Competing Across Languages
A recent report put out by the Economist Intelligence Unit describes how language affects business done across borders. This article describes how translation (spoken interpretation and written translation) fits in this puzzle, so that company can better understand the situations where they might best utilize such services.
The skinny: Companies understand they are not providing the best returns for shareholders because of failures in cross-border communication. Translators are an important part of the solution mix. Here’s how...
Comprised of a survey and interviews with experts and senior executives, the report suggests that companies experience challenges relating to how well, or poorly, multi-language resources are managed. Here’s some quick stats:
Beyond such fluffy statics, it’s most important to consider local challenges. 61% of Chinese-based firms say that they have ‘suffered financial losses as a result of failed cross-border transactions.’ Lan Kang, the general manager of human resources at Fosun Group, based in Shanghai, attributes such difficulties not only to language, but also culture: The ‘high-context’ Chinese style of communication does not always translate well into the ‘explicit’ approach normally taken in the American style. But, how does a company cross such barriers in the best way? There’s a choice between using employed bilinguals, or contracted translators.
On using bilinguals
It is true that job candidates with two+ languages are in demand - approximately 40% expect job candidates to be multilingual. Bilinguals are useful, especially at the higher end of the employment market, where superior skillsets are correlated with superior second-language skills. Yet, bilinguals are not always the best option. The bilingual bottleneck can filter out other desirable traits more specifically suited to the job, especially in places like China, where Ms Kang says ‘Western multinationals often limit themselves to English-speakers and thus miss out on people with excellent operational experience who don’t speak English.’ There are also other issues, that we have discussed previously.
On using translators
The results of this report indicate that interpreters are most commonly used during communications with an outside firm. 42% report using interpreters and translators to communicate with ‘external partners across borders’. Almost half of that, 23%, report the same internally.
Likewise, of the external factors affecting cross-border communications, the most critical are in developing relationships with clients or customers overseas, selling overseas, and branding/marketing. This makes sense - You only get to make a first impression once, and if that involves butchering the relationship via poor communication efforts… As they say, that’s all folks.
The translator wants how much money?
It’s true. Good translators are expensive. That’s why we think that companies doing cross-border trade or operations should carefully consider their specific situation. Bilingual employees might just be the right option, or they might not.
So, consider the situation:
If YES, that interpreter or translator might just be a great investment. You, your customer, and your shareholders will appreciate how your interpreter pays dividends.
Michael Grez and Tian Huang of Intran Solutions. We provide interpreting and translation services between Chinese and English.
Please visit us at intransolutions.com or follow our name-links.
(picture by Piper)
The Confluence conference is designed to offer “workshops, and opportunities for discussion, networking and career development, and celebration focusing on various aspects of translation, including literary, practical and philosophical dimensions.”
It drew attendees from all local walks of life, including translators working between an impressive range of languages, a limited number of interpreters (like ourselves), and institutions. Here’s our take on the conference overall, and a bit about our small part in it.
Confluence 2016 happened over two days, during International Translation Day, at Montgomery College near Washington DC. The first day, which we did not attend, was an open mic session with translators describing their translated works. The following day drew about 100 people, who attended presentations about both translating and interpreting topics.
The keynote was offered by David Bellos, of Is That a Fish in Your Ear? fame. One of the most impressive points made in this presentation has been previously mentioned in Thirwell’s review of the same book…
It’s often said, for instance, that a translation can’t ever be an adequate substitute for the original. But a translation, Bellos writes, isn’t trying to be the same as the original, but to be like it. Which is why the usual conceptual duo of translation — fidelity, and the literal — is too clumsy. These ideas just derive from the misplaced anxiety that a translation is trying to be a substitute.
Vivian Cook would be impressed.
Bellos’ presentation moved several audience members to explore a whole host of issues. For almost an hour, the questions came. Could it be that the translation community is hungry for a more theory/research driven approach to their practice? We hope so.
The presentations offered by others seemed more focused on the local community of translators and interpreters, and institutions. For example, local translators, like Andrew Gudgel and Minh Van T. Tran, spoke about their own translating work and discussed how poetic form can be maintained in translation. Later in the afternoon, Maria Brau and Amanda Curry discussed the FBI’s use of translators in an institutional capacity.
