As companies seek out new revenue streams in still-recovering post-lockdown economies, the path of least resistance runs through “virgin” foreign countries, marketing and selling to consumers speaking a different language.
To marketers, that means finding ways to engineer multilingual marketing campaigns more efficiently. The key to marketing in multiple languages, of course, are the related activities of translation services and localization processes.
In the following guide, applying lessons I’ve learned in nearly two decades leading Tomedes, I’ll look at four aspects of translation services – professional and online – to keep in mind when localizing your valuable marketing content. We’ll consider them one by one.
1. Understand The Distinction Between Localization And Translation Services
The terms “localization” and “translation” services are often bandied about interchangeably. But the fact is that they are quite distinct. The translation is the far older concept, referring to the adaptation or conversion of one natural language to another. Since the legendary Tower of Babel came crashing down, humans have been speaking a multiplicity of tongues.
Translation bridges linguistic gaps. From the legendary Rosetta Stone, which led to the deciphering of the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt to the modern wonders of Google Translate – more on that later – the art of translation – and the services translators provide – has enabled disparate cultures to communicate.
The much newer term localization – derived in relation to the complementary process of globalization – encompasses translation services but also other formal differences between localities: currency units, measurement units, number, and date formats.
But localization also involves the more subtle calculus of understanding and adapting for local cultural differences and preferences. Words, phrases, and concepts in one culture may mean something quite different in another.
So a provider of localization services – and clients who contract them — must understand these distinctions and apply them in a multilingual marketing campaign. What flies in Florida may flounder in Florence. What excites in Ecuador may incite in India.
2. Know The Pros And Cons Of Translation Agencies vs Freelance Translators
As founder and chief executive of Tomedes, my job is to grasp and leverage a complex understanding of the language services ecosystem. These days, translation services are performed online by freelancers. However, most of these freelancers have been organized into teams managed by professional services agencies like my own.
Translation service agencies, or localization service companies, mediate between the freelance translators and the clients. Working through an agency lets a client tap into a worldwide network of trained linguists, often on call and available at short notice, encompassing hundreds of language pairs.
Clients also benefit from the trained management experience and liaison abilities of its representative. Finally, clients gain accountability and the security of working through an established agency.
Certainly, it can be cheaper to seek out individual translators either via a Google Search or by hunting freelance resources on Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, or other “gig economy” marketplaces. Contracting directly with freelance translators can be a “hit or miss” proposition requiring more effort, often canceling out benefits of lower costs by demanding more management time.
3. Exploit Machine Translation Services But Understand The Limitations Of AI
The use of Artificial Intelligence technology for translation services has been around for decades. But only since 2015 has the technique known as neural machine translation (NMT) come into its own, dominating usage of AI for practical translation. All major tech players – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft – apply NMT in one form or another. The result has been a rapid deployment of translation services for web pages, e-commerce listing, social media comments, and more.
The quality and ease of initiating a translation have improved by leaps and bounds since NMT arrived. But machines still have a long way to go to match the quality and sensitivity of a skilled human translator. My advice to translation clients has been evolving as the quality of NMT has improved.
These days you can feel confident using machine translation apps for internal research, routine communications, and for translating highly structured text content with a “predictable” structure and linguistic range. But be careful about over-relying on machines for published products. Always make sure to have a trained linguist with mother-tongue fluency review and proofread content before publication.
4. Get To Know The More Edgy Online Translation Services And Apps
Many clients have only scratched the surface of how translation services can be applied to multilingual marketing. And, I must admit, this brief overview can only point in the direction of some of the most promising developments of applications that make it easier to communicate with consumers in another language or locality. Here, in closing, is a list for further exploration:
- Tools for translating direct mail campaigns. Check Neil Patel’s superb piece.
- Multilingual chatbots and customer service reps with instant translation tools
- Remote interpretation via voice/video instead of in-person meetings
- “Camera translation” superimposing translations above foreign language images
Add these tools to your multilingual marketing arsenals but don’t skip on contracting expert human linguists, lest meaning — and customers– get lost in translation.
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