Translation in the enterprise

As the geographic barriers to business come down, companies need to up their game when it comes to translation efforts.

Sophie Hurst, senior product marketing manager at SDL, also acknowledges that there have been problems with the technology. She believes that the "most controversial" is automated or machine translation, which people assumed would replace the human element. When, in reality, it is actually designed to work as part of a larger enterprise environment. "The human element is very important, because language is a moving, changing and highly personal thing. What is important for automated translation is that it is integrated within office environments such as in Word, Outlook and PowerPoint for everyday use and translation," she said, adding that it was equally important to keep company language databases up to speed.

"The creation of dictionaries also makes a big difference in automated translation - the more you customise the dictionary so that it knows how to translate specific terms relevant for your business once again pushes up its quality and usefulness," she said.

Hurst said that a lack of integration and a lack of understanding of what the tools can deliver were the biggest problems now associated with translation, but were now overcome. "Automated translation, used alone can provide a rough understanding of the meaning of words, but combined with dictionaries and other technologies, the quality goes up," she said. "You improve customer satisfaction, improve your relationship with the customer and therefore how they relate to your brand. And it helps you drive revenues in countries because of all these factors, plus because people know what they are getting and what they are buying."

Case Study: Lincolnshire County Council

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Lincolnshire County Council has recently completed a project to automate its web page translation. The council has a large farming industry and has seen its population swell to 690,000 citizens with the arrival of Polish and East European workers. And, in just one area, Boston, around 15 per cent of the population is Portuguese.

One way to help these citizens would have been to staff call centres with multi-lingual employees, but providing language on local services such as education, benefits, council tax and employment would be challenging. As an alternative, the authority looked into the possibility of translating the content of its web pages.

"We quickly concluded that whilst manual translations by a specialist translator or translation agency would be more grammatically perfect, with around 10,000 documents and 10 languages to address, the cost would be astronomic," said Peter Barton, head of web and information services at the council.

"Employing such an un-dynamic process would also be unhelpful. Even if we translated just 10 per cent of the content, it would cost us around 100,000 per year which we simply can't justify."

Translation specialist Systran was evaluated against Babelfish, but proved easier to install, cheaper, and much more intuitive to use. So that was the route the council opted to take.

Citizens in Lincolnshire now simply click on a small flag, which then delivers the relevant content. Translation on the website is now fully automated with staff updating content in English, and the system automatically translating it into nine other languages. Pages are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Chinese, Russian and Polish.

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"To date the quality of output has been good. We were never naive enough to believe that our pages would be as fluent or literal as a manual translation, but if visitors understand enough of the web content to get a flavour of its meaning, then there can be no argument for not using it," concluded Barton.

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