Language Matters

March 13, 2014

Translators are under-paid, their expertise under-valued, their contribution to society and the economy under-estimated. Who on earth wants to be a translator? Let me give you a piece of advice: if you are interested in making money, do not get into the translation or localisation business. Your employees will hate you because you pay miserable salaries, your clients will treat you like a utility that should be cheap and always available, and yourself and your business will always struggle for survival. That is the ‘real world’.

I have been working in the ‘real world’ most of my professional life. When I did not, I observed it carefully. Here are three lessons I learned during those years.

Lesson 1: Translators are good people
Rarely have I met a translator who joined the profession to become a millionaire. In most cases, my friends and colleagues were people with an open mind, well travelled, and interested in connecting people, cultures, and businesses. Most of them are also interested in doing this to the best of their abilities, they are professionals. Most of them are concerned about the content they translate and the impact that content has. All of them were interested in technology as a tool to help them do their job better. All of them rejected technology that pretended to be better at doing their job, but still required them to fix the ‘few’ quirks it said it couldn’t handle yet. Translators believe that what they do has a meaning. They are not (primarily) motivated by money.

Lesson 2: Companies are interested in profit
Companies are investment instruments. Their purpose is to deliver a service or a good at a price that yields as much profit for their investors as possible. The aim of many companies is to be bought by bigger companies at a profit to their original owners. Translation and localisation companies are no different. Their interest is to translate as many words as quickly as possible at a quality that they can get away with, and at the highest price possible. If they believe that a job can be done by a machine they will use a machine. They are not concerned at all about the content they translate as long as they are paid for it. If you turn this argument around: they will not translate any content into any language unless they are paid for it. They are (primarily) motivated by money.

Lesson 3: Language services are too important to be left to the ‘real world’
To avoid any confusion here: there is nothing wrong with any of the above. Except, that the model works for just a fraction of people, languages, and content on our planet – and even for these it works only just about. Mainstream language service providers never step out of the ‘real world’, the silo they live in. They are worried about the profitability of their businesses, they complain about the low profit margins they make, they deplore the lack of training universities deliver to their future employees. When I listen to them, I sometimes wonder why they do what they do at all? It must be horrible to get up in the morning facing a day with under-qualified, moaning employees, clients that are like sharks ready to have them for lunch, and accountants telling them that their business is getting closer to the abyss of bankruptcy. They persevere, but even in their perseverance they only cater for about a quarter of the world’s population, a tiny fraction of the information and knowledge that should be exchanged across languages, and less than 5% of the world’s languages.

A new Approach: The Global Conversation in Communities
Less than a year ago, we came up with the idea of the Translation Commons (www.trommons.org). It’s simple: there are tens of thousands of language volunteers happy to help global communities to exchange their knowledge and information across the languages of the world. We just need to connect them. The Translation Commons is where that happens. It is an open space that is maintained by The Rosetta Foundation. There are a few rules, but otherwise it is up to the volunteers and the communities to decide what is going to be translated. Impact and affecting change is what counts, not the number of words and profit. Within less than a year, the community using the Translation Commons has grown from nothing to an astonishingly:

  • 4,780 volunteers, 900 active users;
  • 60-70 volunteers working on projects per week on average;
  • 81 languages;
  • 106 partners, 70 of which active since started, 20 are active per week;
  • 30-40 registrations per week (volunteers and partners);
  • 850 projects since beginning, 539 projects of these on Trommons, 175 in two months (Jan/Feb ‘14);
  • 20 new projects/week on average; 66 active projects per week.

This ‘operation’ costs The Rosetta Foundation currently less than 4,000 euro per month, invested into the operation by people who believe it delivers incredible value, has a huge impact, affects tremendous change around the globe, and inspires translators, communities, and everybody working in The Rosetta Foundation and on the Translation Commons.

What you can do

If you share our believe that Language Matters, that language services are too important to be left to the ‘real world’, if you want to support the Global Conversation in Communities, this is what you can do:

If you would like to discuss your possible involvement in the development of the Translation Commons (it’s an open source project of The Rosetta Foundation!) or support our work by whatever means, please contact info@TheRosettaFoundation.org.

Reinhard

The Rise of Bio-Lingualism

June 10, 2013

Bio-Lingualism

I’ve just finished reading an amazing article on ‘sustainable’ banking or, as Peter Blom of Triodos Bank calls it with an ironic undertone, ‘Bio-Banking’. I’ve also just filled in the 2013 MIT Sloan Management Review & BCG Sustainability Survey. Both convinced me that sustainability is not just something for ‘do-gooders’, social revolutionaries, or members of the green parties around the world anymore. Sustainability is going mainstream.

Check out Triodos Bank’s website and read up on their commitment to the environment: “Triodos Bank believes that profit doesn’t need to be at the expense of the world’s most pressing environmental problems”; social change: “We finance work to improve and enrich the lives of millions of people; tackling inequality and injustice. And developing strong communities in the process”; and culture: “Triodos Bank believes that culture is a powerful force for positive change, driving creativity and innovation in business, and providing lasting opportunities for personal development”.

What is even more amazing, the bank’s chief, Peter Blom, earns ‘just’ 272,000 euro (this is small change for big bankers), it has 440,000 clients, and attracts 10,000 new clients every month. The bank’s clients not only see but also control where the bank invests: it is completely transparent.

An isolated case? Here is another example: Have you heard about Oekom? Two youngsters founded this rating agency at the end of the 90s in a backyard office in Munich. Today, they receive invitations from big financial institutions to talk about human rights violations, environmental protection, and sustainable investment. Oekom, unlike its competitors Moody’s or Standards & Poor, doesn’t focus on credit ratings, but rates more than 3,000 companies and 51 countries on their commitment to ecological and social principles. 520 billion euro is invested based on their recommendations worldwide!

They are not alone. Did you know that a fifth of global capital investment, or 13 trillion US dollars, is invested based on social, ecological, and ethical criteria? Did you know that this investment achieves returns that are 11% better than to the world stock index MSCI World (formerly Morgan Stanley Capital International)?

Interesting, you might say, but what has all this got to do with the language industry?

There is a lesson here for us in the language industry, an industry that sees itself driven by continuous and growing demands for efficiency, for ‘better, faster, cheaper’, an industry where money is king – an industry that to a large extent doesn’t seem to have noticed yet, never mind reacted to, some of the biggest challenges and changes in society and business: the move towards social responsibility and sustainability.

Signs of what one could call, following Peter Blom’s example, ‘bio-lingualism’ amongst commercial providers are hard to spot. Instead, Machine Translation (MT) continues its long relationship with military interventions and the cold wars. (LOGOS received a great boost during the Vietnam War; METAL during the Cold War; SYSTRAN still receives huge investments from the military.) Industry associations fight over access to conference venues in Washington when the conflicts in the Middle East heat up. Researchers in large government funded localisation research projects are not shy to promote partnerships with online gaming companies. – Many in the language industry still sell out too easily to the highest bidder. No matter what.

