A Few Words

Donald J. Plumley, CEO

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Translation Should Be a Production Step in Your Manufacturing Process

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Jan 19, 2016 12:49:28 PM

manufacturing_translation.jpgWorld-class manufacturing companies have seen the many benefits of a process-oriented approach to manufacturing. One of the core concepts of lean manufacturing, the elimination of waste (Muda ), is applied to everything, including inventory, transport times, motion, and waiting. When combined with the philosophy of continual improvement the results are a steady increase in quality, a decrease in costs, and an improved manufacturing agility.

Although translation contains an element of art, its production benefits from a process approach no different from any manufacturing operation. By establishing a consistent production process (as opposed to bespoke per customer), we can focus on continual improvement, leading to a streamlined process and uniform training for project managers. Supported by technology to automate repetitive tasks and centralization storage of key information helps remove “tribal knowledge” or reliance on unique individual resources and eliminate information islands that are barriers to consistency and scalability.

Manufacturing_Translation.jpgThe classic book, The Machine That Changed the World provides a key lesson in the contrast between the old approach of white-coated quality inspectors at the end of the production line and the lean method of incorporating quality directly into the production process. Translation production should be no different. The first principle is to use specialist translators fluent in the subject matter. This is the same as using a wrench specifically sized to a bolt versus using an adjustable wrench that takes time to align and can damage the fastener. Next, an independent editorial review represents a process-approach to maintaining consistency and identifying poorly-performing practitioners at the individual level. The alternative, inspecting quality after completion, typically results in delays from rework and the inability to prevent future recurrence. Finally, a statistically-driven automated QA sampling system provides an independent assessment of individual practitioners to ensure consistency and avoid human recency bias – “trust, but verify.”

Perhaps the largest difference between manufactured goods and translated language is the measurement of conformance to a quality standard. Products have the benefit of dimensions and specifications – these are absolute standards with pass/fail criteria. Language, on the other hand, is highly personal, and one person’s treasure is another’s trash. There are however means to define and measure conformance to objective language quality standards. Establishing standards that include agreement on glossary, style guide, and categories/severity of errors are among the important steps to create organizational trust between translation provider and translation buyer. This requires that the same discipline applied to production management be used by language reviewers – making translation a step in the production process instead of a post-production afterthought.

By treating translation as a process with continual improvement in mind, the practical translation buyer can expect to receive the same benefits of any lean manufacturer: Reduction in Muda, resulting in continual improvements to quality, speed, and cost.

Elanex Celebrates 13 Years of Fast, Accurate and Easy Translation

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Sep 10, 2015 9:56:00 AM

Thirteen years ago Jonathan Kirk founded Elanex with the mission of becoming a new kind of translation services provider.  He set out to marry the Art and Science of Translation to establish a new level of performance in the industry.


Elanex delivered on this vision. Since then, we have developed our own best-in-class technology platform to connect the world’s specialist translators with clients seeking efficiently delivered, high quality language translation services. From our pioneering centralized production platform to the launch of expressIt, we have been an innovator in advanced translation technology, further realizing the Art and Science of Translation.

Today we celebrate the technology and the team that routinely delivers fast, accurate, and easy translation. Our platform is in the cloud. Our clients and our team are global. We deliver an amazing breadth of languages in specific subjects. Elanex has evolved and grown into a truly trusted provider, an essential partner to many global clients. Each and every day we take on the challenges of transforming the written word for our clients’ customers around the globe. 

As we take a moment to look back, it is clear that we have much to be proud of, especially our commitment to providing excellent service to our clients.  This promise to serve remains a constant and fuels our desire to continually improve and achieve. At a time when instant communication makes the world seem like a smaller place, language and culture remain as a reminder of our differences – and our important role in helping to bridge those distances.

Happy Founder’s Day!

Topics: Announcements

5 Tips for Choosing a Translation Service Provider

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Jun 18, 2015 2:55:00 PM

Internet_dogMore than 20 years ago, cartoonist Peter Steiner created one of the most famous New Yorker cartoons of all time.  It features two dogs in an office, one sitting at a computer. The caption reads: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Steiner’s cartoon is still relevant today.  With so much business conducted without meeting face to face, it’s hard to know whom you’re actually working with.   This is especially true when it comes to translation services. The barriers to entry to put up a website and market translation services are very low. On top of that, customers can rarely directly judge the quality of services, as it is unlikely they can read the finished product.

If you’re in the market for translation services, here are five things to consider before selecting a company to trust with your brand.