For our part…
Intran Solutions presented Signaling Quality through Interpretation. This focused on creating a new method of practice for interpreters that is designed from linguistic and economic perspectives. This was a big experiment for us, because we weren’t sure how the audience would take to discussing such topics, and we were very interested in getting critical feedback from the community. Wonderful things seem to have come out of it. Several audience members offered questions and critiques that will help us build on the idea.
Every conference brings something a little different to the table. Confluence focuses on the local Washington DC scene. If there was anything that we’d like to see changed, it would be to label interpreting as distinct from translation. Still, it was awesome to see such variety present in such a local event.
(Picture: Big Guns by Krystian Olszanski)
Author: Michael Grez
Intran Solutions' Director. Chinese/English Interpretation. Contact us at (610) 701-1345 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Those of us in the translation industry know that getting an ATA certification is the gold standard in the US. For years, there has been discussion about putting the certification test on a computer, where we all naturally do our translation work.
In early April, this year (2016), I had a chance to sit for this new computer-based test. Overall, it was a good experience. I feel that I’ve got as much of a fighting chance to pass as my peers who take the written test. Still, there are some important differences that I’ll mention in this post. Feel free to consider them, as long as you keep in mind that these are my own anecdotal experiences and insights – in no way promoting or representing any organization’s views.
Why did I choose to take the computer-based test?
I didn’t even consider the computer-based test until successfully passing the practice test and looking seriously at dates and places for the certification test. I had heard about it through my local ATA chapter, NCATA, but it became a real consideration by being one of the earliest locally scheduled tests in 2016.
Consideration meant spending some time thinking about the risks that might exist in taking any new-format test, and that I would have to go all the way to Charlotte, NC (I live in DC). It turns out that CATI (Carolina Association of Translators & Interpreters) was having their annual meeting the day before the test. Since I had met some new friends at last year’s ATA Conference in Miami, this provided a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with ‘old’ friends and take the test. 2 birds one stone.
The ‘newness’ factor was the real issue, because of two things. First, I thought about the possibility that this test might not be tested in an equivalent manner to the written version. In my language pair, English to Chinese, the passing rate is at a little more than 13%. Numbers like that make me nervous as it is, and the thought that the numbers might be different for the computer version compound that feeling. The other issue was the possibility of some sort of technical hiccup occurring before or during the exam. It helped that they had a backup plan, where a written test could be done in lieu of the computer version.
Were there any surprises during the test?
Some, but not really anything huge. All in all, it was pretty simple. Go in the room. Sit down. Listen to instructions. Work, Look at the clock. Work. Instead of ending the test by putting down your pencil you save your content. To be sure, there were things to do and deal with that don’t happen in my normal working environment.
Interface: The interface I worked with during the test was different in some ways to the kind of environment I normally work in on Trados, Word, etc. These issues could be somewhat tedious at times, in that it could take an extra few steps to write/save text. Still, there were not many of these types of issues and they were clearly explained in the orientation before the test began.
References: Allowable references include printed materials brought to the test (20lb dictionaries that I haven’t used since high school) and ‘non-interactive’ online resources. This meant that about 98% of my references were sourced online, with only a few select terms being sourced from the booster seat dictionaries.
Time: I thought that one clear advantage of using a QWERTY keyboard and computer interface would be that I could type faster than I write, that my hand and wrist wouldn’t fatigue, and that I could delete information quickly and easily. These all turned out to be true, but I still found the test to take the fully allotted time. I wonder, in contrast, how my translation technique would be different on the written version.
Tests of this ilk, and the professionals who take them, are in a rough spot. Tests need to have certain qualities (they should be comparable, measurable etc.), and so ATA has chosen to time their tests. Perhaps one of the biggest issues with this is the unit/quality problem. Translators don’t typically charge by the hour (time), but instead charge by the word. Quality should mean getting the right translation, not necessarily an expeditious translation. A better test, taken in a utopian world, would reflect this.
Still, the computer-based test seems to be a clear step in the right direction. As someone who, while taking the practice exam, relived painful childhood memories of writing out countless Chinese characters, I certainly appreciate the capabilities offered by the more familiar and comfortable keyboard on the certification exam.