The few non-profit players in the language industry report (this is based on anecdotal evidence) that they don’t mention their non-profit interests or status to their clients anymore – because these clients, apparently, don’t take non-profit businesses seriously. To my knowledge, there is only one commercial provider, Alboum, which focuses on “translation services for non-profit organizations”. Another company, InEveryLanguage, is proud to promote itself as “the socially responsible way to meet your translation needs”.  Mondragón Lingua operates on cooperative principles and has a strong commitment to social responsibility. Many companies offer, as a special service, translations to non-profits, some for free or at discounted rates, among them TransPerfect, ABC Translation Services, Morningside Translations, ITC Global Translations, Lionbridge, SDL, and Welocalize.

What is the alternative to a primarily profit-driven language services business and research, at the expense of ethical and social considerations? Why on earth should we promote sustainable language services?

Well, a large number of studies have demonstrated that there is a clear causal connection between languages, and the environment, health, and education, as well as with social and economic well-being of people; the connection between bio-diversity and language diversity has also long been established. If we care about sustainable energy, the environment, and health – we need to care about sustainable language services, driven primarily by ethical, ecological, and social considerations, rather than by profit. The financial services sector has given us the examples that sustainable services are also financially more profitable. (I have reported elsewhere on findings that the non-profit sector also generates more employment than the for-profit sector.)

While language service companies are slow to react, thousands of language service volunteers are now investing their time and expertise in sustainable translation services with organisations such as Mozilla, TED, and the Khan Academy, but also with initiatives like PerMondo, Translators without Borders, Translations for Progress, and – of course my personal first choice – The Rosetta Foundation’s Translation Commons (www.trommons.org). This site is powered by SOLAS, an open source software project coordinated by The Rosetta Foundation.

Friends and colleagues in the language communities: Is it not time to invest in social localisation? I mean, really invest! To sow the seeds and reap the benefits – together, in a sustainable bio-lingual language industry, for the benefit of the people and our one, shared world? Investing in sustainable bio-lingualism is a risk worth taking!

Reinhard Schäler

This blog was inspired by Böll, S. and Hese, M. (2013). Finanzindustrie: Aufstieg der Bio-Banker, in: Der Spiegel, 22/2013, 27 May 2013 (69-72).

More information on the financial institutions mentioned:

Triodos Bank   http://www.triodos.com

Oekom Research   http://www.oekom-research.com

MSCI World   http://www.msci.com

More about the link between biodiversity and language diversity:

Penn State (2012, May 7). Endangered species, languages linked at high biodiversity regions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/05/120507154112.htm.

UNESCO BIP (Biodiversity Indicators Partnership): Status of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices Status and Trends of Linguistic Diversity and Numbers of Speakers of Indigenous Languages (available at http://www.bipindicators.net/linguisticdiversity, last accessed 04 June 2013); Note: this article has a large number of links to related studies investigating the link between language and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity.

Manifesto

May 7, 2013

Barriers to language services are breaking down. Commercial language services are complemented by massive community-driven service contributions. Communicating in your own language with fellow citizens throughout the world no longer depends purely on an economic rationale. This significantly contributes to equality, inclusion, and the realization of a fundamental and universal human right: the right to use one’s own language.

‘Language barriers’ never existed—languages are not barriers that we need to overcome, they are one of humanity’s treasures, and they allow us to express who we are and communicate with our fellow citizens. Instead, we are knocking down the barriers that so far have prevented us from accessing language services that would allow equal communication across languages. We have a right to read or to listen, to write or to speak in each of our unique and beautiful languages, and to be able to communicate with our fellow global citizens without depending on economic considerations. Tens of thousands of volunteers have already started to rock ‘n roll, to shake up the status quo, to do the ‘impossible’—to provide high quality, human language services on a large scale 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and all that without a profit motive!

We have demonstrated our power to expand beyond the profit motive and allow broader and more comprehensive accessibility to languages services.

We use technology to support our efforts rather than allow technology to determine the way we work. There is no doubt that our efforts will lead to a level of equality and inclusion never experienced before, creating a sense of pride, confidence, and energy that will empower people to lift themselves out of poverty, ignorance, and dependence. The global connections that people are establishing with others are uniting the planet and will significantly contribute to making killing fields, hunger epidemics, curable diseases, intolerable poverty, and endemic illiteracy history. Instead, these connections will lead to a better mutual understanding, to an unseen exchange of knowledge and information, and to social and economic opportunities we cannot even imagine today.

While top-down localisation efforts empower corporate globalisation, bottom-up localisation efforts expand and widen access to languages services. Combined, they address all of our cross-language communication needs. They will create a force that makes localisation accessible to all in the form and context that best suits their needs.

Let us connect our efforts and collaborate on the Translation Commons—the space where communities offer and find non-market-driven language services. Let’s work together to expand language services beyond a solely economic rationale. We, and our languages, are worth it!

Language Service Providers of the World—Unite!

Reinhard Schäler

The Translation Commons

The Translation Commons (www.trommons.org) is an open space for communities to offer and seek free language services. The site is powered by SOLAS technologies, an open source project by The Rosetta Foundation. The project has received funding by private, corporate, and public donors and contributors. Do you share our vision and passion? Then we want to hear from you: info@therosettafoundation.org.

 

The China Syndrome

May 1, 2013

The taxi driver doesn’t speak much English; the receptionist asks you to sign papers that could for all intents and purposes be yearly subscriptions to the local newspaper; the doctor doesn’t have a clue what you are talking about and prescribes medicine with a name you cannot even read, never mind understand; many of the few translations into English you can find could be straight from one of those websites trying to keep you entertained with examples of ‘lost in translation’; there are 5 million cars on the road and they all seem to be large Audis, Passats, Buicks, BMWs or Mercedes, and they all seem to have decided to drive down the same street you’re just on; at 7am the outdoor sports facilities are packed with people stretching, exercising, and practicing Tai-Chi – not the young energetic types in their twenties, but the slower more concentrated and focused types in their 50s and above; there are 100 universities in town, many quite sizeable settlements in their own right; squares are the size of your home town; the list of overwhelming impressions could go on and on and on: this is no ordinary place.

Welcome to Beijing, China.

Of course, I knew China is big in more than one way, but I had no idea how big because I had never had the opportunity to visit the country. Even the knowledge that with just over 42% penetration there are now almost twice as many internet users in China than there are people in the USA was kind of abstract. It was impressive, but what was missing was the feeling in my stomach that could bring home to me what this figure really meant. So, I was delighted when my friend and colleague Qun Liu (DCU) invited me to Beijing to attend and speak at the 2013 IET International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (IETICT2013) held on 27-29 April 2013 in conjunction with the China-Ireland International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (CIICT2013). I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to learn first hand about this awakening giant, its people, and, of course, its localisation community. On my way to China, I was thinking about my first ever visits to other ‘eastern’ countries that had not been on my ‘western’ radar until I eventually went to visit them, among them India and Russia. How would China compare? I also thought about the Chinese students I had taught at our postgraduate Localisation Programme at the University of Limerick; they had been a mixed group of students, some very open, some a bit more cautious and shy when connecting with the other students and our western culture.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my stay in China was another lesson in humility. The amount of knowledge, experience, and expertise shared by the people I met was really breathtaking. And in that sense, the experience was similar to that of my first contacts with the localisation communities in Russia and India. On all of these occasions, I knew that the person who benefitted most from the visits was myself. The little bit of knowledge I could share during the meetings, conversations, and presentations must have been almost negligible in comparison. However, I also realized that our work both in the Localisation Research Centre (LRC) at the University of Limerick, and at The Rosetta Foundation is being followed closely around the world, and particularly in China and beyond. I was genuinely delighted to meet colleagues who have been following Localisation Focus for years, as well as volunteers of The Rosetta Foundation.

