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Translation services key to global Internet


October 15, 1999
Web posted at: 4:19 p.m. EDT (2019 GMT)

In this story:

Fly naked

Are you lactating?


By Robin Lloyd
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

(CNN) -- Bite the wax tadpole!

Coca Cola's blunder a few years back that came in translating its name into Chinese ideographs and mistakenly conveyed the above meaning is funny, but it also cost the company money and reputation.

Barring a miraculous commitment by the people of the world to turn polyglot, such goofs are more likely as the Internet brings more cultures and businesses together.

Is English your first language?

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A Honolulu-based company that stepped in four years ago to meet the demand for Web-page translation now offers a Web-based "localization" service that translates and edits documents into 18 languages -- not just text, but also currencies, dates and even color and image conventions.

"More and more documents will not be printed. They will be online. This is where localization has to happen," said Olin Lagon, chief architect for WorldPoint which publicly released its 123Translate service this month.

The localization service competes for a piece of a $32 billion industry pie.

WorldPoint's service comes with added features that beta clients asked for -- instant, round-the-clock, free quotes for the cost of services, provided by automated software that the company developed.

A typical fee for translating English to Spanish is 20 cents a word -- about $500 for a 10-page document. More obscure languages can cost up to 30 cents a word.

Rushed jobs and legal documents cost more, but WorldPoint can turn simple jobs in two hours.

It also offers 24-hour customer support in the 18 languages, as well as job tracking so clients can see where their request is along the project assembly line.

WorldPoint relies regularly on 1,000 human translators and has another 9,000 in the wings. It benefits from the population in Hawaii, which is highly international.

WorldPoint's President Massimo Fuchs speaks seven languages and no one in the company speaks fewer than two languages.

It's a far cry from AltaVista's Babel Fish -- an automatic translator that can lead to the amusing and potentially offensive and business-killing goofs that have been committed by many large companies.

Like "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave." That was the meaning in Chinese after translation. What did they mean to say? "Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation."

Fly naked!

A major airline's promotion in Latin America used the slogan, "Vuelo en cuero." Rather than what the company meant, "Fly in leather!" they had invited passengers to, "Fly naked!"

The slogan's industrial source actually points to one of the major drivers of the need for translation and localization services -- increased air travel.

The need for augmentation in translation is even more pronounced for e-commerce and Web sites in general.

Although Internet use is far more widespread in the United States and 70 percent of all Web sites are based in the United States, that will change.

The latter figure is down from 90 percent a few years ago, said Therese Torris, an Internet industry analyst with Forrester Research in Amsterdam.

About 60 percent of all Internet users eventually will reside outside the United States, according to International Data Corp., a firm that analyzes the information technology industry.

IDC also says the non-U.S. portion of the e-commerce market will nearly double, growing from 26 percent of the worldwide total in 1998 to 46 percent of the worldwide total in 2003.

Obviously, the demand for translation and localization services is growing rapidly -- Lagon puts the figure at 10 percent.

Torris said globalization is driving the demand for translation services even moreso abroad, and European sites are more sophisticated when it comes to offering content in multiple languages.

"To gain critical mass, e-commerce vendors have to have multiple languages and in Europe they do," she said.

U.S. Web sites are largely English-only, she said. In Europe, most Web sites serve up in the native tongue and English, at least, with many available in up to six languages, she said.

Web sites for Lufthansa and British Airways make content available in 30 languages.

Are you lactating?

The American Dairy Association's huge success with its "Got Milk?" campaign got them trouble when they tried to expand the promotion to Mexico.

The Spanish translation they used conveyed the following: "Are you lactating?"

With or without milk, WorldPoint hopes to elbow in to a field that includes more than 10,000 competitors, Lagon says.

Competitors include Alpnet, Logos Group and Berlitz, with the latter being a better known brand due to its language schools. But the market share of each of these services is small.

However, few of WorldPoint's competitors are facile with Web content, Lagon says.

WorldPoint excels at localizing pages that include Perl and Java, as well as HTML and XML, because the company started as a multilingual Web publisher.

Many other translation services started as paper-based translators and only later added Web skills.

Only a third of the market for translation services involves text, Lagon said.

Customers can use the 123Translate service via WorldPoint's Web site or have the software integrated so jobs are submitted and results returned internally through office systems.

The most typical requests are English to French, Italian, German or Spanish -- FIGS in the industry -- and Japanese to English in the Asian market.

The bottom line is reliability -- did the message get conveyed in the non-native tongue?

If customers aren't happy with a result, WorldPoint will retranslate for no cost, no questions asked.

"Translation is an art, not a science," Lagon says, "so quality is always subjective."

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February 18, 1999

British Airways
Coca Cola
Forrester Research
Berlitz Language Instruction
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