Can They Meet Your Needs?

Both you and your provider must be crystal clear on what you want to achieve. Website localization from English to Chinese for a consumer goods company and translation of contracts and financial records for M&A due diligence are two completely different situations and both require a knowledge-set far beyond just the languages. Ensuring that your business and project requirements are aligned with the capabilities of your translation service provider is critical to creating a long-lasting partnership.

images-1-1Should You Rely on a Test Translation?

Most translation service providers are happy to perform short test translations for potential clients as a way to demonstrate the quality of their work. Test translations, however, aren’t always the best predictor of capability or long-term translation quality. On one hand, you run the risk that the translation company will spend much more time on your test than with the real work that follows. On the other hand, a one-time test doesn’t show what a company is capable of once they have set up a customized team and process to handle your specific need.

Furthermore, since language is subjective, you should offer guidelines to translators before the test. If available, provide examples of translations in the tone and style you (or your reviewer) prefer. Prepare a glossary of key terminology. Be clear on your objectives for the test. Are you looking for a highly literal translation or one adapted to the specific market and customer?

Given a one-shot opportunity to impress, it should not be a surprise that the translator carefully selected to perform the test may not be on the team that ultimately does the work. Instead, ask about the linguists who will be assigned to your project. Are they subject-matter experts or are they just generalists? What kind of processes and checks does the company use to insure a consistent level of quality and performance? What happens if the volume is much larger than one translator can handle alone?

Does the Company Have a Quality Control Process?

Since the quality of a translation can be highly subjective, there are techniques a company can use to consistently meet your expectations. Will they use a glossary and style guide?  How are translators selected and evaluated? Will an editor (a qualified linguist) review each sentence of each document or are they just proofreading or spot-checking? Do they stand behind their work with a warranty?


It is a rare situation where cost is not carefully scrutinized. Given that there is surprising variability in prices for translation services, does a low price mean good value or low quality? The unit of pricing is typically by the source word. This price is dependent upon the process, the skills of the translators and editors – the price is higher for complex or unusual subjects – and the amount of additional services required. With pricing that is “too good to be true,” the maxim caveat emptor applies. Regardless of price, make sure that the quote is fully inclusive. Does it include a separate editorial review process? Project management time? What about the time to format the final document or review the webpage in final form to make sure the translated text displays properly? If the price is really low, are they using machine translation and asking a translator to fix only the egregious errors?

Speed and Ease of Translation

Meeting deadlines is a principal concern for companies and should be one of the main areas of discussion with any potential translation provider. It is fundamental for translators to translate efficiently, reliably and on-time. A timeframe for completion should be clearly agreed at the very beginning of any project.

In summary, finding the right translation provider and a capable team of linguists that can reliably deliver high-quality translation can be a daunting task. By considering the tips mentioned above, your company will soon be on the right track to build partnership with the right translation service firm that can meet and exceed your company’s needs and goals. 


Topics: Best Business Practices, Translation Basics

Managing the Global Workforce: Communication is Key

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Apr 22, 2015 2:34:00 PM

images-2-1Successful global expansion takes more than renting office space in another country. Companies both large and small looking to global markets to drive growth are finding out that effective communication with the global workforce is both important and challenging. Accenture published a report discussing expansion best practices and lessons for HR professionals – such as how one firm seeks to:

“…manage these employees in ways that are aligned with a global approach to employee services, while also complying with different statutory requirements and respecting local differences in how people are motivated, developed and paid.”

Staffing overseas offices with trusted staff from the headquarters may be a convenient way to expand quickly, but:

“… if a company expects its growth to be in emerging economies, having leadership from the West swoop in with a set of attitudes and presumptions that may not be appropriate for a growth market can create a real business risk.”

The report notes that having globally consistent polices with local relevance requires:

“…an HR approach that is both super global and super local.”

You can read the entire Accenture report here. Communication that is both globally consistent and locally relevant takes a deft touch – and a trusted partner to help render it into local languages along with your training materials and other resources. We would be happy to share our best practices and approach to help you connect with your team around the globe.

Topics: Employee Communication and HR, Best Business Practices

Elanex GlobalNote: The Translation is "Unintelligible"

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Apr 8, 2015 12:30:00 PM


Perhaps the largest challenge of professional translation is the subjectivity of language. Even this simple posting could be edited into a great number of variations, depending upon each of our personal preferences. That’s the beauty of language and human communication: while there are rules on how language is to be structured and used, it remains incredibly personal. 

