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Managing languages in the 21st century.

At the June 1997 LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association) forum in Washington, D.C., Franz Rau, director of Microsoft Corporation's division of internal tools and programs said he envisioned business and political translation needs skyrocketing in the next decade. In 1990, he said the U.S. computer industry translated 20 percent of its document into 30 languages. By 2005, he estimated 60 percent of the industry's documents would be translated into 80 languages worldwide.

"We're facing a language time bomb," says Michael Marubio, director of sales, marketing and Internet services for California-based Logos, a world leader in automated translation software and service.

Beginning June 1, 1998, a series of directives will come from a number of European countries mandating the translation of communication "in minutia." What that means is that "everything from business cards to product labels will need translating and American businesses are unprepared for that reality," Marubio added.

And since many Eastern and Central European countries closely follow European Union standards, companies can expect the June deadline to be enforced throughout most of Europe. Denmark, for example, recently gave Latvia $60 million to bring its legal system (including language requirements) up to European Union standards. Those directives in Europe, along with increasingly stiff language requirements in Asia and South America, could further heighten the crisis. To avoid these requirements would put many businesses in the same situation as Wal-Mart several years ago.

In 1994, the retail giant expanded into the Canadian and Mexican markets without a translation strategy. After purchasing 122 Woolco stores from Woolworth's in Canada, Wal-Mart sent out thousands of English-only promotional circulars in primarily French speaking Quebec, breaking language laws in the province and causing a cultural uproar. Although company officials quickly apologized, they failed to learn their lesson.

In June 1994, Wal-Mart again ran afoul of language requirements, this time in Mexico.The company violated newly imposed Mexican import regulations that required all imported manufactured goods to have Spanish-language labeling. Trade officials shut down the Mexico City Wal-Mart superstore in violation for one day, until proper labels for 13,707 products were affixed. The company hastily rented an un-airconditioned warehouse in the smoldering Laredo, Texas heat and hired scores of people to accomplish the task. "It wasn't fun," said a former Wal-Mart official in charge of the re-labeling effort. While some Wal-Mart officials claimed the company had been unfairly targeted for punishment as an example for the international community, the point had been made: Abide by trade regulations or take your products off the shelf.

Wal-Mart was not the only one to have felt the wrath of the language police. At the same time company employees were re-labeling products, thousands of trucks filled with other company's consumer goods were stalled at the Mexican border for the same type of improper labeling.

Similar problems exist in Europe as French language purists have taken English companies to court for violating a 1994 law, which requires the French language be given first place on all products sold in France. Earlier this year, lawsuits were filed against the cosmetics chain The Body Shop and the electronics store Inter Discount for labeling products and providing directions only in English. Although the charges were dismissed because of technicalities by the Police Court of Paris, the stores clearly violated the law and barely escaped punitive damages.

Business Responds

Having learned their lessons about language regulations and seeing translations as a marketing tool to increase business abroad, companies such as Microsoft have expanded into the burgeoning markets in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Far East and South America. Currently, software such as Windows 95 is localized in more than 40 languages.

Microsoft is not the only company launching products in a multitude of languages to stay competitive in every corner of the world. Lotus revealed at the LISA forum that it "enabled" 40 languages (everything from Latvian to Farsi), translated 12 of those languages in 90 days (including Greek, Czech and Polish) and did simultaneous translations of Japanese, FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish), Brazilian, Portuguese, and two forms of Chinese and Korean. Lotus' corporate parent, IBM, is equally aggressive to stay competitive in providing 24 simultaneous translations and localization for four more of its AS/400 line of computers.

Other companies also are following suit. "Our translation needs are definitely increasing," says Lexmark official Elisabeth Larimore. Lexmark, an IBM offshoot, translates its software and. documentation into 25 languages, recently adding Russian, Polish, Czech, Turkish and Portuguese to its list. Sun Microsystems also foresees expanding the number of languages that its products will be marketed under. "We're always doing more," says company program manager Bill Owens. "We're growing at about the same speed as five years ago - very fast." Translation strategists at Sun recently issued a directive to localize all its products such as Solaris, which is translated into nine languages, including Swedish.

The need for translation is so acute in some areas such as computer software, that early this year the leading software marketer in Brazil was a company that sold an inexpensive product used for web-site translation into Portuguese. The sales of this product exceeded those of Microsoft Windows 95 Upgrade, Microsoft Office Pro 97 and Symantec Antivirus 95 2.0. What this illustrates is the need for simultaneous releases of localized products, particularly in a country like Brazil with 400,000 Internet users.

Maintaining the Pace

U.S. businesses wanting to localize and translate to expand business abroad are faced with few choices. They can either demand that the world population learn English - an unrealistic approach sure to alienate potential consumers and break international laws; do it the old fashioned, expensive and inefficient way - by hiring hordes of high-priced translators; or embrace new technologies.

The increasing demand for translation services is already stretching current resources thin. Experts project a shortage of experienced translators over the next decade, with the present base of about 10,000 interpreters remaining stable. That number is wholly inadequate for the demand business will face. Even if enough translators could be trained, they would be insufficient for the task. While human translators will forever be needed to update the always-evolving lexicon of world languages and for editing, the trend is clearly moving toward technologies such as automated translation systems.

At the LISA meeting, Rau made it clear that Microsoft and companies that seek to market globally would have to rely on improved translation tools (translation memory) and machine translation if they want to compete for a slice of the international market.