The presentations by our Chinese colleagues at the Ireland-China Localisation Forum organized by Localisation Service Committee of Translators 2013 China-Ireland Localisation ForumAssociation of China (TACLSC) were far too short, while the organizers, being polite, had allocated much time to the western contributors, including Vincent Wade (TCD), Josef van Genabith (DCU), and myself. Of course, this allowed us to share reports on our work, ideas on future trends and research, and to issue invitations for potential collaboration with our Chinese colleagues; but I, at least, could hardly keep up with the amount and depth of material presented by Gavin Cui (LSCTAC) in his introduction to the session. Gavin Cui introduced the speakers: Francois Zhang (Huawei) on Practices and Evolution: Huawei Translation Quality Management; Henry Huang (Pactera) on New Requirements of China Localization Markets; Yongpeng Wei (Lingosail) on Machine Translation in China; Shi Li (LanguAge) on Building the Partnership between Clients and LSPs; and Zhijun Gao (Peking University) on CAT and Localization Education at Peking University.

Of course, we went to see the great Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, all examples of why everything outside of China feels so small. I learned how to eat using chopsticks, how to roll up thin slices of Peking Duck in paper-thin pancakes, and how to eat soup without a ‘proper’ spoon. Many years ago, I had learned not to eat spaghetti when wearing a white shirt – well, I can now tell you that unless you are a ‘pro’, wearing a white shirt is not a good idea when eating Chinese foot with chopsticks either!

Another notable China experience: the internet went all ‘funny’ on me: Skype worked for 20 seconds and cut out; Google searches went to a site in Hong The Great Wall of ChinaKong and got stuck there; Facebook did not work at all; and the Chinese sites that came up instead, presumably to allow me to search and social network, were, well, in Chinese. I got a feeling that China is so big, that it doesn’t even have to look outside, at least not yet. There are Chinese social networking sites, short messaging services, search engines, and other services used by hundreds of millions of people every day that I had never heard of, among them: Sina Weibo, Renren, and Alibaba. There are companies employing tens of thousands of people. The names of cities that are home to the massive manufacturing plants of western consumer goods only vaguely ring a bell. The obvious question that came to my mind was: what will happen if this giant one day decides to extend its active reach to the West?

I know that this was certainly not my last visit to China. I met strangers and left leaving friends and colleagues behind. There is a lot we can learn from each other, and there are really good indicators that we will deepen our initial contacts and start to develop our mutual understanding, working together in areas of mutual interest.

Links

Osborne, Charlie (15 January 2013). China’s Internet population surges to 564 million, 75 percent on mobile. http://www.zdnet.com/chinas-internet-population-surges-to-564-million-75-percent-on-mobile-7000009813/ (last accessed 01 May 2013).

2013 China-Ireland Localisation International Forum. 29 April 2013. http://www.taclsc.org/s_news.asp?id=125 (last accessed 01 May 2013).

2013 IET International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (IETICT2013) held on 27-29 April 2013 in conjunction with the China-Ireland International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (CIICT2013). http://www.ietict.org (last accessed 01 May 2013).

Africa is not a Country

March 28, 2013

From L-R: Dwayne Bailey, Reinhard Schaler, Tunde Adegbola, and Solomon Gizaz

On Tuesday, 16 March 2013, four friends got together at GALA 2013, the Globalization and Localization Association’s Conference, to present a panel on Spotlight on Africa: Business Opportunities in the World’s Fastest Growing Markets to the assembled localisation business community. I introduced Dwayne Bailey of Translate (South Africa), Tunde Adegbola of Alt-i (Nigeria), Solomon Gizaz of FOSS Africa, the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, (Ethiopia), and the Localisation Research Centre (Ireland). We wanted to bring the message home to the western business community that Africa was not in need of a ‘mission’ to save it from falling off the cliff (a term much more familiar these days in the context of the US economy) but rather that it is ready to form partnerships with the most innovative and energetic businesses from around the world.

Africa is not only the birthplace of humanity but also the birthplace of human language. Today, it is one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth, with between two and three thousand languages spoken natively (although 75% of Africans speak one of the top twelve). Africans are truly multilingual—it is not uncommon for people to speak their mother tongue at home, a regional African language like Swahili when communicating with neighbours, and one of the colonial languages with non-natives.

Over the past year or so, Africa has featured prominently on the covers of both Time Magazine and The Economist under the headline ‘Africa Rising.’ Over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. With 600 million mobile phone users, Africa has overtaken America and Europe. Africa’s GDP will grow by 900 per cent, topping out at $15 trillion by 2060 – that’s a shade bigger than the current GDP of the United States.

Oprah Winfrey’s US$3 billion fortune makes her the wealthiest black person in America.  But she is no longer the richest black person in the world. This is now Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian cement king. Although people criticize him that he is too close to the political classes, his US$10 billion fortune is earned, not expropriated.

While Dublin bus drivers have to give change in the form of a paper receipt that is redeemable only at the central office (where in the world???), in Nairobi, busses have NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that wirelessly transfers funds from your mobile phone in seconds: no delay, no cash, no change, and you just pay the correct fare.

The following is an extract from the conversation we had during the panel session, in which we talk about the work that is going on in the language industry in Africa, the opportunities for collaboration with the West, and the roadblocks that sometimes make this collaboration difficult.

Reinhard: Could you briefly describe the work you are doing?

Dwayne: Translate focuses on helping companies to localise using their communities.  We draw on our experience and the technologies we built to localise open-source products into South African languages and use that to assist organisations like Mozilla to localise their products such as Firefox, to help Evernote, LibreOffice, Apache, and others.

Tunde: We develop infrastructural, human, intellectual, and other resources required for the active use of modern ICT in African languages. This we do by training researchers, producing knowledge, and developing software and hardware, as well as localising software with the objective of making modern ICT usable in our local languages.

Solomon: I am doing a PhD in the Localisation Research Center at the University of Limerick.

ReinhardWhat is the most important issue you are trying to address with your work (and what would you like to achieve with it)?

