Browsing Category


global communication, language, localization

Meeting People Where They Are: Speaking Their Language

March 10, 2014

Day 10 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

(This post originally appeared as a comment on Val Swisher’s blog, Content Rules, on Feb 11, 2012. The post was called. “Everyone Speaks English, Right?”)

One poster on Val’s blog commented that, if you want to truly connect with people, you have to meet them where they are, and do it in their language. I’m a firm believer that many (if not most) of the problems we have on this planet are a direct result of poor communication and lack of cultural understanding.

Language by the Numbers

To put some numbers around this, as of 2012, approximately 1.9 BILLION people spoke Chinese as their native language, compared to 406 Million who spoke Spanish natively or 335 Million who spoke English natively ( Millions more people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language, but at what level of fluency?

Speaking of fluency, here are some numbers that provide context:

  • Basic Oral: 2,000 words; this is the level of a 1.5-2 yr old and, while you can get your needs met, it’s difficult to have a real conversation.
  • Basic Written: 3,000 words. You can read street signs and maybe a simple children’s book. You can probably understand basic oral directions.
  • Technical: 4-5,000 words. You can understand technical terms in your specialty, most safety and warning information, and simple instructions. You would struggle to understand most user’s documentation. You can have simple conversations
  • University texts: 10,000 words. You could follow most discussions and understand the textbooks (with lots of help from a dictionary).
  • Fluent: 20,000 words. You can have conversations on a variety of topics, read literature and articles in the language and communicate effectively with native speakers. You probably still struggle with idioms and some cultural nuances, however.
  • Native Speaker(adult): 30-40,000 words. This is an average. Translators, people in Tech Com and others who work with words regularly often have a higher vocabulary. (

BTW, Google estimates that there are over 1 million words in English as of 2011. (

There are also different kinds of fluency: comprehension (listening), speaking, reading, writing. People tend to progress in one area faster than others, depending on their learning style and on what they are exposed to most…

The Bilingual Brain

Then, there are the studies that have come out recently that indicate that learning multiple languages helps your brain be more flexible and has a protective component against dementia (see Science News, search “bilingual” or “language acquisition”

Even if you aren’t fluent, it’s just more polite to at least attempt to interact in the local language. You will get better service, maybe make a new friend, and have a lot of fun (especially if you can laugh at yourself). In addition, knowing even the basics of another language and culture can help you create better content.


localization, Vendor Management

11 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Localization Vendor

March 6, 2014

Day 5 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge #31dbc

I work with a lot of clients who are just getting started in localization. To many of them, localization is a black hole into which they pour their source content, then magic occurs and Presto! out comes a language product.

Let’s take a peek inside the box:

  1. The pool of translators is finite and the vendors all fish from the same pool. Most translators work freelance for several localization vendors, and the good ones are in high demand. Vendors hire translators for jobs based on language combination and industry expertise.
  2. A couple of large localization companies make most of the tools used in the localization industry. This means that many vendors are competing for work with the vendors that also create the tools that the industry depends on. Naturally, this doesn’t always sit well, and many vendors are looking for ways to reduce this dependency.
  3. Process and customer service matter more than cost per word. See #1 above. Working with a localization vendor is a long-term relationship. Focusing on cost/word is the wrong way to look at things, particularly if quality is important. Look at the value-added services the vendor provides, how they treat you as a customer, and how they treat their employees and contractors.
  4. For most customers, the mid-sized localization vendors will be the best fit. Unless you are a Fortune 500 company, the mid-sized vendors will generally be a better fit for you. They are small enough to be hungry for your business and big enough to scale with you. The big boys in the localization industry focus on enterprise level projects (large volumes, many languages, complex designs). The single language vendors can’t scale with you.
  5. When you fail to pay on time, a translator might go hungry. Localization is a people-intensive process, even with support of translation memory and machine translation. Many vendors have difficulty paying their translators and other contractors on time if they have big customers who don’t pay them on time. While 60 days isn’t a long turnaround for a big public company or one that is well-funded, that time frame causes major cash flow issues for a small sole proprietor (aka most translators). Be a good customer and pay on time (If you pay net 30, your vendors will love you).
  6. Pushing your source content drop date without pushing the product release schedule significantly affects the quality of your language product and increases your costs. Localization takes about 80% of the time that the initial content development takes, so expecting 50,000 words in 30 languages in 2 weeks is really unrealistic and undoable with any sort of quality. Consistently abusing your vendor will result in lower quality, significantly increase your costs, and potentially, will get you fired by the vendor. Fixing your upstream processes for product and content development, having good QA, editing, and change management processes helps to prevent this issue.
  7. DTP/engineering is ~50% of your localization costs if you are using traditional content publishing methods. First, the content gets pulled into the translation memory tool, where the translators do their thing. Then, the translated content gets put back into the final output format via desktop publishing (DTP) or web/help engineering. If you are not using XML and XSLTs, reformatting is a manual process that must be done separately for every language. Template problems, content issues, graphics issues grow exponentially with the number of languages. If you have 10 errors in the English and are translating into 30 languages, suddenly you have 300 errors that are likely to get perpetuated.
  8. Your in-country reviewers cause some of the biggest headaches for the localization vendor and increase your costs. In-country reviewers are typically subject matter experts (SMEs) who have product knowledge and fluency in both the source and target language. However, if you do not train the reviewers properly, or if you do not make the language review part of their job responsibilities, they can completely bollox up the process with preferential/spurious changes, delayed responses, and so on. Create effective review processes and train your people! If you have a relatively large volume, t’s a good idea to have a localization manager who can vet the comments before passing them on to the vendor.
  9. You, the client, own your translation memory files. Just like you might hire a contractor to develop the source content, you are hiring the localization vendor to create the language product. In both cases, this is considered “work for hire”. You own the copyright (after you’ve paid your bill, of course).
  10. Lack of re-use and poor terminology management are costing you big money. If you aren’t reusing your content and managing your terminology, you are paying multiple times for translation of the same content. If you think you don’t have re-use, think again. Notes, cautions, warnings, product specifications, warranty, trademark, and copyright information, UI field names, glossary terms, etc. get used in multiple places in your content. In the translation memory, the translator must review every fuzzy match to make sure that it is contextually correct, so randomly changing the wording of a sentence requires it to be re-translated.
  11. Your localization vendor has a list of issues with your content, but they might not have shared it with you. If you have done a couple of projects with the same vendor, they will likely know what the issues are with your templates and content. Unless you have a mechanism (e.g., bug/change tracking database) for sharing that information with your content development team, the feedback loop isn’t being closed and the mistakes are being promulgated with every language and iteration. Ask your vendor for the information. If your team needs training on creating global-ready content, make sure that they get it. It will save you big money in the long-term.

There are, of course, many other things that you need to know when you are localizing your content. But, being aware of these things and fixing issues in the source will get you a long way toward improving your quality and global customer satisfaction.