21 May 2012

Procurement know-how in short supply

A serious case of a lack of government procurement know-how in the UK is described in detail in a post by Nataly Kelly of Common Sense Advisory* under the heading ALS Experience Highlights Global Lack of Governmental Procurement Know-How. The article discusses precisely the types of issues raised here in recent posts.

An equally forthright post entitled Blowing the Whistle on Unqualified Military Interpreters from September 2010 is also recommended reading.

* The CSA's company overview reads:
Common Sense Advisory is an independent Massachusetts-based market research company. We help companies profitably grow their international businesses and gain access to new markets and new customers. Our focus is on assisting our clients to operationalize, benchmark, optimize, and innovate industry best practices in translation, localization, interpreting, globalization, and internationalization.

18 May 2012

Full stop on French keyboard

"The French are so fond of long, rambling sentences that when you use a French keyboard, you have to press the shift key to get a full stop – yet the semi-colon is right there." says  Sam Taylor in an FT article entitled New word order.

Well put Sam.

From small fish consultant to big fish customers

My post of 8 May leads directly to a bigger question, namely:
How should a large organisation seeking to buy in high quality translation services proceed?
My experience being confined to western Europe and technology-based industries, my advice suffers the same limitations. 
  1. Avoid the "big likes big" syndrome.
  2. Be wary of large organisations offering services spanning copywriting, translation, graphic design and more. What sounds like a quick easy solution often falls short on delivery and ends up costing a great deal. As explained on 8 May, if a 'Big 4' consultancy can show total ignorance of an entire area of expertise (in this case website localisation), the scope for under-performance and over-charging is unlimited.
  3. Be aware, on the other hand, that some projects require genuine project management skills that, with few exceptions, only large organisations can provide. (Some projects are best managed by selecting a large service supplier for project management while requiring that it work with designated copywriters and translators with long-term relationships with the end customer.)
  4. For copywriting and translation, my experience and that of many colleagues over several decades suggest that there is no match in terms of quality of service and consistent performance for small dedicated teams with long-term relationships with a small number of customers. Over time, teams like this get to know their customers and their customers' products and services.
  5. If you really want to understand a proposed outsourcing arrangement ask for the names of the contributors at all levels and a breakdown of who earns what. Can you really expect top-flight work from intellectuals workers if the envisaged arrangement does not ensure that they will make enough to want to work with your company again?
  6. Consider using your prime contacts for language services as both service providers and consultants. They will often prove an excellent source of reliable advice on who can do what. Highly specialised tasks like catalogue compilation and translation demand quite different skills from B2B or B2C copywriting and translation.
  7. All of the above hinges on the level of in-house awareness of how these services are provided. A purchasing team is unlikely to have the skills or time to thoroughly understand what it is purchasing and how to get value for money. This small fish suggests that a more judicious approach to purchasing intellectual services lies in selecting a small in-house team (perhaps just one or two people) to invest time in understanding what they are buying, then giving them a broad purchasing brief.
  8. If you try this approach and find that it works, make sure that a key person in the purchasing chain of command also has the authority to ensure that trusted suppliers are paid on time or, as mark of special appreciation for dedication, ahead of time. I wonder how many supplier resources management (SRM) software suites and the like accommodate this level of tailoring?

Nice video

Kobalt Languages of Barcelona and London has produced a nice video on the potential cost of translation errors. Well done.

09 May 2012

Editing for impact

Editing for impact demands more than one pair of eyes and considerable talent. This is nicely illustrated by Seth Godin's take on George Orwell's famous and often-quoted Rules for Writers.

Here are Orwell's rules, edited:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. You don't need clichés.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Avoid long words.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Write in the now.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. When in doubt, say it clearly.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. Better to be interesting than to follow these rules.

Seth goes on to say: The reason business writing is horrible is that people are afraid.
To which I would add a probably even more fundamental reason, namely that writing poorly -- whether cliché-laden, circumlocutious, or plain ineffective -- is far, far easier than writing concise, effective copy.

08 May 2012

From small fish to big

Following on from my posting of 5 May, I would like to set out a couple of thoughts for the benefit of big companies with multiple subsidiaries and more specifically for head office website management teams. Many of the sorts of companies I refer to choose a decentralised model for website management which is to say that each subsidiary, and often each division as well, is free to manage its websites as it sees fit, save for standard corporate logos and the standardisation of selected features. Whatever the mix, freedom as to suppliers of services from detailed website design to copywriting and localisation, appears to be the norm. Which is all well and good.