Dwayne: Helping people who speak the long tail (and not so long tail) languages to localise products. In that way, enabling them to ensure that their language remains relevant in the digital age. Because, to be honest, if languages are not present in platforms that enable the modern world, then they are languages of curiosity and not viable in the long term. We want to see languages play a vibrant part in the digital world. We’re achieving that by helping language speakers achieve that by helping our clients reduce the cost of supporting the localisation into these languages.

Tunde: Technology provides facilities to jump some of the natural communication hurdles presented by multilingualism and illiteracy, but we have to work at it to make it useful.

Solomon: I am building a technology framework to integrate personalisation into localisation.

ReinhardDo you believe that the ‘West’ understands what is going on in Africa, how people in Africa work, what they need? What can the ‘West’ learn from Africa; what can Africa bring to the people?

Dwayne: Hard one to call. I think there are people from the West who really do understand Africa. But the biggest risk is that if you don’t, it is unlikely that any African will explain that to you. You’ll be left wondering why you just can’t seem to make it happen. Africa really is a multilingual space, while sometimes the West thinks of multilingual as a collection of monolingual silos. In Africa we’re dealing with many languages at the same time. Think pain x N. We’re also dealing with high language skills and low technology skills and producing software that brings sophisticated tech in a low-tech way.

Tunde: Just as Africa misunderstands the West, the West usually gets it really wrong when engaging Africa. The key is to accept the deep cultural differences and enter partnerships on mutually beneficial terms.

Solomon: Yes and No. Yes, because they at least attempt to do something. No, because the approach needs some improvement that considers the reality in Africa.

ReinhardWhat are the biggest opportunities in Africa today?

Dwayne: 2 billion users.  With smartphones rewriting how we think of computers, and with some amazing innovations in Africa we’re faced with a growing market for localisation.

Tunde: Having missed out on many of the opportunities of the Industrial Age, Africa requires mutually beneficial partnerships that will help it take advantage of the offerings of the Information Age.

Solomon: There are many potential customers, a huge population that demands to get information in their own language; the West can use this demand to provide services the African way.

ReinhardWhat needs to happen to grasp them?

Dwayne: Find a good partner and an opportunity to build trust, skills, and relationships for the future.

Tunde: Building partnerships.

Solomon: Two things: as there are few professionals, many people will require training. And: any collaboration should happen with the community as a whole, in their language, not just with a few professionals who are comfortable to use western languages.

I’ll end my short report from our conversation at GALA here. We all felt that this was only a start, the beginning of a long-lasting dialogue and collaboration.

A final word – this time on real action: Late last year, the University of Limerick and the UN Economic Commission for Africa were joined by GALA and The Rosetta Foundation for the launch of the AGIS (Action for Global Information Sharing) Africa Initiative. The plan is to roll out UL’s MSc in Multilingual Computing and Localisation in Africa with a base at UNECA in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). GALA has enthusiastically supported the initiative and will provide students with internships and business mentors. Dwayne, Tunde, and Solomon will all be involved in the preparation and the delivery of the programme. We all very much look forward to our collaboration and will keep you posted on progress.

Remember, Africa is not a country, but a continent of fifty-five states. We don’t need to go on a mission to rescue this continent from the abyss. We need to collaborate with our African friends and colleagues. This is about partnership and exchange, we’ll be ‘on the road’ together for some time to come – learning from each other, working very hard, going far beyond of what we can imagine today, and having lots of fun!

Should you wish to find out more about the AGIS Africa initiative and join in the journey, the fun, and the hard work, go towww.localisation.ie/AGISAfrica or email info@therosettafoundation.org

Information about the economic development in Africa was sourced from The Economist, 03 December 2011, African Development Bank 10/2011, and Time Magazine 03 December 2012

Reinhard Schäler

The Development of massive Employment in Ireland’s Best Hidden Industry – A 3-step Guide

October 25, 2012

I am going to make a case, in three steps, for the development of significant employment in Ireland’s best hidden industry, attracting a whole new range of foreign direct investment in internationally traded services, based on Ireland’s recognized world-leading expertise and track record.

Step 1: Uncover An Industry Hidden in Plain View

Who in Ireland employs more than 100,000 people with pay costs in the order of €3.5bn? Who in Ireland has revenues of more than €6bn, and holding assets valued at more than €3.5bn?

Google? Oracle? Intel? – No, try again!

Who delivers a wide variety of public services – in health, social services, education, emergency relief and elsewhere – and creates an untold quantum of public good – in culture, recreation, social justice, civil and human rights?

The Health Service Executive, Department of Social Protection, An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s National Police Service)? – No, try again!

Who are, perhaps, the principal source of social capital in Irish society, with more than 560,000 people engaged as volunteers, and more than 50,000 people engaged in their governance?

Have you given up yet? – Here is the answer: it’s the Irish Nonprofit Sector.

Many hard-core business people still look at the nonprofit sector as a ‘nice-to-have’ that keeps the eternal do-gooders busy, while ‘it is business that creates employment. It is profits that focuses the mind, drives business, and inspires innovation’.

By contrast, Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality recently said that it might be more appropriate to think of the nonprofit sector as an industry. For hard-core profit-driven business innovators, it might, indeed, be a surprise to hear that, in scale, the nonprofit sector in Ireland is at least comparable to if not greater than agriculture or tourism as a source of employment.

Isn’t it time to acknowledge the facts?

Step 2: It’s International, Stupid!

Now that we know how important the nonprofit enterprises are in Ireland, let’s have a look across the ocean and get some facts about the nonprofit sector in the USA and its international operations, its internationally traded services.

The nonprofit sector in the USA has revenues of US$1.9 trillion and assets of US$3 trillion.  That is about a third higher than the combined revenues created by the oil and gas sector.

Nonprofit companies create 20% more employment (by revenue) than for profit companies. Their ‘shareholders’ are the people they support and work with. Whatever revenues they generate they are always re-invested into the organization. Revenues cannot and are never taken out of the organization and paid out as dividends to make individuals rich.

Bonnie Koenig’s 2004 Book on internationally operating nonprofits

The nonprofit sector has ‘international’ coded into its DNA. Nonprofit organizations deal with ethnic, linguistic and social minorities; they work across borders; their staff and their clients are, in many cases, based across different countries; their fundraising efforts, outreach, and communications strategies are multi-cultural and multi-lingual – even when they work locally. The Rosetta Foundation in Ireland delivered its first translation job into African languages to Ruhama, a Dublin-based organization working with women from around the globe living in Ireland.

Isn’t it time to recognize the scale of internationally traded nonprofit enterprises?

Step 3: A Small Country on the Edge of Europe

Ireland is a small country on the western edge of Europe. However, there are many areas where Ireland has continuously ‘punched above its weight’. One of these areas is that of support for people in need, a trait that many relate back to Irish history, its experience as an occupied country over many centuries, the oppression of its language and culture, the Irish famine, and mass emigration.