The other day a client contacted us with feedback from their end-customer saying that our translation was terrible – “unintelligible” was the term they used. It’s the sort of email that causes the pulse to quicken and a knot to form in the stomach. We are all problem solvers, we want to fix the situation and make the pain go away as fast as possible. Our first clue that this was perhaps not a “typical" translation problem was the hyperbole of “unintelligible.” However, since people get understandably agitated when deadlines and reputations are on the line, and since we’ve seen language debacles large and small, we took this seriously and the team jumped into action – keeping a calm head and professional manner - not adding fuel to the fire.

images-5A quick review of the final translation we delivered did not unearth anything “unintelligible.” Our independent reviewer noted some debatable preference choices, but otherwise indicated it was a proper translation. This suggested that the end customer was seeing something different from what we delivered.  We asked our customer to send us the files their customer reviewed, and after some detailed detective work, we could see that the end-translation was a heavily modified version of what we originally delivered. Informed of this finding, our client discovered its customer had given them a list of change requests, and rather than consult us, someone from our client took it upon himself to change the translations. He inserted new content assembled from free online machine translation. The client updated terminology using global search and replace, ignoring context and noun endings, resulting in major grammatical errors. In places, the final document was truly unintelligible. Now we had a situation where the end user was unhappy with the translation provider they never met but believed was incompetent. 

images-3-1When the problem is ours, we admit responsibility and correct. When translating for an intermediary, the most successful results happen when translation is not treated like a “black-box” and we are put in direct contact with the end-customer reviewers. This applies equally to multi-national companies with in-country reviewers and centralized translation management. This essential rapport does more than help us promptly approve glossaries and style guides. It gives us the opportunity to address potential issues before they become part of the project landscape.

Reviewers will always have personal preferences, and rightly so.  By developing a strong relationship with the reviewer, we can incorporate the individual element that makes language so powerful and so personal.

Topics: Case Study, Best Business Practices

M&A Best Practices: Translation as a Competitive Advantage for the Global Deal

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Mar 18, 2015 1:54:00 PM

“Time is the enemy of the deal,” is a well-known M&A imperative. To meet seller milestones and internal review deadlines, having a plan to keep the process moving quickly helps give your company an advantage over other buyers and manage risk. This is especially true of global deals, which often come mawith the additional task of having to review diligence materials in another language. Planning for translation early is an important part of keeping a cross-border deal on track and a great way to stay steps ahead of unprepared bidders.

Global deals are on the rise and currency fluctuations make cross-border targets more interesting for many acquirers, including many that have not before considered looking beyond their borders. With this opportunity comes the complexity of evaluating the benefits and risks of a target operating in another country. How can a globally acquisitive company manage the review of diligence materials in a time and cost efficient manner?

Consider this: the right translation partner has been involved in similar projects and can offer valuable insights on best practices and alternatives. Consider engaging your translation company early, much like other professional service providers such as deal attorneys, in-country counsel, financial advisors, and similar specialists.

Elanex has developed deep experience supporting global M&A. In addition to a translation partnership with leading virtual data room provider Intralinks, the company was instrumental in supporting a multi-billion dollar global deal to promptly pass through regulatory review by translating over 20 million of words in record time. With the Elanex team’s successful participation in numerous global transactions we offer these tips when it comes to hiring a translation company for your global deal:

1. Translators should always be subject–matter experts. With thousands of documents to review, lawyers and other decision makers don’t have time to try to decipher the meaning of an awkward translation because the translator does not know the difference between a hedge and shrubbery.

2. A translation service provider should know the lay of the land. Due diligence should be an area of specialty as time is of the essence and ability to scale a translation team can’t be “learned on the job.” 

3. The company should have the right technology to streamline and manage the process. Technology can be used to speed translation and identify documents (e.g. boilerplate contracts) that may not require translation from scratch to manage expense.

4. The company should be a global service provider, not a small local agency. Global providers have the manpower to keep a project moving and respond to the deal team around the clock. They can scale teams to any size to accommodate surges in demand and production can “follow the sun.” Having teams of translators working in different time zones keeps projects rolling 24 hours a day, effectively tripling daily output.

5. In-Country counsel is indispensible to review critical items and render opinion incorporating local law and governing language. However, it’s noted that some corporate counsel, for Sarbanes-Oxley reasons, want their internal team to review 100% of materials to be fully-familiar with all diligence items – making efficient translation even more critical. Similarly, internal review of translated materials enables your team to identify items of concern unique to your business, IP, and competition.

