Using Translation Tools to Understand Your Global Customers

Jun 21, 2013

Article ImageAny international enterprise knows that, in the global market, translation capabilities are integral to continued success. While many businesses have grasped the importance of translating their products and services for non-English markets, they have often ignored the flip-side of that task: translating content produced by their non-English speaking customers.

Keith Laska, CEO of SDL Language Technologies (SDL), is trying to address this problem with his company's variety of technologies, services, and platforms. He says, "Eighty percent of the online population ten years ago spoke [English], and in just ten years, it's completely reversed. Eighty percent of the online population speaks a language other than English."

And in the age of social media that 80% of people is creating an enormous amount of content. "You have over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being generated per day; 90% of that content's been generated in the last two years alone, primarily through social," he says. "Consumers almost prefer now to communicate via social streams." He says that if you're not translating this inbound communication, you're missing the chance for an international company, "up to 80% of your market."

Don DePalma, founder of Common Sense Advisory, explains what this non-English, inbound communication can look like: "Somebody calls you up and wants to talk about your product, somebody goes to your website and looks for something and they ask a question at the website, somebody gets onto a forum that you have and makes a comment about your product."

So how are companies supposed translate all this incoming, consumer-created content in order to grow their businesses and better serve their customers? DePalma says it's almost as difficult as it sounds. "On the one hand, you've got the long-standing tradition of human translation," he says. "But there's no way that the human translation industry could possibly keep up with this flood of information."

The best solution to the problem of translation thus far comes from computer-based translation technologies. Val Swisher, founder and CEO of Content Rules, says, "I don't think that it's cost effective to use human translators to do this kind of work. I think that being able to easily communicate with people in other languages is going to take machine translation to do it."

And machines have worked very well for many companies. TripAdvisor, one of the world's largest travel sites, uses SDL's BeGlobal translation service to translate its users' English-based reviews, opinions, and photos into other languages. As a result, they have drastically decreased the bounce rate compared to any pages and reviews that aren't translated, which has allowed them to reach new users and markets.

However, Swisher warned against the limitations of current computer translation technologies.

"Translation of interaction is harder than translation of standard content. If I'm trying to have social media-type interactions with my customers, I can't control the language my customer uses to talk to me. At this point, machine translation doesn't deal very well with source language that can't be controlled, that can't follow certain rules or certain patterns."

She clarifies that businesses will need to have technologies that aren't difficult to program or train, and "are more flexible to the ways that people actually write and read, and to some extent, speak."

As the world economy becomes more global and 80% of consumers generating inbound content in languages other than English, translation technologies will become increasingly vital and start playing a major role in businesses' functions. As Laska says, "If you think about it, we've just touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of how we can effectively communicate with people who buy products and services."

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)