The Benefits of Developing a Global Language Translation Strategy
” By Ray Reyes, Sr Vice President eLearning, A Verbis White Paper, Updated September 2017”
The first step when designing an effective global language translation strategy is to identify the different types of content in your organization that need to be translated.
When trying to reach a global audience, either internal or external, having a Global Language Translation Strategy can be very instrumental in helping you to reduce costs, be more efficient, sustain your brand’s integrity, better train your global teams and even increase revenue. The translation (or localization) of your company’s messages from one language to another cannot be peripheral. A well-designed strategy allows a company to identify content to be translated, prioritize translation projects of that content based on needs and budgets, manage translation service providers, and carry out each one of these tasks in a streamlined process. An effective and well thought out strategy can mean the difference between success (a well trained global team, expansion in a new country, successful marketing campaigns designed to support sales initiatives that lead to increased revenue and more profits), and a major failure (loss of revenue, accruement of fees and fines, and worst of all, a dented global reputation). But how exactly does a global company, with countless stakeholders, dozens of buyers, and multiple budgets, develop a global language translation strategy?
START WITH CENTRALIZED GOALS
First and foremost, your language strategy should run parallel to your corporate strategy. What is it about your company that makes you successful in English? Translating, rather localizing, this message globally is important for maintaining brand consistency. As a company, what do you want to accomplish? Your most central goals should address plans for increasing revenue, supplying customers with support, training (including your customers, partners, and employees), broadening your brand, increasing efficiency, and reducing costs. In what ways can translation play a part in these? You have to set the right goals.
ORGANIZE YOUR CONTENT
Disparities between how the different departments of your organization engage translation projects can be a cause for confusion, time delays, and added expense. Implementing standardized processes in your translation program allows for consistent quality controls, and a streamlined process
The first step when designing an effective global language translation strategy is to identify the different types of content in your organization that need to be translated. What are the materials that need to be translated? Keep in mind that the scope of your content goes beyond anything written, and also includes eLearning, websites, audio and video. Once you have identified everything that needs to be translated, divide that content into categories. Customer-facing content is anything that your consumers have direct access to. Included in this area are sales and marketing materials and product support. Beyond the realm of the customer, there is also a significant amount of non-customer facing material that needs to be correctly translated.
Legal, Human Resources, eLearning, Knowledge Bases to name a few, are all sectors that contain relevant content that must be accurately translated from the source language in order to be understood as they were designed to. In addition, a company also needs to consider employee needs, and exchanges between global partners and suppliers. Even seemingly miniscule internal exchanges as simple as emails or newsletters are content that may need to be translated.
Once you have identified and organized your content, you need to prioritize them to meet budgetary, and timing constraints. Prioritizing what exactly needs to be translated allows you to focus more intently on the material that will have the biggest impact on your goals (be it good or bad). To maintain brand consistency and a good reputation, your customer-facing content has to especially be free of errors in translation and/or localization. Poorly translated or inconsistent customer facing content could be confusing or misleading, or even come across as being offensive or inappropriate. While it may be less obvious, many other communications can be critical, and need to be placed high on your company’s priority list. Critical communications are anything that improves your product or service, sustains your image or brand, makes your organization more efficient, helps lower costs, increases revenue, or makes your organization safe, secure, and stable. Many companies don’t realize until deep into the process the amount of content that needs to be translated to effectively train a global team, launch a new product or enter into a new market. Creating a plan that identifies and prioritizes these materials allows you to correctly invest your resources in the areas that matter most while saving yourself from the loss of revenue, increased expenses, costly delays or a blemish to your image and brand that occurs from poorly-translated material.
ALIGN YOUR STRATEGY
A major problem can arise if the goals of a company’s language translation strategy aren’t in alignment with the over arching corporate strategy. Again, the issue of brand integrity comes up. What are your company’s objectives, and how does language and communication tie into them? In what ways can your translation strategy and language team work in conjunction with these objectives? Try to foresee any ways that your language strategy could somehow oppose the main corporate goals.
Additionally, each department should have its own plan that aligns with the language translation strategy. For example: how is the sales team planning on reaching out to global markets? How does training and development provide effective global training in country? How does the company plan to support global customers? Language and communication are essential components of these efforts, and your language strategy needs to be able to work smoothly with them.
IT ALL STARTS FROM THE BEGINNING
Remember the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out”? You can’t expect your company to successfully expand into a new country if the original content is subpar or out of line with international interests. Good translations start with a quality initial product. When writing or developing learning courses, for example, make sure to keep it free of colloquialisms, jargon, and localized cultural references. This includes sports mentions or analogies that only make sense in the country of origin. Have a clear understanding of your target audience, and write accordingly. If your target audience is high school graduates, don’t write at a PhD level, and vice versa. Keep in mind that your market is not always consistent from one country to another. If your content is easily internationalized from the beginning, the translations will be easier and of higher quality, thus saving you time and money.
UNDERSTAND THE CULTURAL ASPECTS OF YOUR NEW AUDIENCE
A key component to an effective global language translation strategy is having an efficient review process in place.
Different countries and cultures operate differently. Has your company considered the past and present social and political issues of your new market? Even something as simple as time perception can play a huge role in your success. A successful global strategy considers everything and oftentimes realizes that a country that initially seemed like a promising venture may potentially turn out to be a drain of resources. Even social aspects that seem irrelevant are important to be aware of. What is the general status of women? Is the country religious, and if so what are the dominant religions? How big is the personal space bubble? Is the country individualistic, or collectivistic? What kinds of phrases and colloquial terms are popular among different age groups? What is considered rude or inappropriate?
There will be differences not only between the norms and values of your country of origin and the new one, but also in government, laws, and corporate regulations. Improper knowledge about these things can cause you to make otherwise easily avoidable mistakes and incur fines for something as easy as mislabeling. Your language strategy has to identify and address any differences and potential causes for problems between your home and new countries.