6. Don’t fall into the trap that your translation service provider is a black box: words in and words out. They can provide meaningful guidance to your M&A team. For example, develop a game plan to help prioritize what documents should be translated first to meet internal review milestones and go/no-go decision points.

The translation of due diligence materials is a critical aspect of global M&A. When intelligently managed, the language barrier won’t stand in the way of promptly closing a deal. To the contrary, knowing how to efficiently translate the data room can help mitigate deal risk and provide a competitive edge over other bidders.

Topics: Legal Translation, Mergers and Acquisitions, Best Business Practices

Elanex GlobalNote | Communicating in Shampoo Language

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Jan 21, 2015 11:49:42 AM



​Communicating with your employees (or customers) in English only? Take a lesson from your shampoo bottle.

Why do shampoo bottles from the UK sold in Denmark, a country with very high levels of English fluency, have instructions in Danish? Robert Lane Greene of the Economist mentioned in a talk I attended this is because marketers want to communicate with consumers as directly as possible without the extra mental processing effort*. For Danes, the instructions, “rinse and repeat” are quickly and easily understood with very little “mental cost” when written in Danish. The goal of the marketer is to build an emotional connection to their brand. They also want to reduce hurdles to adoption – even if its only the mental processing time of a bilingual customer.




In the US, there are over 37 million Hispanic speakers and the number of non-native speakers in other languages is growing fast. While global corporations have long embraced the benefits (and challenges) of a multilingual workforce, all companies face a variety of hurdles communicating effectively with their employees in various languages. So many simply don’t, or don’t do much.

So how are shampoo and the multilingual workforce connected? 

Employee communication - everything from monthly newsletters to training materials to health and safety instructions - traditionally happens in English. If the workforce were asked, “would you prefer to have communication in another language,” many would answer “no preference,” leading to the potentially incorrect conclusion that English is sufficient.  Why? Many simply do not want to admit lack of confidence in the language of the company. In the recent US Census, 24% of those that speak another language at home claim to speak English “not well” or “not well at all."**  

With an increasingly diverse customer base, there are obvious advantages to a multilingual workforce. Delivering employee communication in the languages of the workforce helps reinforce the emotional connection with your team. Considering the value of safety instructions or training materials, take a lesson from your shampoo bottle. Then rinse and repeat.


* This is based on research by Daniel Kahneman describing how much less effort it takes to connect with people in their native language. This is known as System 1 versus System 2 in his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow

** As Common Sense Advisory has noted in "Can't Read, Won't Buy", the comfort one’s native language provides is even more pronounced when it comes to customers’ purchase behavior.  

Topics: Global Consumers, Employee Communication and HR

Elanex GlobalNote | Every Day is Cyber Monday

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Jan 8, 2015 9:43:00 AM



For consumers around the world, fighting traffic at the mall is no longer part of the holiday ritual. Nearly every item can be crossed off the shopping list without ever leaving home.
The same goes for business-to-business transactions. Alibaba, now one of the world's most valuable companies, includes B2B sales as a very important part of the site. Businesses around the world can research and even purchase everything from supplies to machinery with just the click of a few buttons. 

Here are two numbers worth considering:


The number of languages needed to reach 98%
of the global online ​community


The amount of the world’s economic opportunity 
you can access with only 13 languages

Visualizing where these global customers are coming from is also eye opening.  Here is an Infographic that can help you to navigate the global opportunity (click for a larger image or to download):​

Elanex Infographic Languages Online

As you consider ways to accomplish your growth strategies for next year, remember it’s more than selling online. Delivering customer support information, product documentation, training, and more to a global audience require that language be part of your plans. 

Topics: Global Consumers

Elanex Celebrates 12th Anniversary

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Sep 10, 2014 9:42:00 AM

On our 12th anniversary, we celebrate “Founder’s Day” by contemplating the future of the translation industry – and announce our latest technology-enhanced service.

Elanex was conceived by Jonathan Kirk and incorporated on September 10th, 2002 as a new kind of translation services provider – one based on a unique technology platform that connects the world’s best specialist translators with clients seeking efficiently delivered, high-quality language translation services. Over the past twelve years, we have grown from Jonathan’s original vision to an essential partner to many clients around the globe. During this time, many things have changed. Technology is easier to deploy and, thanks to the Cloud, simpler to scale and replicate. Communication is easier, faster, and less expensive. What has not changed and is fundamental to our future is the nature of human interaction and the challenges of transforming the written word for our clients' customers around the world.

