This month, our General Director Luca Moretto shares his thoughts on the current state of the translation industry.
Internationalisation: it all starts here
by Luca Moretto
Politics is international, companies open offices and branches worldwide and clients are even attracted from abroad. When you need to communicate and the other person does not speak your language then translation becomes a priority. When done well, translation can sell a product, manage a business relationship with foreign employees. Moreover when undertaken by a President, translation can even avoid a war. Translations offers a better chance. Translation is hope…
How can we ensure quality translations today?
The situation has changed. According to the statistics and as I have personally noticed (thanks to my entrepreneurial business), the industry’s supply does not meet the real needs of the market, as the number of supply companies with an adequate set-up is still insufficient. Of course, the translation of a non-urgent business letter can be entrusted to an individual translator, but companies and governments need to translate up to several hundred pages a day, in multiple languages, often applying extended payment terms which only a well-established company can cope with.
In response to these needs, it is interesting to note that the first companies specialising in the supply of translation services have been established over the last thirty years. Set up due to a passion for translation or in order to gain a profit, these companies provide the first solutions to the rising demand from the global market; however the frequent lack of quality which the service provides can be attributed primarily to the relative newness of the sector, which is a result of the inexperience of both customers and suppliers. Indeed, these customers do not have any inkling of the minimum quality standards that you would expect from a language service and by not contesting the matter they encourage the continuation of a form of immature competition which is confused and confusing.
I have found that the customer’s most important requirement is a an extremely fast service. This speed is also required for the issue of estimates and response times from all the other business functions. In order to promptly satisfy those requirements there is a need within language companies for technical-sales staff, such as “Project Managers” who organise and supervise workloads which are now spread over multiple time zones out of necessity. Our company and others in the sector have optimised this aspect by working at multinational level through multiple offices all over the world. The project management team is made up of staff from multiple offices, coordinated to manage workloads in a continuous cycle, twenty four hours a day without any interruptions.
So how accurate are the translations?
This is by no means a matter which solely concerns the translator. Understanding specialist topics in order to translate them requires training, awareness development and constant supervision of the staff. This therefore requires the inclusion of specific roles within the company, such as that of a human resources manager, as well as trainers and revisers. We just need to think about what is required, such as visits to customers’ companies in order to train translators on the specificity of the companies’ products, or taking the opportunity to conduct individual quality checks on all translated texts in order to correct any errors and to standardise terminology, which is a useful process particularly when the urgency of the delivery necessitates the division of the text between several translators.
It should also be pointed out that the need to manage long texts within a short time frame, by planning the phases of training, translation and revision minute by minute encourages a language firm to operate through in-house staff as much as possible. It is far easier to train and organise in-house staff than external freelancers. Today there is talk of process efficiency for the translation industry.
Finally, research and development is essential to produce language solutions which are tailored to the needs of the market. The analyses carried out by the industry have encouraged the introduction of service improvements, such as localisation of translations according to the target audience’s cultural and communicative needs, simultaneous interpreting services provided by using the inexpensive technology of guided tours for audio transmission and fast reporting processes for real-time transcription of debates at meetings. Technological innovation has played a pivotal role in the efficient production of new services, which provide a great solution and at the same time are offered at a much lower cost than in the past, thus guaranteeing a competitive advantage to technologically innovative language companies. Indeed, these companies are able to offer effective solutions while drastically reducing the costs of supplying these solutions.
In order to satisfy customer needs, careful organisation of resources and processes is essential, which is why this set-up makes highly structured companies preferable in general to freelance translators. However, whether we are talking about highly structured companies or freelancers, customers often perceive the quality of the language services received as unsatisfactory, which spreads the image of the “translator traitor”. Sadly this is an image which is widely diffused in common thinking. Why? It is now a fact that many customers carry out much of their own translations, not only for dubious reasons of economy, but above all because they feel that they understand the specifics of their industry better than a translator. Personally, I agree with that argument. In the past, I have found that translations of my speeches or writing sometimes deviated from the original message.
For this reason I decided to analyse this issue so that I could build my language businesses on solid foundations. Thanks to my linguistics background and practical knowledge of business, I immediately noticed that the comprehension and translation errors derived mainly from a lack of knowledge of the subjects on the translators’ part. They did not fully understand what they were reading and therefore were not able to translate it correctly.
What’s the solution?
I have achieved excellent results by introducing a strict selection, training and supervision process for the linguistic personnel. It is based on the awareness that, to translate, it is not enough to know a language or to be content with the limited knowledge that one can get from a dictionary or a university education: the translator trains, develops and works “in a bubble”, inside a room from which he or she only catches a glimpse of a small part of the world. Many intellectuals shun this practical world and yet translate its texts without having any knowledge of it.
The quality of our translations has steadily improved since we put ourselves to the test, and learned to listen to the world. As suggested by the outside world, we have applied the concepts of work organisation which in other apparently less pedantic business sectors have been applied for years and perhaps even centuries. First of all, only linguists with a solid syntax, an extensive cultural background and strong analytical capacity are selected. If these prerequisites are met, the use of terminology for specific sectors and understanding of their concepts can be achieved through training within the language company. We have therefore invested in the establishment of a sound system of selection and assessment of human resources, and the translators are inserted into a context of on-going training and comparison with colleagues and customers.
The creation and awareness development of an in-house translation team has created a company culture which is based on the values of research, respect for colleagues and the understanding of customer requirements, made possible by direct experience in the sectors that we translate. This cultural revolution finds its missing link in the critical work of revisers, senior translators who are highly aware of the reality of the outside world.
The organisation of the workload in this way has also helped us by minimising unexpected deadlines and thus we can avoid staff working under stress, which reduces concentration and consequently productivity.
Last but not least, we finally realised that a company flourishes when it generates margins: the possibility of achieving consistent profit allows us to offer decent wages, contrary to the unfortunate tendency of the world of culture towards unstable and underpaid work, which reduces the level of quality of the translations for the customer. By respecting individuals’ dignity and investing in talent, we have been able to tackle internationalisation and to grow professionally, all together.
Article written by Mr. Luca Moretto, General Director of Studio Moretto Group and General Director of the Language Research Centre CRL