Ireland is a country that is regarded as friendly, non-partisan, and generous. Some of the world’s most high profile charity events were led by Irish people, such as the 1985 Live Aid event, organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for the relief of the ongoing famine in Ethiopia, which attracted a global live audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations. Another prominent Irishman involved in global development issues is u2’s lead singer Bono. Ireland’s former President, Mary Robinson, was the high profile UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

On the business side, Ireland has become a global leader in internationally traded services. 84% of Irish goods are exported. According to the IDA, the Irish government agency responsible for attracting foreign direct investment to the country, nine out of ten top pharmaceutical companies are located in Ireland. The country has also evolved into one of the world’s most important centres for high-tech businesses, especially in the Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) sector. Nine out of the top ten ICT companies maintain a presence in Ireland. They are responsible for 25% of Ireland’s total turnover and represent one third of Ireland’s exports by value.

Ireland was the birthplace of the localisation industry in the 1980s. Softrans International was one, if not the first localisation service provider; Lotus Development was the first true multinational digital publisher to establish a significant presence outside of the US in Ireland.

The localisation industry made Ireland at some point the world’s largest exporter of software, ahead of the USA.

Isn’t it up to Ireland to take the lead in what promises to be the most significant growth opportunity for the industry, according to world leading experts, i.e. user-driven, community oriented, and socially aware international, and translation and localisation services?

Isn’t it time for Ireland to focus on the development of Ireland as a world centre for nonprofit internationally traded services?

Summary

To make it very clear: (1) Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) or companies are enterprises. What differentiates them from for profit enterprises is that they are not owed by individuals; they cannot be sold; and they do not have shareholders, nor do they pay dividends. (2) Charities are nonprofit organizations or companies with philanthropic goals. Otherwise, they can be run just like any other company or enterprise. They can be and should be at least as goal oriented, efficient, and innovative as for profit companies. One central differentiator is that they create significantly more and more stable employment (by revenue) than for profit enterprises whose main goal is to look after the interest of their owners or shareholders.

The Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL), a Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) and Irish research flagship investment, has

Working with thousands of volunteers and communities for non-market-driven knowledge exchange across languages

produced highly innovative technology that has been taken up by one of its most successful spin-offs, The Rosetta Foundation, to power the work of thousands of volunteers for dozens of nonprofits who are operating internationally. Within a very short period of time, The Rosetta Foundation has had a significant impact on the work of nonprofits in Ireland and abroad, operationalizing world-leading research made in Ireland.

The Irish Government needs to ask itself whether its efforts and money are really best spent almost exclusively on attracting and keeping multinational for profit enterprises who move quickly to where they can make the highest profits.

Here is the call for action: Let’s uncover an industry hidden in plain view; acknowledge the deep international nature of nonprofit enterprise and its need for nonprofit translation and localisation services; position Ireland as the ideal location for internationally traded nonprofit technology, products and services.

Anyone?

For further reading and information check the following:
Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange (INKE), Irish Nonprofits: What do we know? (January 2012)
Clay Shirky, How cognitive surplus will change the world (June, 2010)
John Mulholland, Bono on Africa: ‘What excites me is thinking about its future’. The U2 singer tells the Observer’s editor why the continent stands on the brink of becoming an economic powerhouse. The Observer, Sunday 20 February 2011.
Michelle McHugh, Pharmaceuticals in Ireland (no date).
Aoife O’Brien, ICT Ireland (no date). This article provides a good overview of the ICT sector in Ireland backed up by solid up-to-date data.
Centre for Next Generation Localisation
Localisation Research Centre  (LRC) at the University of Limerick
The Rosetta Foundation

Become a ‘Friend of The Rosetta Foundation’ and donate $5/month to support the core operations of the Foundation.

ONE – Is it getting better? tekom ’12

October 24, 2012

‘Do you really believe that this is a US$32 billion industry?’, said the hardcore tycoon to us with desperation in his voice at dinner (he was paying), looking around and remembering his first day at what had been sold to him as the world’s largest localisation industry event. He had been brought in as CEO by a large localisation service provider (LSP) to float the company on the stock exchange within three years. He had expected to make a killing, big bucks – and now this irritating feeling kept creeping up in his stomach that he had swallowed a “lemon”. The tycoon had decades of experience in big business. He looked at industry events as showcases, trading posts, and shop fronts to potential clients and to the world. What he had experienced that day was more reminiscent of a class reunion: it was a meeting of people who had come together to show that they were still around and that they were doing well.

This week, 23-25 October, in the middle of the busy conference season, the world’s largest event for technical communications, the tekom annual conference and the tcworld and tekom fair, is taking place in one of Germany’s least know cities, Wiesbaden. It will attract 2,400 conference participants and 1,200 visitors to Wiesbaden’s Rhein-Main Hallen.

I was there on Monday, when exhibitors were getting ready setting up their stalls. It was impressive. Like a ‘real’ trade show. Technician’s high up on cranes fitting sophisticated displays. Carpenters fitting high-gloss veneers. Caterers making sure workers had enough to eat and drink during their day-long job erecting “stands” of a size that would cover the entire exhibition space of a “global” localisation event. The place was full of energy, it was busy, and it was big. It felt like what it promised to be: a global event.

Walking around, I met many friends and colleagues who were busy getting their material organised. Most of the localisation and translation industry associations had their booth already set up, among them Tekom, ELIA and GALA. All of them, with the notable exception of the tekom stand, were modest in size and sparse in fittings. I was wondering: was that because these were small associations, because they did not want to be seen by their members to “waste” their membership fees, or was it because they were just not used to present themselves as what they are: large, significant, and global trade associations.

A lot of the localisation service and technology providers were there too, among them Across, Lucy Software, Plunet, and SDL, many with installations of a size I had never seen before. They must look at this as a good investment, something that will be worth their while, looking the business, representatives of a US$32 billion industry – even if this is, remember, not a localisation, but a technical communications conference and fair.

I like the GALA conference, I like Localisation World, and, of course, I very much like the world’s oldest dedicated localisation event, the Annual LRC Conference in Limerick, Ireland. I like meeting friends and colleagues, and the opportunity to find out how they are doing. I always learn something new and the personal contacts are invaluable for my work. But I would also like an event, one event, for our industry that felt truly global, inclusive, and like a statement. That of a US$32 billion industry. Anyone?

PS: One (“Is it getting better? Or do you feel the same? Will it make it easier on you now? You got someone to blame.”) is a song by Irish band U2 worth listening to. It also carries the message that we are all different, but can “carry each other”, a nice idea that ONE could, for example, link up with the idea of Social Localisation.
Follow tcworld 2012 on Twitter #tcworld12

Running for your Life or Going the Extra Mile?

October 18, 2012

Tap tap tap … the sound of someone’s feet hitting the ground, running. A young girl, Marie, is cheered on by her schoolmates as well as by her young, enthusiastic teacher, Joe Connor. She is running around a dusty school ground and setting a ‘new world record’, which is enthusiastically announced by Joe who is providing an adrenaline-charged live commentary to the run, using a short stick as a pretend microphone.

Change of location.

Tap tap tap … the feet of runners hitting the ground at 5 a.m. at Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. On the vast fields at Jan Meda (‘the king’s field’), they’re running. They’re also running on Bole Road and on steep Menelik II Avenue, which leads down from the palace. And they are running up 3,200-meter Mount Entoto.

