Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So What Is Title VI, Anyway?

Edgardo Mansilla, director of the Americana Community Center in Louisville, Ky, explains what Title VI is at a recent mayoral candidates forum. Video also includes Jackie Green, former candidate for Louisville mayor.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Video Killed the Radio Star

If video killed the radio star, there’s no telling what it will do to translation.

Of course, I’m referring to the Buggles’ smash hit and the first video to play on MTV. Since August 1, 1981, this British punk song has been covered by Radiohead, the Violent Femmes, Presidents of the United States—even Alvin and the Chipmunks has gotten with the groove. And when the Chipmunks get with it, no matter what “it” is, you know it’s gone mainstream.

Face it, folks: video is taking over. According to YouTube, site-goers watch two billion videos a day and upload “hundreds of thousands of videos daily. In fact, every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.”  And while I’m sure translation is not the most frequently searched term, that doesn’t mean we in the translation industry should ignore the medium.

And we don’t. We localize for it. After all, someone has to write subtitles and translate all those on-location scripts. Do a search on IMDb, the end-all, be-all for video and film production credits, and you’ll find language service providers (LSP’s) listed under “Production Services,” “Post-Production Services,” “Special Thanks,” “Visual Effects,” “Miscellaneous,” and “Costume & Wardrobe” (your guess is as good as mine here). The unfortunate thing, though, is that most LSP’s that subtitle as a specialization aren’t listed on the site. Instead, listings include LSP’s that “minor” in film, so to speak, and a large number of businesses based in India. Apparently, the way the mainstream moviegoers access film credits is not how most movie-localizing companies get out their name.

This divide between how our industry publicizes itself and how the common man accesses information extends far beyond IMDb. Whether we’re ready to admit it or not, as an industry, we’ve constructed a tower for ourselves with a gigantic moat around it. I don’t think we meant to; this construction progressively arose from both LSP’s and freelancers logically going where the money is.

Experienced, sophisticated buyers are a simply an easier sell for most people. Instead of having to sell them on the principle of translation, you need only sell them on yourself. The level of client education they require tends to be processes- or project-based; the projects themselves tend to be more profitable than your average birth certificate. That’s not to say sophisticated buyers don’t come with their own set of issues -- just that it’s a commonly accepted assumption that a Fortune 500 is a better client over time than your neighborhood podiatrist.

Unfortunately this thinking leaves the podiatrist and his “tell me again why the secretary can’t do it” buddies behind. As a corporate sales strategy, it’s necessary to stay in business. We focus our energy and our strengths on targeting the more profitable clients; this keeps our doors open and our coffers full. But as far as strategic development for the language industry goes, a lot of under-educated buyers and influencers remain that way. As a result, we create an “in-club” -- a select group of sophisticated buyers, many of whom are establishing internal localization departments or single points of company contact.

Any time you have an in-club, you have an out-club: people who aren’t invited to the party, but who want to go nonetheless. These are the small businesses with 1-2 projects a year, the manufacturers who are only now beginning to export, small-town doctors across the country treating their first immigrant patients. By inadvertently making our party “invitation-only” for the seasoned-buyer elite, we have made professional language services unapproachable for the rest of the world. And what happens when you’re not invited to the in-club’s party?  You throw your own and tell yourself it’s better. This is why this second group of clients relies on bilingual secretaries, substitute Spanish teachers, and their 17 year-old’s two-years of high-school French. They’ve never been invited to the professionals’ party, and they hold close to their own ways of doing because they don’t want to admit that something better has excluded them before. This natural course of events has led this group to see professional translators as a unreachable pedantics, if they even see us at all. The tower we then find ourselves in may have been constructed unintentionally, but it still leaves us trapped.

I won’t spend too much time on this. After all, this article is on how the language industry should and can market itself through video. But I do want to point out that before we can use video to solve our industry’s problems, we must first understand and acknowledge those problems and where they come from. In the end, it all boils down to one thing: the vast majority of people don’t understand what we do.

 

According to a Sunday Times report, only 27% of Americans got their news from written sources, like newspapers or magazines.Since the survey was conducted in 2008, The Times’ source, the Pew Research Centre, shows a biannual trending down for all news sources except cable television and the internet, which are both going up. In 2009, the American newspaper industry suffered 15,114 layoffs (News-Cycle). Video has not only killed the radio star, but it’s killed your daily newspaper as well.

 

If newspapers are dead, it’s logical that white papers and text-heavy presentations will follow. I personally pray daily for a world where PowerPoints have gone to die. Instead, I see sales staff whipping out mobile phones that are wired to show a client a pre-produced video illustrating the insert-your-company-name-here advantage right on the spot. Want to learn more about our interpreters’ quality?  Watch one in action right here. Want to know how pleased our customers really are?  Take a look at this video we taped during post-project review last week.


The technology is there. We just have to use it. Fuze Meeting, an app for Blackberry and iPhone, allows for video conferencing and the screen sharing of presentations and other data, including pre-produced videos. If you had your video presentation online and ready to go, you could easily show it on your phone during a client meeting.

 

In fact, in a June 2010 interview with Entrepreneur, Nextel CEO Dan Hesse infers that video will soon be the preferred medium for business presentations. “Video applications are going to be more common, particularly as you get into a 4G network environment. There will be a lot more video, TV and movie downloads. You’ll see this in both entertainment and business applications.”