SELECT A RELIABLE TRANSLATION SERVICE PROVIDER
Quality translations are key to effective communication in a lingually new market. Thus it makes sense that you need to hire a high-quality translation team. You get what you pay for: in this arena, cuts to spending equals cuts to quality. So protect your investment! Your company has spent time, energy, and valuable fiscal resources to develop the source content. Don’t contract it out to the cheapest bidder.
RFP VS QUOTING
Reviewing quotes and proposals is painful and time consuming. With quotes, more times than not it’s all about price. You need a strategy in place to clearly and easily identify the costs, benefits, and risks of different language service providers (LSPs). When requesting proposals, outline clearly what it is you need to know about each translation service, and ask them to format their responses in a particular way. Make it as easy as possible for your company to read each proposal so that no time is wasted trying to figure each individual proposal out, and so that confusing details don’t get mixed up. Implement a defined review process with metrics for grading. When dealing with many different potential translation providers, they can all look the same. A value grade given to specific areas can help you differentiate between services and pinpoint specific attributes that your company values most. Look for subject matter experts. Go beyond their translation and localization experience. Look for a partner who understands your industry, who understands your problems, who provides solutions that have real benefits to your needs.
To further ensure consistency and efficiency, make sure every department in your company becomes involved with your centralized plan.
A key component to an effective global language translation strategy is having an efficient review process in place. The review process starts with developing glossaries and style guides. Each company has its own vernacular and culture. Have your reviewers make sure these are included when developing your style guides. The review process is also important for catching syntactical and grammatical mistakes before they lead to public embarrassment. Many companies use an internal reviewer. However, the problem with this is that he or she usually looks at reviewing as an inconvenience, and typically isn’t a trained writer. Translations that are being reviewed internally can’t be fully trusted to deliver the best possible translation. Your best bet is to hire a third-party review team that are not only native speakers, but are experts in your industry and know your company. Additionally, the review process needs to be done as a process. That is, don’t wait until the project is completed to have it reviewed. Instead, review completed translations in iterations. This helps identify inconsistencies and errors in the workflow and allow you to make cost-saving corrections.
Larger companies with more global reach may think to hire multiple language service providers. You may think you are maximizing your quality if you are hiring the leaders in a certain language pairs. However, the problem with having multiple providers is that it causes inconsistencies, brand deterioration, pricing confusion, and overall process inefficiencies. To eliminate the chaos, it is almost always better to have a single trusted language service provider partner who can engage and manage other language providers. In addition a single provider is easier to work with and manage, allowing your company to focus on more important aspects of your global language strategy. Imagine having to communicate exactly what you want equally to as many as four or five different providers each month. Using a single provider speeds up the process because based on past experiences, you each have mutual expectations of each other, and can work simply to fulfill them without stopping to clarify confusions or ask questions.
It is easier for a single source language service provider to become familiar with your company. After a few projects they begin to become familiar with your corporate culture, vernacular, syntax, and overall message. In addition, they can also leverage certain technologies to streamline the process even further and reduce costs.
CENTRALIZE YOUR TRANSLATION PROGRAM
Disparities between how different departments of your business engage translators can be a cause for confusion, time delays, and added expense. Implementing standardized processes in your translation program allows for consistent quality controls, and a streamlined process. It also increases business intelligence, and allows employees to move or communicate between different geographical or departmental areas while maintaining work efficiency. With a centralized program, you are better able to manage your translation spending, and pinpoint any issues or inefficiencies.
In order to centralize your translation process, it is best to identify an owner. Then, a best practices strategy needs to be designed and implemented. And if possible it’s best to manage projects by having a translation management system (TMS) and a content management system (CMS) that work together that allow you to maximize efficiencies.
To further ensure consistency and efficiency, make sure every department in your company becomes involved with your centralized plan. Create easy-to-find documentation that clearly outlines your language plan’s structure and processes. This should include a section for FAQs and resources for training. The more information you provide to your company’s employees on your language strategy and plan, the more likely they are to follow the protocol, and follow it effectively.
DOCUMENT AND ALLOW COMPANY-WIDE ACCESS
To many, employing a corporate global language strategy seems overzealous and unnecessary. In order for a company to expect their strategy to work, it must make sure that everyone internally involved is working towards this common goal. Your employees need to understand both the importance of taking the strategy seriously and the consequences for holding it too lightly. When putting such a strategy in place, make sure this news becomes known to the entirety of your company, and explain clearly the implications for such action. Some departments may find themselves asking, “Okay, so we’re doing this thing, but what does it have to do with me?” Two things are important in this situation. The first is finding a way to explain the relevance of your strategy to each department. The second is then explaining to them what they need to learn, change, or do to help the cause. Keep your smaller departments and employees in the loop about the larger goals and actions of the corporation, and stress the company’s need for their help in achieving its goals. Then, when your company has successes, be sure to share them with your departments and let them know how their efforts contributed to the success. By doing this, you also make your smaller departments feel more highly valued, which in turn leads to better productivity on their part.
CONTINUALLY REVIEW AND UPDATE
A strategy is never perfect, especially one that tries to manage thousands of people, several languages, and different countries, and cultures. Your global language strategy needs to include some sort of plan to track your progress and make relevant revisions and updates.
When expanding internationally, your company needs a global language strategy. While creating, developing, and establishing a working corporate strategy is a long process, doing so will help you manage and prevent fiascos. By not having a company-wide plan for ensuring quality translations, you risk having inefficiencies, lower client satisfaction, poorly trained personnel in country teams, increased costs, lower morale for internal teams, increased client churn, and a watered-down brand or loss of brand integrity.