Two scenes with a very different background, leading to different outcomes, but with just one message.

The first scene is taken from a film, Killing Dogs, about Rwanda in 1994. It is based on real events, filmed on location with people who had been part of the terrible events that took place there. Marie, the runner, is a student of the École Technique Officielle in Kigali and doesn’t realize that she would soon be running for her life. The genocide starts just a few days after Marie’s ‘world record’, and Father Christopher, the school’s principal, tries to get Marie out of the killing zone. His car is stopped at a roadblock by one of his former students. While Marie hides under the car, his former student kills Father Christopher in cold blood. Marie starts running for her life, for days.

Fast-forward five years. Marie, who managed to escape the genocide that had taken the lives of some 800,000 Rwandans, walks into the church of an exclusive private school where Joe, who had also escaped the killings, directs a boys’ choir. The film finishes with a scene on the manicured lawns of the school with well-dressed hockey players running around, and Joe and Marie sitting under a beautiful tree. ‘When I was running for my life your voice commenting on my run around the schoolyard was in my head, all the time.’ Mary says. ‘Why did you leave us?’ After some hesitation, Joe answers, ‘I was afraid to die.’ Mary concludes, ‘We are fortunate, all this time that we have been given. We must use it well.’

The second story is about the heirs to a tradition that started when the barefoot Abebe Bikila won the marathon in 1960 Olympics in Rome. Since then, international distance running has been dominated by Ethiopia, a developing nation with almost no formal athletic training facilities. Haile Gebrselassie has been the face of Ethiopian running for over two decades, setting a total of twenty-seven world records. Now thirty-nine years old, Haile concentrates his efforts on mentoring the next generation of Ethiopian runners. The first Ethiopian woman to win an Olympic gold medal was Derartu Tulu, who took first place in 10,000 metres during the 1992 Olympics Games in Barcelona. Abebe and Haile consider themselves to be proof that poverty does not have to be a barrier to success and that running can make dreams come true. Haile turned one of his dreams into reality with his success as a runner. He grew up just outside Assela, a small community 54 km north of Bekoji and south of the capital. He built a bridge across a river that ran through his village and that had taken the lives of a father and a son trying to cross it in the rainy season. He also built several hotels around the country and is involved in a development called Yaya Village, a new high-altitude training facility outside of Addis Ababa. Joseph Kibur, another runner who is following his dreams, developed this facility originally. ‘When one of the athletes become successful, the whole family—and sometimes the whole neighbourhood—is lifted out of poverty’, says Joseph. Yaya Village (Yaya means ‘happiness’) opened in 2011 about 15 km outside of Addis Ababa. At an altitude of 2,500 metres it is surrounded by trails that provide an ideal environment for the coaching of young athletes by Olympic superstars such as Haile Gebrselassie and Gezahegn Abera. The village provides all the facilities elite athletes require and, in addition, offers comfortable conference rooms and restaurants for the less athletic visitors. The preparations for the 2016 Olympics are already in full swing at Yaya Village, and Joseph Kibur and his friends are hopeful that Ethiopia will again be victorious in Brazil.

The two stories taught me several lessons, not just about the different aspects of life and people in Africa, but mostly about my own life and my own priorities. When I checked the origin of the phrase ‘going the extra mile’ which is a well-(ab-)used phrase in business conversations, it turned out that it’s actually taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41): ‘If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles’, i.e. the ‘extra mile’. We are, in the words of genocide survivor Marie, ‘fortunate with all this time we have been given. We must use it well’. The Ethiopian runners teach us how to use this time well with dedication, focus and hard work, and with a clear goal in our minds, so that we can make a difference not just to our own lives, but to those of our family, our neighbourhood and our whole country, even if the odds seem to be against us.

The exchange of knowledge and information across languages cannot be left to commercial interests alone. We are the ones to prove it. Language matters.

For the first time in my life I’ll be running a marathon, at the Dublin Marathon on 29 October. I know that my friends from Ethiopia will cross the finish line a good two hours before me, but hopefully I won’t just go, but run the last mile.

If you want to support my run for The Rosetta Foundation, please go to http://bit.ly/SWedeq.

Shooting Dogs (released in the USA as Beyond the Gates) is a 2005 film, directed by Michael Caton-Jones and is based on the experiences of BBC news producer David Belton.
Steve Winston (2012). ‘Ethiopia’s Distance Running Legacy. In Search of the Secret’. Selamta Magazine, Vol 29, No 3, July/August 2012, pp. 22-33. This was the primary source for the story about the Ethiopian Runners.
More information on Yaya Village Training Centre: www.yayavillage.com

Note: This blog will also be published in my blog for The Rosetta Foundation, October 2012

No one likes us – I don’t know why! TM-Europe, Warsaw, 3-4 October 2012

October 6, 2012

My Impressions from Translation Management Europe (TM-Europe)
Warsaw, 04-05 October 2012

Many translators believe that their work is not sufficiently appreciated. But so do many multinational digital publishers who don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t speak English. I used Randy Newman’s now 40 year old song Political Science as an opener for my reflections on Trends in Localisation. Its lyrics reflect, in a humorous way, how ambivalent the views of many publishers are in relation to the rest of the world: while foreign countries provide new markets on one hand, they cause a lot of trouble and headache on the other. Borrowing the words of Newman, this is how the publishers most likely see the situation:

Now Asia’s crowded
And Europe’s too old.
Africa’s far too hot,
And Canada’s too cold.
And South America stole our name.
Let’s drop the big one; there’ll be no one left to blame us.

The solution Newman proposes (and the publishers might be dreaming about): Pax Americana.

Well, boom goes London,
And boom Paris.
More room for you
And more room for me.
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town.
Oh, how peaceful it’ll be;
We’ll set everybody free.

With one exception:

We’ll save Australia;
Don’t want to hurt no kangaroo.
We’ll build an all-American amusement park there;
They’ve got surfing, too.

Luckily, and according to the Wall Street Journal, one of the world’s most influential business thinkers and other experts see the world in a much more positive light: Resulting from recent social movements, they are observing a shift

TM-Europe, Warsaw, 3-4 October 2012

from control to out-of-control, from corporate to social, and from compliance to engagement. Gary Hamel (‘The elites no longer control the conversation’), Marc Benioff (‘This is about corporate spring’), Daniel Pink (‘Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement’), and Clay Shirky (‘ One trillion hours of participatory value are up for grabs.’) all support the argument I made in my presentation on ‘Trends in Localisation‘ for Social Localisation in Warsaw at TM-Europe this week.

