E.g., 03/28/2020
E.g., 03/28/2020

Navigating the Next Paradigm Shift

By: Robert Etches (Textminded) - TextMinded A/S

16 October 2012

Chief Innovation Officer Robert Etches discusses how company leaders must evolve as Language Solutions Partners to thrive in our rapidly evolving industry.

Three of the four novels that have meant most to me over the years (the fourth being Joyce’s Ulysses) have been read in translation:  Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Tolstoy’s War & Peace, and Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. I even own two versions of the Tolstoy:  Constance Garnett’s wonderful translation from 1904 which, true to its time, toned down the naughty bits; and Anthony Brigg’s equally brilliant work published in 2005, which, true to its era is prepared to let Leo be as foul-mouthed as he was in the original Russian – though I can still blush at Field-Marshal Kutuzov’s diatribe aimed at the retreating French soldiers!

Who knows, perhaps Ms. Garnett was no prude, but simply couldn’t take out a professional indemnity insurance policy back in the 1900s that could have coped with the Victorian outrage that no doubt would have ensued had she translated rather than bowdlerized!

But one thing remains true for these star examples of translation work: it never made them millionaires. Far from it – none of them was tempted to quit their day job.

So the talk of there being no money in translation is not new. Centuries before anyone spoke of word rates and CAT rebates, translation has been seen as a Florence Nightingale-like labor of love or a secondary form of occupation if you couldn’t find better. The fight for recognition, for a bit of Aretha’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. continues, but the question is perhaps whether we should simply admit that it’s more a matter of R.I.P. Translation continues to be viewed as a cost, not an asset.

I’ve thought a lot about it since those wonderful March days in Monaco, where GALA in its own amicable, trans-Atlantic style, brought us together for the year’s best networking session. One of the topics of discussion was how we understood the acronym LSP: in the traditional manner, as Language Service Provider; or rather as some of us suggested in Monaco – as Language Solutions Partner.

Is this a mindset to meet the paradigm shift ‘everyone’ in our industry is talking about, but to which no-one can append a label or a direction?

As service providers we are locked into our traditional role of the passive provider of translation: cheaply, quickly … and, oh yes, cheaply! ...caught in an endless treadmill of poor source material and silly deadlines, where disillusionment and cynicism play increasingly dominant roles in our working lives. Clients put pressure on LSPs who squeeze the translators, who bitch about the LSPs, who in turn grumble about the clients.

But, but, but … the whining has reached a level of self-pity bordering on the embarrassing. Our middle-aged industry has almost become a Woody Allen film, populated by middle-aged people with more neuroses than there are therapists available to talk to about them.

We have created a masochistic comfort zone comprised of the aforementioned self-pity, mixed with talking about machine translation, tolerable profit margins, and a negation of the fact that ours is one of the few industries with double-digit growth margins: year in, year out.

I would argue that the paradigm shift is right there in front of our noses; we merely need a change of mindset to see it, seize it, and benefit everyone:  our clients, our colleagues, and (let’s not forget the most important of all!) the end users.

First and foremost, we need to be proactive. Modern clients don’t want a passive provider, but an active solutions partner. Invite them to seminars about the future of the industry; talk about trends affecting translation today; find out what this particular client really should be doing to meet its localization and communication demands; and put forward concrete ways in which these demands can be met. In other words, a dialogue, as opposed to merely confirming emails when they arrive with the next job.

In the future we know that there will be fewer translators (demographics et al), more content that needs to be translated (I have lost track of the exponential growth of written content), and a greater insistence that information be supplied in one’s own language (English-as-a-lingua-franca dreams are just that: dreams). These three factors will mean that due to sheer lack of hands (or rather minds), pure logistics, and demand, various forms of MT will have to take over much of what we currently consider our traditional market. I’d say there’s a good chance that by 2020 no translator will be looking at an empty segment in a CAT tool. Everything will be some form of post editing. There is no doubt that it is already the reality at some companies: the rest of us have yet to wake up.