Rapid translation tools are needed not just for competitive product launches and to meet regulatory requirements. Given an era when you have global companies with employees who speak different languages, those companies will have to find better ways to communicate. Even though a company such as the telecommunications giant Ericcson, based in Sweden, declared that English is its corporate language, the employees at its U.S. operation in rural Virginia learned Swedish to be able to better communicate with the home office.

Many companies find learning new languages or hiring interpreters too expensive to meet the increasing international communication traffic flow. To decrease costs, Osram Slyvania, for example, one of the world's leading manufacturers of light bulbs and illumination devices (the company lights the MGM Lion in Las Vegas), now uses machine translation to send e-mail back and forth between its offices in the United States and Germany.


While there are about 2,000 translation firms in the United States, few are equipped with the resources and capabilities to handle the impending translation and software localization crunch.

In the past, translation software makers concentrated their efforts in marketing complex, yet comprehensive multilingual software that proved to be difficult to market and hard for the untrained to use. The premise seemed to be that, once installed, the software would work flawlessly, producing fantastic results and savings.

Logos is one of several companies that have introduced a series of automated translation services to deal with the crisis. "Prior to this year we were selling companies a 'Ferrari' in the hopes that they could drive it without being trained," said Marubio. "Our new strategy is to provide companies the understanding of how to maximize the benefits of our high-speed tools." The 28-year-old company, whose clients include NORTEL and Lexitech, has more than U.S. $60 million invested and has spent more than 1,500 work years of research developing its technology. Logos claims to reduce users' translation costs and time to market by 50 percent and improve quality by 100 percent.

This year, the company reformulated the way it does business and unveiled a line of easy-to-use automated translation services that avoid the complexity and costs of past products. "The use of our new tools emphasizes the essence of what translation is all about - communication," Marubio says.

Logos now provides consumers with quick turnaround translation services, via e-mail, in an accurate draft form. The resulting files, which can be translated from English to German, French, Spanish and Italian and from German into English, French and Italian, are ready for informational use or can be rapidly post-edited by skilled interpreters into a polished foreign language document.

"The Logos translation system cannot be compared to simple computer-based translation tools," Marubio says. Instead of translating word by word, subtle contextual differences are used to determine the source of the text and ensure that the appropriate meaning is conveyed. "What makes this possible is a semantic-syntactic representation language developed exclusively by Logos," Marubio added.

For more complex tasks, the company offers a wide range of high-volume translation services including human post-editing. Logos, which hopes to expand its basic offering of language pairs to include Portuguese and Japanese, also offers services for those who need translation outside of the company's established language pairs.

"Without fast action now, American companies won't be able to market products and services in many countries within the European Community and elsewhere," Marubio says. "It's easy to imagine what havoc this will wreak on many U.S. businesses languishing in the relaxed practices in place today."

RELATED ARTICLE: Test Your Global Knowledge!

So you've been around the world a few times - or at least accumulated enough miles to make you feel a seasoned traveler? And a savvy one? Well, let's just see - take this quiz and find out how global your knowledge truly is. Bet you'll be surprised! And if you want answers, you'll have to go to CWOnline's Question of the Week (go to and select Question of the Week). They'll be posted the week of November 3-16.

Or, you can send your answers before they are posted to John Freivalds, jfa, 5160 Colonial Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55416 USA or e-mail:

If they are all correct, he'll send you a beautiful four-color poster, suitable for framing, displaying currencies from around the world!

1. Where do they speak Putonghua?

2. How do you write August 9, 1997 in numerical form in Germany? In Russia?

3. What language do the Spanish say they speak in Spain?

4. Can you match these accented "e's" with the languages they are used in? e e e e

5. Which European language does not use special characters which cannot be found in English?

6. Is a football field always 100 yards long?

7. Which of the following languages is read right to left, left to right? Russian, Latvian, Arabic and Hebrew.

8. Where does the term "Hispanic" come from? In which countries is the term used?

9. How many official languages does Switzerland have? What are they?

10. Fewer than 10 currencies of the world have a unit value larger than one U.S. dollar. Can you name five? Hint: The U.K. is one of them.

11. How many time zones does the Russian Federation have?

12. What is the day of rest in Arab countries? On which day of the week do Canadians read their biggest newspaper in terms of pages?

13. What year is it according to the Islamic calendar?

a) 2001 b) 2100 c) 1230 d) 1418

14. What year is it officially in Japan?

a) 2001 b) 1467 c) 9 d) 1997

15. Which ordinal numbers correspond to the practice in French, German and Italian? a)l [degrees] b) 1. c) []

16. Which company legal abbreviation descriptions correspond to what countries? a) A/S b) Oy c) A.S. d) Cie. e) eGmbh f) B.V. g) Cia.

17. How do you refer to the U.S. equivalent of a company president in the United Kingdom?

18. What would be the correct way to change the following American address to suit the style used in Brazil?

Mr. Rory Cowan LioNBRIDGE Technologies 950 Winter St. Suite 4300 Waltham, MA 02154

John Freivalds is principal of jfa, Minneapolis, Minn.
COPYRIGHT 1997 International Association of Business Communicators
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes quiz on global knowledge; globalization of business boosts translation needs
Author:Freivalds, John
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1997
Previous Article:Naming for global power.
Next Article:Change = get involved - get ownership.

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