In fact, TM-Europe was all about the future, to a point where Peter Reynolds, with a wink in his eye, did not allow panel contributions on MT describing it as a 50 year old technology. TM-Europe, organized for the 5th time by Peter Reynolds, supported by a dedicated conference committee, attracted around 80, incredibly diverse and colourful translation professionals from all around the world to Warsaw. Some, no doubt, had come because they wanted to discover the beauty of Poland’s capital city; some openly confessed that they were not really sure what had brought them to TM-Europe; but the majority, clearly, had come because of the impressive line-up of keynote speakers and contributors, ranging from Chris Durban, one of the world’s best known practicing translators, Mark Childress, SAP’s eminent terminology expert and world-leading practitioner, to change management expert Stefan Gentz, translator and self-confessed philosopher Kevin Lossner (referring to Common Nonsense Advisory), US-based Westpoint graduate Doug Strock, Polish translator and climber Michal Tyszkowski, process optimization expert Alain Chamsi, and, maybe, also myself reporting on Social Localisation as the industry’s biggest opportunity for growth.

There were no surprises in Chris Durban’s talk. She is not a person that pulls any punches. She just fires the customer. Not all clients can live up to the high expectations this practicing translator-powerhouse has of her premium customers. If you want to buy bulk at wholesale prices, you won’t get it from Chris Durban. I had met her for the first time in April 2011 at a course at the Universidade do Minho in Braga, Portugal, where we both had been invited by Prof Fernando Ferreira Alves to contribute, and had been looking forward to her keynote at TM-Europe. Chris was in true form and didn’t disappoint any of us who had come to hear this translator (‘I translate every day!’) with attitude (‘I like money and like to be paid premium fees for premium work.’), and to learn from her about how to deal with customers who want to buy commoditized words, rather than professional services.

Although announced as a keynote about the ‘Future of Terminology Management’, Mark Childress rather shared with us some of the lessons he had learned during his long and successful career as SAP’s terminology guru, serving 25 industry sectors in 45+ languages. For some strange reason, Mark’s and my ways had never crossed, at least not knowingly, but I had heard so much about him that the possibility of listening to this calmly speaking gentleman with a unique, deep voice about a subject that few if any practitioners understand better than him, would have been enough reason for me to attend TM-Europe. Mark focused on how terminology work is being affected by a constant increase in complexity, immediate access, lightening speed, and interoperating systems. I very much liked his remark that terminology, at times, is also (ab-)used to demark territories and to keep ‘ordinary people’ out of professional conversations. To illustrate this point, he told the amusing story of an Englishman speaking in German to a doctor about his ‘Appendizitis’ (he had ‘translated’ the quite common English term ‘appendicitis’ directly into German) and the German doctor asking him whether he was a colleague – ordinary Germans would have called the condition ‘Blinddarmentzündung’, while the ‘latin’ term ‘Appendizitis’ is the term preferred by the medical profession. It triggered off the memory of a similar experience a Spanish friend of mine had had in Ireland when he had talked to an Irish priest about the Epiphany and had to clarify that no, he was not a priest. Mark’s contribution was not just a master lesson in terminology management, his presentation was also a refreshing reminder that listening to words, rather than looking at powerpoint slides, requires a level of concentration that these days we are rarely expected to contribute anymore as an audience.

In addition to the main programme, the event also offered the opportunity to join a professional workshop on Project Management Workshop prepared by Martin Beuster and Daniel Zielinski, and to network at the conference dinner and during extended coffee breaks. The exhibitors, among them Plunet, SDL, and Kilgray will most likely not record a dramatic increase in sales as a result of this event, but they did have the opportunity to take part in a specially organized Translation Technology Showcase.

I met some old friends and made new ones; I learned about interesting ways to tackle common and not so common translation challenges; and I smiled at and sometimes laughed out loud about some of the witty and to-the-point remarks from some of the strange, wonderful, and highly engaged participants. Australia-based Tea Dietterich (‘I know nothing about translation, but I understand the requirements of my clients and can serve them better than any of my competitors’) worked her magic like no-other; Larissa Ekonoja (‘I work with more than 60 language professionals.’) will one day decide whether she is running an enterprise (she is) or whether she is ‘just’ collaborating with colleagues; Susan Starling, now based in Florida, had driven all the way to Warsaw from Berlin providing a lift to colleagues and friends; Monika Popiolek, being herself, engaged in passionate debates about standards in the translation industry. I had good and interesting conversations about Social Localisation with Valerij Tomarenko (Freelancer, Hamburg), Anton Soldatov and Yulia Akhulkova (ITI Global Vision, Russia), Iwona Maj (Oracle, Poland), Diane McCartney (Freelancer, The Netherlands), Steven Sklar (Freelancer, France), Sonia Lopez (Spanish Solutions, Miami), Bastian Enners (Plunet), Paul Filkin and Wesley Budd (SLD).

Among the really interesting and provocative statements, from my perspective, were some of the following: Standards are just defining the lowest common denominator, not more; the best quality standard to follow is to put your name under every translation you deliver; how do you explain the disconnect between what is paid for translation and what translation generates in terms of value and revenue (>60% of overall revenues in the case of many digital publishers); make yourself a real part of the client’s team to avoid bulk vs. premium discussions; don’t engage with low-level procurement, talk to strategic-level COO; can traditional change management and best practice approaches really still be used to deal with the speed of change we are experiencing today; having access to knowledge before your competitors do can make all the difference for your business; it’s about value and opportunity, not the ‘best’ price for a word.
Some of the wittiest and provocative statements quoted at TM-Europe were those of Miguel Llorens who had planned to participate in the Warsaw Pact Debate at the event but who had sadly passed away unexpectedly just a few weeks ago. There is no doubt that his free spirit will stay with the translation community and us for a long time!

The Rosetta Foundation made an appeal during TM-Europe 2012 to attendees and friends watching our tweets to sign up as a Friend of The Rosetta Foundation, donating €5 per month to support their work. On behalf of The Rosetta Foundation, I would like to thank Tea Dietterich and Larissa Ekonoja who both signed up since yesterday. There is still time and opportunity to follow their great example.

The closing words of advice of one of the panelists in the Warsaw Pact Debate were very much along the lines of what Miguel would have said: ‘work harder than the other guy; gamble, occasionally; spend some time doing ‘good’, engage with clients, go on a training course. But above all: don’t be afraid, the future is good.’

You can follow some of the people mentioned in this blog on Twitter, for example Peter Reynolds (@peterrey), Susan Starling (@sustarling), Stefan Gentz (@stefangentz), Monika Popiolek (@monikapopiolek), Larissa Ekonoja (@fluidtranslatio), Tea Dietterich (@2mlanguages), Wesley Bud (@LocaliseMe), The Rosetta Foundation (@TheRosettaFound), Social Localisation (@SocialLoc).

Websites relating to this blog: TM-EuropeThe Rosetta Foundation,
Miguel Llorens’ blog  and website, and Chris Durban

Programme Committee TM-Europe 2012: Mark Childress, Kevin Lossner, Monika Popiolek, Peter Reynolds.

Become a Friend of The Rosetta Foundation by donating $5/month and encourage your friends to do likewise!