However, when it is realised that workflow management is the key to higher efficiency, faster turnaround, reduced stress and low costs, some aspects deserve more analysis and thought. The time to do this sort of things is when the head office website management team is having a quiet spell. Here are some suggestions as to how to proceed.

Given that increased control by head office is probably not the way to do, I would suggest that head office produce and/or subcontract the draft of a series of guidelines for the benefit of all interested subsidiaries and divisions with a view to making there lives a little easier.

1) As mentioned on 5 May, rank the existing websites as regards the quality of the copywriting, localisation, graphics, etc.
2) Pool or catalogue all available resources for copywriters, localisation teams, graphic artists, etc.
3) Draft guidelines (or adapt existing ones from leading websites) on best practice as to tools, procedures and workflows, including  detailed costings of the in-house and budgetary costs of optimal and suboptimal procedures.
4) Draw up lists of previous suppliers (complete with customer satisfaction feedback) and recommended suppliers, including feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of each. You might, for instance, recommend different translators for a corporate image website and a catalogue-type website given that the first calls for persuasive, flowing and culturally sensitive styles while the second calls for thorough terminological research.
5) Draft or outsource reports on workflow choices and their benefits.
6) Cost, as accurately as possible, the total final cost of producing a new website (detailing assumptions as to size, layout, etc.) as a rush project with piecemeal copywriting, translation and layout compared to a well planned project. No one is suggesting that rush projects can always be avoided, only that management teams should be aware of the true cost of their choices.
7) Plan ahead to incorporate lessons learned so that this collection of guidelines remains an up-to-date, cost-effective resource benefiting all subsidiaries and divisions that wish to use it.

05 May 2012

Big project, 'big 4' consultancy, but no localisation workflow

Some thoughts following ten days' work contributing translations and rereading to a big website project for a big group with a 'big 4' consultancy guiding and supervising.

Despite extraordinary credentials (just ask them...) and creditable contributions to countless corporate projects, this latest experience demonstrated yet again that teams assembled by at least one 'big 4' consultancy still has a great deal to learn about localisation.

The website was for a very big group with a large number of multilingual sites, most localised by different in-house teams using different translators and different workflows, if indeed they had a 'workflow' as such at all.

Some of the 'givens' for this project include:
- team leaders committed to snappy flowing copy in source and target languages
- team leaders already happy with the creative skills of their graphics team and the copywriting skills of their source and target-language suppliers
- graphics team committed to cutting-edge website design and appearance
- zero awareness among the supervising consultancy, in-house team leaders and graphics team of the importance of localisation technology and workflows.

So what advice can this humble contributor give to an in-house team assigned the task of designing, building and localising a new website with these or similar 'givens'?

Plan ahead for localisation from the moment the project begins to take shape.
  • ask skilled language specialists to survey the group's existing sites and score the translation quality of each on a scale from, say, 1 to 10
  • obtain parallel copy in source and target languages for the highest scoring sites so localisation teams can leaverage the content (using alignment tools and indexing engines)
  • pool all available terminological resources and make them available to the translators as early as possible.
Develop a workflow before beginning exploratory copywriting and translation.
  • It is a huge mistake to believe that time will be saved by starting work on copy and translation too early.
    Workflow is where savings are to be found.
  • (One quick example of why this is so. The project that inspired this posting comprised tens of thousands of words of copy that was delivered to the translators one 300-word page at a time in MS Word format. Many of these pages contained times of day, values, measurements, etc. that translators typically process using a search & replace (S&R) tool. We had a dozen or more S&R operations to perform, in this case on each page, one at a time as it arrived. Had the project workflow used much larger junks, the translators could have used any one of a dozen tools to save a great deal of time and frustration. One example: Funduc's S&R tool.)
Seriously consider appointing a localisation workflow specialist to work with your chosen translators.
The widely acknowledged guru in this field is Jost Zetzsche.
Fortunately, much of Jost's expertise is readily available through his Translator's Tool Box and Tool Box Newsletter.

Given that Jost has subscribers all over the world, there really is no excuse for consultancy firms and website agencies that fail to give their clients the benefit of this money-saving expertise.

In France, this kind of expertise is available from colleagues like Carmelo Cancio of Cancio Communication.
In the United Kingdom, I recommend Salford Translations Ltd.

One of the very first rules of website localisation is to ensure that the website design concept and tools do not impose tight character counts or similar space restraints on the translators. Why? Because different languages need different amounts of space to say the same thing. Unfortunately this project was designed using a graphics concept stipulating strictly limited numbers of characters for each heading, subheading, leading paragraph, follow-on paragraph, bullet point and so. This is definitely not the way to go!

More in a day or two.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...