Automated Translation Saves Thousands

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Translation and recording make up the single highest cost in attracting people of other languages and cultures. But automated translation can help slash these costs, and any company can implement it.

Translating a large IVR system and its Web site can cost $20,000 to $30,000 for one language. A banking application can run $40,000 to $60,000 per language. Add project management and technical expenses and multiply by several languages, and your IVR system could cost $300,000 or more. 

Though this expense is difficult to justify, clients know that having the system and marketing in several languages would increase sales and sales impact. Developers have been desperate to use automated translation (aka “machine translation”) for years. Yet, it has always been determined that automated translation is too inaccurate. So, companies either scratch translation or bite the bullet and pay the cost. 

The good news is that automated translation is an excellent potential solution to many of these problems and can cut the costs of translation by as much as 95 percent. The secret to success is to handle automated translation properly.

Tips for Navigating the Language

Automated translation is the result of computer programming. As such, it brings all of the basic issues that software developers face daily—the computer cannot judge, decide, or think for itself. Let’s study translation of baseball text to illustrate: “The batter is at the plate. He shakes his bat and prepares to swing.” The result in other languages can be something like, “The bread dough is on the platter. He shakes his flying rodent and prepares to dance.”

Automated translation will never work well if you compose your text without planning for automation. If you change the way you write your text, you can use automated translation to save thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the world of multilanguage text, it’s common to have an original—e.g., your base English version—that is exactly as you desire it to be. Then, create a copy of that base English that you will rewrite following the rules for automated translation. The newly rewritten version could be called the “global English” version, and its purpose is only to be the text used to run through translation software, not necessarily used in your application or on your Web site. 

Here are some tips for rewriting for automated translation:

• Look for words with more than one meaning, and rewrite for clarification. Example: “To get started, press 1.” The word “get” is a poor choice because it could mean “receive” or “fetch” or nothing at all, as in this case. Rewrite the prompt as “To begin, press 1.”

• Translation software becomes confused if there is more than one adjective per noun. A phrase like “This long Latin American Spanish document” auto-translates as “All this time the American Spanish of the document.” Rewrite to “This long document in Spanish for Latin America.”

• Watch for two nouns in sequence. English and Germanic languages use nouns as adjectives. This usually confuses the software. Example: “English language dictionary.” Rewrite to “Dictionary of the English language” or “English dictionary.” 

• Avoid slang or subtleties. Use straight dictionary English. No metaphors, no humor, no catchy phrases. Such phrases would have ridiculous translations.

• Enter vital words to your application that could be mistranslated into the translation software’s dictionary (e.g., enter the correct word for “bat” to avoid “flying rodent”). Alternatively, rely on your native speaker to review the translation.

After the “global English” version has been run through translation software, ask a native speaker to review the results. Errors will be rare as long as the rules were followed in preparing the global English, and error-correction should be swift and cheap.

Rules and Techniques

The basic rules with automated translation only take a few hours to learn. Yet information on the rules and the secrets to successful automated translation is almost impossible to find. The makers of TranslateYourSoftware.com give a short online class on how to write for automated translation so that mastering these techniques is quick.

The rewrite techniques work for any text, from prompts to Web sites to email correspondence. Using these techniques adds a step in the thought process, and it takes awhile until these rewrite techniques come naturally. But the cost savings can be enormous, and the techniques may enable certain developers to translate their marketing and applications—something that had been unaffordable in the past.

Sue Ellen Reager is CEO of @International Services, a translation and software solutions company that performs translation, voice recording, and global system testing for speech and touch-tone applications as well as media localization. She can be reached at sueellen@internationalservices.com.


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