A Few Words

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

Elanex Case Study: Insightly Makes the Case for Agile Translation

Posted by Joe Dougherty on Feb 25, 2015 12:52:00 PM



Agile software development has become an increasingly common practice, especially among the new wave of tech startups. As opposed to traditional waterfall development with large releases and significant time between these releases, Agile development stresses continual updates and constant improvement. Anyone with a smartphone notices that his/her applications are now routinely updated. This fundamental change in development practices has significant implication on downstream processes, especially the translation of the user interface and instructions – localization – in comparison to historical practices. This case study highlights how close cooperation between the developer and a localization provider experienced in Agile development can keep pace with a constantly changing world.

The Company: 

Insightly is a simple to use yet powerful CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system for small and medium sized businesses worldwide. Businesses use Insightly’s cloud-based application to manage customer interactions, opportunities, proposals and projects over the web and on mobile devices. Insightly is available on the web at Insightly.com, for iOS devices in iTunes, and for Android devices on Google Play.

With integrations to Google Apps, Office 365, MailChimp and major social media sites; mobile apps for MCInsightlytablets and smart phones; and easy access to a REST API for custom integration, it is easy to see why Insightly is the top-ranked small-business CRM in the Google Apps Marketplace. Insightly is based in San Francisco.

The Problem:   

Insightly initially launched with an English-language platform.  However, as the company grew, through simple web analytics it realized that the majority of their users were not native English speakers -- 55 percent of Inslightly users were overseas. “Multiple languages weren’t part of the original plan but there was a pretty clear mandate [for them],” said Brian McConnell, director of localization at Insightly.

To capitalize upon this opportunity, Insightly raised an additional $10 million in venture capital to further expand globally and fund technical enhancements.  “Today we have over 750,000 users in 100 countries around the world,” said McConnell.


However, the company’s new mission brought a new set of challenges.  Insightly’s updates and releases now need to be available in half a dozen languages, across multiple platforms including their web and smartphone apps, technical documents and marketing website.  A new system was needed to keep the code base and production workflows in sync and to push out updates as quickly as possible (as many as two per week).
The Solution: 

Insightly decided centralization would be key to their localization efforts and enlisted the help of Transifex to manage the process.  Transifex is a cloud-based localization management tool that lets companies easily collect content from source control and automate workflows from a single platform.  The service also allows for easy communication between Insightly’s project managers and developers and the translation service team at Elanex.

Elanex was the natural translation partner for the company.  Not only is Elanex familiar with Agile germancontent development and constant flow production models, but it also understands software development itself.  “Elanex is interesting because it has lots of experience developing software internally,” said McConnell.  “They understand how software is developed and localized.”

As a result, Elanex has become more than just a vendor.  It is a partner in Insightly’s global mission.  Throughout this last year, Elanex provided best practices, helped debug issues, provided internationalization consulting on problems with date-formatting and language sorting all while consistently delivering fast and accurate translations.

“We have a process in place that works almost on autopilot,” said McConnell.  At the beginning of each week, Insightly uploads new and updated content to Transifex.  Elanex automatically receives those materials and processes them through its central production platform. Small update or large, the Elanex team returns professional translations in hours (4 to 36) depending upon the production requirements. french_(1)This includes the all-important In Context Review to make sure that localized content displays smoothly on all platforms. The translated content is automatically received by Insightly through Transifex, ready to be deployed to their customers around the world. The system works so smoothly that Insightly was able to scale up from 2 languages to 6 over the course of a few months without making any changes to production schedules.

Building on this success, for their support site Insightly selected Elanex’s VeriFast(sm) service to augment their translation needs.VeriFast(sm) uses professional native-language translators to review and correct large volumes of materials translated by state-of-the-art machine translation technology in virtually any language, providing quality and accuracy – in record time and cost-effectively.

“The work is as close to perfect as you can get,” said McConnell.  “Elanex knows how to build tools and has a great network of translators.”



Topics: Case Study, Agile Translation, Translation Tools

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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