Open Translation Tools

The Translation Industry

Open Translation approaches stand in stark contrast to the ways in which translation has been done traditionally by professional translators.

The Translation/Localisation industry is a 18-20 billion dollar (US) industry and growing. Even in today's economy, it is predicted that the language industry will soon grow to between 30 and 40 billion dollars.  As the world becomes more and more globalized, the need for communication between cultures and the need for businesses to find new markets is increasing. Surprisingly, less than 1% of all the content produced in the world is actually professionally translated.

The industry is extremely fragmented.  There are 3 or 4 large companies with revenues in the 0 to 0 million per year range, 100 or so midsized agencies with revenues in the to 0 million range, and literally hundreds of small "mom and pop" shops and individual translators who incorporate. Many of the smaller companies may translate only in one language pair such as English-French/French-English, and many of these can specialize in one specific field, such as medical or legal content.

This brings into play situations where the largest companies may be competing for the same project with an individual translator, so pricing can vary widely.

The language industry is most definitely a viable growing industry.  While translators themselves might be reluctant to change the way they work and adopt new technologies, agencies for the most part embrace many of the technologies that keep improving such as translation memories, machine translations, and content management systems.

Who does the Translation?

It is important to note that most translation companies do not do translation.  The translation company is a sales and project management organization. Large buyers of translation like Microsoft or Adobe do not want to contract with thousands of contractors; they would rather go to a large player who can manage the process.  An agency does not have a Zulu or Bengali translator sitting in a room waiting for a translation to come in.  Translators are hired on a freelance, project by project basis.  

Translators are usually trained in a language field, certified, and they generally translate into their native language, as it is very difficult to write in a language that is not your native language.  That said, there is no such thing as a "perfect translation".  Translation is an art form.

Management of translation projects is very people intensive. In addition to the translators, there are many other roles. These include a large component of localization engineers who transform texts as well as graphic designers and desktop publishing (DTP) specialists who perform image manipulation and page layout tasks.  The overhead for a translation agency may thus be quite high.

Organizations Needing Translation Fit a Profile

There are two basic kinds of translation clients.

  1. Inexperienced - Those who have never had anything translated.  Often they do not understand what's involved, what the costs are and, most importantly, that even with the best technology, it is still humans that ensure that the translations are accurate.  This means that if a client has a 500 page manual and expects it to be translated, formatted and printed form English into Japanese in 24 hours, they need to be educated regarding the process.
  2. Burnt - clients who've had a bad translation experience in the past and realize the value of high-quality translation.

The new clients are often companies that have never crossed a language barrier before, hoping to increase their business abroad.  For these clients every agency needs to explain how important high quality translations are.   A bad translation of a website will have people clicking out in seconds.  Similarly, a poorly translated product manual can create a negative perception of the actual product.

The Need for Quality Drives the Market

The main concern from the translation buyer's side is quality. Translation agencies spend money and time developing their workflow to be as efficient as possible while still ensuring the highest quality.  Technology tools are needed and used, such as content management systems (CMS), workflow tools, translation memory (TM) tools, machine translation (MT) tools etc., but it is still human beings that do the quality assurance (QA).  This keeps the personnel costs for the agencies high, and thus, the price for getting something professionally translated can be too high for many potential buyers.  An interesting ad hoc metric used in the industry is that the cost for translating or localizing a web site is generally is about 15% of the total cost to build the web site.