, but that there’s a ‘short ton’ as well.”
In the event that readers are not familiar with these distinctions, in the United States, a short ton of 2,000 pounds is usually known simply as a ton. There is also the tonne (1,000 kilograms or 2,204.62 pounds), also known as the metric ton, not to be confused with the long ton (Imperial ton) of 2,240 pounds. To confuse things further, even in the United States, some applications use tons to mean long tons (for example, naval ships) or metric tons (world grain production figures).
Unlike many clients with a small initial spend, Taylor already understands the benefits of optimized translation. But that doesn’t mean she can’t see the industry’s flaws:
“Buyers — or rather, other stakeholders in businesses — seem to expect that translators can perform magic,” she says, expecting them to translate “disembodied software strings” accurately or to “derive meaning from file names or the ‘context’ of a string when you’d actually need to be a programmer working on that product to make meaning of it.” She adds that companies also unrealistically expect translators to use buyer-preferred tools.
Vendors don’t get off easy, though, as Taylor has some advice there too: communicate. Buyers need to know how much translation will cost and when projects will be done. Yet Taylor still receives quotes “not including some kind of indicative duration,” she says. “I know it will depend on the resources etc, but I often have internal stakeholders who are interested in two answers — the cost and the duration. Don’t make me chase you for the duration if I’ve asked for it.”