Interview With Mr. Translation

Opinions From The Front Lines...

Mister Tranlations Knows His Way Around A Planet.

Mr. Translation recently agreed to be interviewed by NOW Translations. We'd like to say he "graciously agreed," but we actually had to force him. Here then, Mr. Translation.

NOW Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
MT This was supposed to be my day off.
NOW Yes, what do you usually do on your day off?
MT Well, Not this. But here you are. I made coffee.
NOW You've worked in the language business for years. What, in your opinion, is the biggest mistake a company can make in translations?
MT Easy: not doing them. Look, if I go overseas and I can't at least say "please" and "thank you" and "how much?" and "where's the bathroom?" in the language, I'm just not going to get as far and I'm not going to have as much fun. You've been overseas, a little attempt to speak the language goes a long way.
NOW But you don't expect a company to succeed by just speaking a few phrases, do you?
MT No, but if it's important for a tourist, how much more important is it for a business that wants to make money? Companies have to be professional and that goes far beyond being able to ask for the bill and the bathroom key. You must conduct business in the language, market in the language, talk politics and religion and art in the language. It's a complete package. Now here, taste this.
NOW What is it?
MT Coffee. Real coffee. Enjoy. So - all companies want to make money overseas. There is money to be made, but some companies act like they don't have to work for it. They punt when they should pass.
NOW Pass?
MT I'm not talking a Hail Mary, either. I'm talking pin-point, through the defender's fingers, into the chest of the receiver PASS! Accurate, on the money, a point maker. You can't do that unless you play the game. The game is foreign marketing and the pass is translations, speaking the language, marketing in that language, doing business in that language. Anyone can punt, kick it away and hope for the best. But ask any entrepreneur if he or she did that when marketing in the states. Of course they didn't. They were hands on. They knew every detail of the business. But market overseas and they punt. That's bad business.
NOW You're impassioned about this. Or is it the caffeine?
MT I get passionate about my translations, sure. You want to hear my opinions on film music?
MT It's great! I love film music. Jerry Goldsmith. John Barry. Danny Elfman. David Newman. Great! They're all great.
NOW Big companies usually have overseas offices, don't they?
MT Some do. But where overseas? If you're McDonalds, you have offices in virtually every major city of the world! But most companies can't afford that nor do they need that. A good sized company with a serious overseas presence has maybe an office in London or Paris, Tokyo, Rio, Barstow, San Bernadino. Sorry, got a Nat King Cole tune in my head. Besides, having an overseas office, while good, does not equal translations. How does a company, Big Inc., for example, count on their Brugge Belgium office to handle localization of products into Russian or Thai or Spanish?
NOW They'd hire an agency like NOW Translations, right?
MT Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the company. How does Joe Big, head of Big Inc. handle it? By being directly involved with his Brugge office or whomever is doing the language work, "Yeah, this is Mr. Big. How's the localization going for the manual, packaging, and software. We need to have it ready by the Global Everything show! Who's doing it? What are their qualifications? Make sure I see it when it's done." Mr. Big is asking the right questions. He's involved. There are too few Mr. Bigs. Mr. Big knows this and uses it to his advantage. The Global Everything show arrives and Big Inc. is ready. How about the competition? Not one word has been translated for Company X; the translations for Company Y consist of two typed pages; the translations for Company Z were done by somebody's secretary. Mr. Big's localized products are going to stand out over X, Y, & Z, the "competition."
Mr. Big doesn't sound like a punter.
MT Never. Mr. Big knows the game, knows it's important. In the 70s, US auto makers bled red ink at home when only their overseas divisions made money. Not only did the overseas divisions do well, they helped US auto makers through tough times. Now if those divisions hadn't been in place with localized product and marketing and distribution, who knows what would have happened, a world without Mustangs and Caddies?
NOW You mention "marketing" and "distribution." Does Mr. Big's company rely solely on translation agencies or does it use marketing and distribution companies for localization?
MT More coffee? Let's get one thing straight: marketing companies market and distribution companies distribute. They're not "translators." They don't have the facilities a dedicated language agency has, the personnel, the expertise. It's just not there. When a company that's not a full-service agency says they're "going to do" the translations, I just start comparing prices. I've actually heard XYZ company say their distributors were doing the translations for free. FREE? That's a punt. It flies in the face of all the experience a company's management should have. Is the package printing free? Do the trucks and trains moving the product use free fuel? Is lunch free? Nothing's free. The cost is hidden in percentages or the translation doesn't get done or is done so horribly it's unusable, but of course, XYZ company doesn't know from good or non-existent translations - they punted, so the horrible translation gets used.