From Russia with Love – TFR 2012, Kazan, Russia

October 3, 2012

Not being able to read signs and labels; not being able to ask for directions or help; intimidated by controls, checkpoints, and procedures I did not recognize. I was quietly praying that I would get through the next few days in Russia without any major trouble, feeling, I imagined, like millions of refugees and migrants arriving in what they hope is going to become their new home – though I had the re-assurance of my credit card and sufficient cash in my pocket to cover me over the coming days. I had met an ex-Russian tank commander now living in the USA, who had attended one of our localisation summer schools at the Localisation Research Centre (LRC) in Limerick. When I had asked him about what he perceived to be the major difference between living in Russia and living in the USA, he briefly reflected and then said: “Last week I was stopped for speeding by the police in the US. My first reaction, as a Russian, was to put my hand into my pocket, take out some cash and propose to ‘split the fine’. Then I realized how stupid that would have been. When you are stopped by police in the USA, these are precisely the two things you do not do: One to put you hand into your pocket without being ask to do so, and two to offer money to an officer.” I was curious about the days to come, to say the least.

Opening of Europe’s largest Translation and Localisation event, with 500 registered participants.

I had met Demid Tishin, the main organizer of the 2012 Translation Forum Russia, at the last GALA Conference where he had asked me whether I would be interested in contributing to their event to be held in one of Russia’s most beautiful cities, Kazan. I jumped at the opportunity and was all excited about visiting the country that for me had remained behind an ‘iron curtain’ for much of my lifetime. What amazed me about the event itself was that, according to Demid, it had become Europe’s largest translation and localisation gathering. And I, the ‘expert’ in localisation, had not even heard about it.

So here I was in Kazan, 800km east of Moscow, deep down in Russia. My first impressions: a nice, clean, well-off city, inhabited exclusively by young people. And half of them seemed to get married on the Friday I arrived. My new Russian friends later told me that getting married in Russia is easy: it takes about 15 minutes in a marriage registration office (where there are long queues), plus a video camera to capture the proceedings, and a couple of friends to have a few drinks and something to eat afterwards; if you have the money, you could also rent out a nicely decorated car and go on a drive to mark the day. Young Russian couples seem to have much in common with young Russian Entrepreneurs: they don’t hang around and when they have made up their mind, they go for it.

TRF kicked off on Friday morning, with a long-ish opening ceremony which included some eminent speakers from such eminent institutions as the European Council and Russian Universities, speakers who were proud to say that they belonged to the anti-powerpoint brigade, speakers who could deliver their highly consistent and intelligent views without reading from a script. The diversity of the coming three days – yes, they did run the conference over the weekend! – became apparent right from the beginning, when speeches by the old professors where followed by talks from some of Russia’s most successful language and translation entrepreneurs. While the latter were focused on their business and turnover, the former didn’t care about business at all but were very concerned about the state of the Russian language and it’s (ab-)use by young, semi-illiterate digital natives. All talks and presentations during the plenary sessions were accompanied by psychedelic light shows and dramatic music supplied by professional DJs. The interpreters, all volunteers, did a fantastic job allowing me and a handful of non-Russian speakers among the record 500 participants to follow the proceedings, enjoying the privilege of learning about the concerns of translators and interpreters, academics, and businesses. I was busy tweeting about this amazing experience #tfrus, even trying to GoogleTranslate some of the Russian tweets – which provided me with additional inside into what was going on. It turned out that the Russian sense of humour is very different, and that there is a distinct lack of gender equality and emancipation of women: strong men and pretty women were topics running through many tweets by my Russian colleagues. Probably the best joke as judged by the audience and accompanied by hysterical laughter was the remark that ‘if Russia could  produce cars in the  way they produce women, the Germans would have to borrow money from the Greeks’.

Among the eminent speakers at TFR were Noel Muylle, Honorary Member of the European Language Council. He talked about The Importance of Taking Translation and Interpretation Seriously – implying that some stakeholders don’t! Mr Muylle is a gentleman of the ‘old’ school and proud not to need slides to back up his talk; comments on the tweet feed #tfrus reflected the at times surprised reaction to his statements. Bob Donaldson, Carson Strategy Group,
is an industry veteran and well known not just in Russia, but also in the West; he talked about General Industry Trends and Forecasts, a View from the West. Doug Lawrence, of Amicus TransTec, is an outed vegetarian and non-drinker of alcohol, but he must have had taken something before his presentation on
’Stereotypes, the good and the bad, their impact, and what Russian Translation Providers should do about it!’ because it was more a performance than a presentation; Doug not only speaks Russian, but he must also be very familiar with the Russian soul, because he immediately connected not just with the minds but also with the hearts of the audience, making one fan tweet ‘I love you Doug’! Andrei Chuzhakin, of the Moscow State Linguistic University, brought the tone back to a more serious level lecturing on
’Interpreting and Native Language—Friends or Enemies?’. Andrey Moiseev, of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Committee, provided a breathtaking overview
of ’Breakthrough in Sports’ on the scale of the preparations for the Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia, next year.

I was scheduled to give three talks on Multilingual Computing and Localisation, Research with a Difference (Industrial Relevance), and A Handup-Not a Handout (The Rosetta Foundation). All went well and generated quite some interest among the audience – although it was evident that localisation was not the hot topic it is in Ireland in oil- and gas-rich Tatarstan. Unfortunately, I was not able to follow all the talks I had selected from the excellently prepared English version of the programme brochure as a single English speaker in the audience couldn’t justify the presence and support of interpreters.

One morning I skipped the very first conference session and went for a long amazing run instead. I managed to accidently enter the President of the Republic of Tatarstan Palace through a back entrance greeting the heavily and slightly irritated and heavily armed guards with a smile when I exited via the front gate, jumping across the barriers designed to keep intruders out. In true pre-Marathon form I also went out of town for perhaps 10km to see how the majority of the one million plus people in Kazan live. To get there, again I had to jump, this time over giant potholes,  I had to use the highway instead of the non-existent footpath, and run across unpaved side roads lined with a mix of high-rise cheap apartment blocks and wooden tin-roofed shags. I learned to understand how state-employed doctors can live on a few hundred euro salary, and how highly trained and well-educated translators in Kazan manage with a monthly salary of just 300 euro.

In the end, I was happy that I had taken the 16-hour three-plane journey with an overnight stay in a smoky Irish pub at one of Moscow’s three giant airports to join Translation Forum Russia. The energy of the event, run by people in their 20s and 30s full of confidence and energy was contaminating. Russia is a country of enormous geographical expands, huge natural resources, and dominated by a new generation of people who will transform the country into a modern, just, and engaged society based on true citizenship. I am truly grateful to Demid and his supporters, especially Bella and Ekaterina, for inviting me to Translation Forum Russia and for making me feel so welcome. Translators, Interpreters, and Localisers will play a crucial role in connecting Russia and her people with the rest of the world. Next time I’ll visit Russia, I’ll be visiting friends.

The Russian city of Kazan hosted Europe’s Largest Translation and Localisation Industry Event, Translation Forum Russia (28-30 September 2012), with 500 professionals registered. http://www.tconf.com


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