Our expectation for ease of use and speed to purchase goods and services has changed dramatically. A single click can deliver merchandise, summon a ridesharing service, or book a spare bedroom in another city. Smartphones are constantly updated with applications that demand continual development. Translation service providers must seamlessly adapt to these driving forces by providing simple means to order services and support a constant stream of updates. Elanex will be that company.

Today on our 12th anniversary I’m proud to announce the launch of VeriFast: High-Velocity Human-Verified Translation, our latest innovation in technology-enhanced translation services.

What do you think? Post a comment - I’d enjoy sharing a few words with you.

Topics: Announcements

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: Subjectivity in translation

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Sep 3, 2014 3:35:00 PM

So many in our industry are in love with language. Multiple degrees in linguistics, advanced studies, even language-related hobbies are common for many professionals in the language services industry. Lively conversations where people compare various languages, dialects, characters are common – it’s not work for them; it’s a passion. How lucky we are to be in an industry where so many people care so deeply about the service they provide.

In my last blog post, I discussed the challenge of trying to plan perfection, which, by its-nature is in conflict with the requirements of a continuous-flow process. Some of this disconnect is driven by the very passion for language that is pervasive in our industry. I remember a conversation I had with Don DePalma of CSA in the mid-90’s sharing my frustration about the lack of common quality standards and the inconsistent if not capricious nature of reviewer feedback.

I wish I could report better progress since then. Certainly we have made steps in terms of glossary automation, consistent use of style guides, and many other great tools professional linguists can use. Yet at the end of the day, when a client reviewer has strong preferences, this becomes the de facto standard of “right” and anything else is “wrong” or “bad.”

At a recent Localization World presentation, a manufacturing company shared their methodology of QA guidelines provided to reviewers that clearly define categories and severity of errors. Combined with a consistent scoring methodology, this moved the review process from the purely subjective into something that looks to be reasonable, repeatable, and scalable. But this global company is able to enforce these standards and processes on their employees around the world. The reality is that this company and this methodology represent a small slice of the global demand for translation.

We often ask clients, “Please connect us with your reviewers so we can set guidelines and establish clear expectations.” We are often told that reviewers are not available, or at least none that will be consistent from release to release. Yet the feedback comes, changing approved glossary terms, not following the style guide, or making inconsistent, preferential changes and varying from reviewer to reviewer. Often changes are made because the reviewer does not like or is “correcting” the source. Aside from the natural frustration, this affects the translation memory so the client loses quality, consistency and cost benefits. Everyone loses.

Okay, it’s a bit of a whine. This is a service business and we our proud to take care of our customers – especially in difficult circumstances. The reason for my rant is that we have a business to run, and these types of changes affect the bottom line. Sure, we can charge more – then invariably someone points out that a different company is far less expensive. This is the heart of the matter: in a business where the output is variable and without a clear standard of measure, customers primarily compare by price. We are the victims of our own inability to clearly define and articulate language quality standards and gain broad acceptance. As a proxy, customers rely on the brand of the translation company, or sometimes on trusted personal relationships, to provide the confidence needed to engage services. Or they use translation tests, a subject for a few words another time.

For example, we know that the minimum standard of competence for an accountant is to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the US or a Chartered Accountant in the UK. Attorneys must become members of their bar association. This is not to say there are not valuable translator associations. Membership certainly implies that the translator regards his or her profession with commitment and has competence but there are usually no or little barriers to entry. However, with rare exception, efforts to create standards neglect perhaps the most critical component of all: specialization. You wouldn’t knowingly see a podiatrist about a problem with your eyes or ask a patent attorney to defend your traffic violation. Yet many are willing to select a translator that has never encountered the term “flying buttress” or “equity derivative” and wonder why their in-country reviewer complains about the translation.

The beauty and complexity of translation is that it is ultimately a human endeavor. Humans are both variable and imperfect. Choosing the right humans to translate for you is perhaps the most important variable to nail down. Beyond that, we’ve established processes (two-step translation+editing) that are reinforced by workflow automation to reduce the instances of “bad” translation getting to the customer. We follow industry-standard best practices. We developed a statistically-driven QA methodology to constantly evaluate practitioners to keep everyone performing at peak levels. Our collective challenge is to educate our customers on the importance of specialization and how to measure quality in non-subjective terms. This will help us to improve highly variable project margins and, more importantly, continually elevate the level and consistency of the service we deliver. Everyone wins.

What do you think? Post a comment - I’d enjoy sharing a few words with you.

Topics: Case Study, Best Business Practices, Resources

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