NOW That's an in-your-face attitude. And yes, I will have more coffee.
MT What's wrong with "in-your-face." This affects sales. There's a series of ads running in German computer magazines right now. The ads are being placed by one of the oldest, most respected firms in America and the translation is so literal, I mean, you can tell it's a translation. That's bad enough, but there's missing punctuation, the quote marks are wrong, and part of one sentence simply isn't there, it just stops!
NOW I know the ads. We're trying to contact that company right now.
MT Yes, you're trying. But who's in charge? At Big Inc., Mr. Big is in charge, but often it's impossible to locate who's responsible for translations at a company. So you have ads like that German goof running and running and no one at home is wise. Not only doesn't it do the company or its products justice; almost as bad, this is a full-color, full-page ad. It must have cost the company around $6,000 or $7,000, maybe more, to place it, and it's ruined because of the copy. What would NOW charge for the translation?
NOW Not just the translation, but the DTP because I have a feeling that truncated sentence and the punctuation are due to DTP mistakes. Well, doing the translation, editing, proofing, DTP, and output proofing, maybe $350 - $450.
MT So, for not spending $450, the company spends thousands on a bad ad - several actually, because as I said, it's a series.
NOW And they all have mistakes.
MT They're all bad. You know what our friend Mr. Big would tell that company, "Bottom line, if you can't afford to do it right, don't do it at all." Frankly, you'd never see that company run an ad that bad in the US. Someone's not paying attention.
NOW Lets say even someone as savvy as Mr. Big has already got deals in place with distributors and the distributors demand they do the translations.
MT There are distributors that are conscientious. They don't offer to do the translations just to make extra money, you know, tack on a percentage. They're genuinely concerned that the products they're distributing are localized correctly. That's a distributor to die for. They're out there.
NOW We've worked with a few and I know what you mean. But how does Mr. Big know when a distributor is doing it for quality of not?
MT Hire a translation agency for Quality Control. Again, punting means no QC. It's simple, never do overseas what you wouldn't do at home. If Big Inc. has deals with distributors to do translations, then hire an agency here in the states to do QC. Now I'll ask the questions. What's involved in QCing translations? How much does it cost? How long does it take?
NOW Cost first. We QCd a couple of user manuals and on-line help that were done by an agency here in the states. I'm not sure what happened, the agency is well-known for doing good work, but there were some serious mistakes. It looked to us like there hadn't been enough time to do an edit.
MT I notice you're not automatically blaming the agency.
NOW I can't. Maybe the client didn't give the agency enough time. Maybe the agency dropped the ball. Who knows? It was a pretty good job, but needed work. We charged the client a few hundred a language to examine what amounted to a sizable job. Of course, we know what to look for. The client wanted us to review every word, but we convinced them this wasn't a necessary expense.
MT And then?
NOW We recommended they return the translation to the original agency for improvement. After all, it was their project. Another time, we were asked to QC a brochure that was translated in four different countries. The Korean was excellent; we didn't have one change. The Japanese only had one or two changes; very minor improvements, but if it had been printed as originally written, it would have been fine. The Mandarin and Thai were virtually unusable. We had to redo them.
MT Can I go now?
NOW Just like that? You don't like asking the questions?
MT Correct.
NOW Almost done. How do you know an agency or a distributor is telling the truth about a translation? I mean, a distributor could just bad mouth a translation so he could get the extra revenue of farming it out himself. Or the agency could say that the distributor's work wasn't any good. Who do you trust.
MT Good question, or is that the caffeine talking? We'll visit Mr. Big once more. Let's say he goes to a distributor and the distributor wants to go gangbusters moving Big Inc.'s product and wants to do the translation, too (keeping in mind that this will have to be subcontracted). First, Mr. Big will ask for translations the distributor has been involved with in the past. He'll pass those on to an agency like NOW. The other side of the coin, he'll ask to speak to clients NOW's worked with and also ask for samples to show to the distributor.

So the distributor knows NOW is involved?

MT Of course. There's nothing to hide. NOW is there to help. And Mr. Big is building a team. He wants the distributor and the agency to work together. They're not enemies. Now, if they start acting like enemies, that's a red light for Mr. Big.
NOW And Mr. Big gets what out of all this?
MT Piece of mind. Mr. Big can feel he's done his homework. If he lets the distributor do the translation, he'll use NOW for QC. He'll ask the distributor for a timeline for when parts of the translation will be delivered and hand those over to the agency for checking. If he lets NOW do the translations, he'll hand the work over to the distributor for review. The feedback is fast, Mr. Big has the comfort of knowing a second set of eyes are ensuring a good translation, and everyone's happy.

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