At the same time there will be a more multifarious array of translation requirements: a much greater focus on the quality of source material; terminology, as the foundation stone of the entire localization industry, will boom; the market for transcreation will explode; clients will be asking us to run crowdsourcing platforms for them; clients will want us to set up white label products and services for them, etc., etc. The options are innumerable and, what is interesting, none of them involves rocket science. All the bits are there already. We Language Solutions Partners just have to put them together to suit the particular customer we are talking with.

Not that this is an easy task. Six same-color, two-by-four LEGO® bricks can be combined in more than 900 million ways1. Combining solutions such as terminology, CAT tools, MT engines, CMS translation workflows, online proofing tools, product texts, PIMs and ERPs is difficult … no two clients have the same requirements and therefore no two solutions are the same.

This is why our clients need partners, not providers. They are experts in 1,001 things; we are experts in connecting linguistic know-how – putting together the right combination of language tools and platforms to help them communicate their value globally. Just like playing with LEGO bricks, it’s a simple and yet complicated and exciting game.

So what do those LSPs that wish to grasp the opportunities presented by the current paradigm change have to do? Poor us! We have to both redefine who we are and how we work, and the only straw we can hold on to is that the future is, to put it frankly, uncertain. Well, we can start by abandoning our comfort zones and ingrown concepts, and no longer attempt to solve digital challenges with analog thinking.  Or put another way – Einstein’s way: ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’

Think innovatively! It is not just a matter of integrating technology, but very much a case of understanding how information and dis-information, content and communication continually develop and morph. Today it is almost more important to provide real-time translation than deliver what we once understood as ‘quality’.

A good LSP will not so much be part of the linguistic food chain, but more the partner that creates, maintains and improves that chain. Due to the sheer amount of content that we can generate with the help of technology, it might well be that we will never translate – in the traditional sense of the word –again. But at the same time by being a true language partner for our clients, by understanding their communicative DNA, we will be creating copy, terminology, and transcreating for them instead.

We will to a much greater extent be involved not only in running the platforms, but also in disseminating the story our clients wish to tell. We can help them conceptualize themselves – create solutions that support how they understand themselves as global, virtual, mobile organizations. Traditional translation as such is only one part of this process. If we can learn to be Language Solutions Partners that can create these types of stories and disseminate them on multiple platforms, then I am sure that the current nebulous future can come into focus and be one in which we can both earn money and still find time to read Tolstoy, if not Proust!

The Russian economist, Nikolai Kondratiev, who died in a gulag in 1938, argued that capitalism follows a 40-year cycle, dominated by the great technological breakthroughs that result from a state of war – because it is warfare that mobilizes the vast amounts of silly money required by the private sector to trigger paradigm shifts. Following this logic, perhaps the main reason for our current economic drought is that the wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan were and are too small …

If this be true and upon us proved, then we might wish to really start thinking alternatively! But for the time being let’s stay optimistic and try providing not services, but solutions, to our clients – clients who are crying out for a genuine dialogue with us and who have no more wish to continue bashing us over the head with word rates than they have of starting a new world war.

War & Peace can be translated in many ways. And in the mobicentric world of the 2010s, it needs to be communicated in many languages and on a multitude of platforms: visually, audibly, and in the written word. There has never been a better time to be a Language Solutions Partner and the world is ours to conquer– by peaceful means, of course!

Currently Chief Innovation Officer at TextMinded Danmark, Robert has played an active role in the localization industry since starting as a freelance translator in 1989. Robert's companies (English Ink, EICOM and now TextMinded Danmark) have always been characterized by a high level of service and proactivity, and an ability to connect localization data with other key systems. A founder member of the TextMinded Group (currently No. 39 on CSA's list of LSPs worldwide), Robert has also become involved in GALA in recent years and chaired the Program Committee for the 2012 Monaco conference.