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"En el pot petit hi ha la bona confitura."

By: Francesc Morello Garcia (iDISC) - iDISC Information Technologies, S.L.


03 September 2013

“The best things come in small packages," and sometimes a small company can make a big difference. Discover how iDisc has made an impact on Quechua and K'iche' speakers in Guatemala. Francesc shares his reflection about minority languages, the pride that one feels when translating into them, and how challenging it is to build a translation team for these languages. 

En el pot petit hi ha la bona confitura
“The best things come in small packages"

This Catalan saying is what we tell our little ones to give them encouragement when they must face a bigger, stronger opponent. At times like these, this old saying is our way of teaching the concepts of commitment and the pursuit of excellence.

We're small, too, or at least that is how we see ourselves. iDISC is a small company, in a small town on the outskirts of Barcelona, a medium-sized city.

Perhaps being small is what has allowed us to shift a part of our efforts away from major languages such as Spanish and Portuguese and towards smaller languages such as Catalan, Basque, Galician, and recently Quechua and K'iche'.

Perhaps being small has helped us to discover the opportunities that lie in some of the smaller segments within our industry and to realize that, in addition to languages spoken by many millions of people, such as Spanish and Portuguese, there are minority languages that also need to be served.

It has been quite a few years since we created teams to handle Catalan, Basque, and Galician, and this experience with the languages of the Iberian Peninsula is now being extended to the Americas, with some minority Amerindian languages. The fact that our company's main office is located in a geographically small bilingual zone has made us more aware of these situations than most, and more capable of carrying out these types of projects to our clients' full satisfaction.

Without a doubt, a major factor to be kept in mind is the pride that one feels in translating mass-market products into one's own language. Seeing that someone thinks your language is important enough to invest in gives you a sense of gratitude, while at the same time challenging you to do your very best work. In cases like these, our motivation goes beyond the normal pride we take in our day-to-day work; it becomes a personal challenge, a commitment not only to the client but to the society we live in.

The translation profession, in and of itself, gives the translator a sense of purpose. You are helping people to understand, in their own language, something that was originally conceived in another tongue, and this can be a source of great satisfaction, especially for translators who believe that their work does some good in the world and who add a measure of personal dedication that goes beyond mere professional requirements.

If, on top of all this, you have the privilege of translating into a language that does not have a long tradition of translating technological products, your work takes on even more meaning. I have to admit that, by now, I have lost that gleam that I used to get in my eyes when asked to translate something into one of the minority languages of the Iberian Peninsula. These languages have now acquired a translation tradition, and they are managed in a way similar to that of the majority languages, except for the smaller number of translators available.

But life never stops offering new challenges. A decision to work in minority languages such as Quechua and K'iche', which have been virtually ignored until now, helps to reignite that spark of enthusiasm that a child feels when seeing a sports or entertainment idol in person. Such an undertaking allows us to be useful to society, to help a language to become better known, and to help a society to experience its own language the way the rest of us are accustomed to experiencing ours.

The process begins with learning, seeking, compiling and contracting. The most surprising part of all of this is to hear the expressions of deep gratitude from those to whom such projects are presented: not simply thankfulness for an offer of work, but gratitude for valuing their language.

The first thing they ask is who is interested in translating into their language. One gets the feeling that the speakers of these languages have undervalued their own worth, as their feelings of disbelief are mingled with excitement, surprise, and a sense of opportunity. Putting together the working teams is a true challenge.  For these languages there are no translation-related studies. Familiarity with foreign languages is more limited in comparison with teams for other language pairs and infrastructure is, unfortunately, deficient.  The greatest challenge of all is that native speakers' familiarity with the grammar and writing system of their own language may be limited.

Such projects are not carried out just to "make a buck," but neither are they altruistic, and though they may not be the most profitable projects in the world, they still must make business sense. The first thing you have to do is analyze the situation and begin to calculate the investment: training, training and more training.

Investments in infrastructure are never as important as investments in people. Materials can always be bought for a price, but when it comes to training people, you need both money and time.

Terminology problems arise, new words are coined in the language, and new uses are made of existing words, terms, or expressions, giving rise to problems that can only be solved by bringing several people together and reaching a painstaking compromise... even though you have 750K words to deliver in 6 months!

Spelling and grammatical norms may need to be brought up to date, new words and phrases built, and new terminology may even have to be invented. The basic knowledge involved in translation and localization has to be conveyed in just a few days: concepts, tools, techniques, terminological resources, etc.

Everything we have learned over a span of years may well have to be taught in a few very long, very intense sessions.

Even though they may not be the most important thing from our point of view, we cannot forget the need to invest in material resources and infrastructure: portable computers, internet connections, furniture, office space, and other resources that are not always as easy to bring together as planned.

Finally, after all of this preliminary effort, and once the teams are more or less prepared, translation can finally begin. And so we find ourselves, in our obscure little town, managing groups of translators located thousands of miles away, all working together, at whatever time of the night or day it takes to overcome time differences. And it works! With good quality and timely market entry. And when it's all over, we can take pride in a job well done and in having shown that it's not size that matters, after all.

But our commitment goes beyond all of this. We feel a need to empower these languages and our clients to help them reach their goals. This is why we get involved in cultural projects in the regions that we serve, such as the recent remodeling of Nahualá and Xocolá libraries in the K'iche' linguistic and cultural region. We understand that, in addition to book learning, a society needs other tools to help give a firm foundation to its culture and language, and what better way than a library with multimedia devices and computers connected to the Internet?

Nahualáa library

 

Xocolá library

At iDISC, we have always tried to go beyond the "business" side of business, and this has allowed us to grow, both as individuals and as a company. And even though industry reports are now taking note of us, we still see ourselves as one of the "little guys." As we said at the start, “en el pot petit hi ha la bona confitura.”

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