 

A land of video sales presentations would be a heck more impressive than those hideous, bullet-point lists clients are often trapped into looking at, as the points are read aloud by sales staff who are just as bored as they are. Of course, I have a personal distaste for PowerPoints, being a Gen X-er with a textbook case of can’t-sit-still. PowerPoint or no, I just don’t do boring. I know I soon won’t be the only one, though, as an even younger, can’t-sit-still generation graduates from college and becomes employed, translation’s traditional decision makers eventually retiring, then being replaced by what Meg Ryan’s character on You’ve Got Mail calls “a whole generation of young people without last names.”

 

If problem number one is that people don’t understand what we do, then problem number two is that we must change the way we reach them. I’m no soothsayer, so I can’t tell you the exact date, but soon -- and very soon -- the old ways of reaching people will stop working. In fact, the way we communicate has already changed so much that, as a species, we’ve changed how we process information we’re given. To quote Psychology Today columnist Pamela Rutledge, “A picture is worth a thousand words but a video says it all… Humans process information from images far more efficiently than words alone. Video is an image on speed -- it engages different sensory inputs and delivers an image stream.”  Rutledge goes on to discuss how “[s]ocial media [such as YouTube] allows for the distribution of videos to be immediate, targeted, personal, and accessible on-demand.”

 

Attention spans are shorter, a whole group of under-educated clients misunderstands what we do, and the translation industry’s most traditional way of reaching people—the written word—is dying a slow, online death. Not only are we now in a tower of our own creation, but Rapunzel’s running out of hair to lower for our escape.

 

We have reached the moment, in many ways, as an industry, to decide what our future will hold. The Buggles song warns of us being “rewritten by machine and new technology.” Sound familiar, anyone?

 

Just as there are two problems, there are two answers: either our industry associations fix it or we do.

 

There’s why reason that our tower was constructed: it’s simply not economically-sustainable for the individual LSP to carry the burden of client education. This is where our associations come into play. As an industry we are working hard -- harder than ever before -- to develop recognition as a profession. New trade associations and industry events, particularly in the realm of interpreting, pop up every day. But the amount of turning outward -- the number of these efforts geared toward client education instead of self-edification—is remarkably low. We are continuing to invite only ourselves to the party.

 

I do not mean to undervalue efforts that have been made; I am appreciative of the efforts our trade associations are currently making. In medical interpreting, the National Council of Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) and others involved with the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters  (CCHI) are truly doing their best to make proverbial waves the moat. We’ve all seen copies of the American Translators Association’s (ATA) “Translation: Getting It Right” brochure and an “Interpreting: Getting It Right,” as well as client outreach newsletters, are on their way. The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) promotes its conferences as being for both localization seller and buyer.

 

But the trades are in the unique position of being able to do what the LSP cannot: the trades can educate the under-educated. Whereas an LSP must economically and structurally guard itself, the trades guard our profession. It is their job and duty to invite everyone to the party. While LSP’s are the in position of being able to change their clients’ perception, the associations can change public perception.

 

A change in public perception is what’s required to tear down the tower and drain the moat. First-time and intermittent buyers may not believe an LSP that says the secretary shouldn’t translate. The LSP is, after all, trying to sell them something they don’t even realize they need. But they are much more likely to believe the trades. If you think beef is what’s for dinner, it’s not because the grocery said so, but because the National Cattleman’s Beef Association did. Our industry associations are the third-party gateway to bridging the divide.

 

Some associations have already stepped up. The Health Care Interpreter Network, the International Medical Interpreters Association, ATA, and GALA all have a current presence on YouTube, Vimeo, or both.

 

The first two use their channels primarily for education. Health Care Interpreter Network has informative videos on the essential role of interpreters in healthcare. IMIA’s videos focus on the organization’s recent certification efforts with Language Line Services, encouraging interpreters and healthcare professionals to join together. The most educational videos on the market, though, are out of Monterey, where the Institute for International Studies has posted videos like “A Day in the Life of an Interpreter” and “5 Questions for a French Translator.” ATA’s videos are much more intrinsic, using its YouTube channel to advertise annual conferences, and GALA’s channel is a mix, including both conference promotion and presentations.

 

The Association of Language Companies (ALC) is also joining the game. While no videos were yet online when this article was written, the ALC appointed a video task force in January and the task force recorded video for future use at the association’s conference in May.

 

Together, these organizations have done the early work necessary to implement video as the powerful client education tool it can be; now they just need to finish.

 

It is important, though, for us to realize that the associations cannot do it all. In case you haven’t noticed, most of our associations are volunteer-led. Even those with paid staff -- like NCIHC, ATA, and ALC -- still rely on volunteer labor for PR initiatives. If it’s not sustainable for a single LSP to fully take on this burden, then the average industry volunteer, though well-intending, isn’t able to do it for her association either.

 

This is what I mean when I say we are the second solution. The associations represent us and are made up of us. We are their main source of ideas and strength. To bastardize John F Kennedy, ask not what your association can do for you. No one knows your target market better than you do. If you’re the only LSP in Huntsville, Alabama, it’s easy to say you’re isolated, fighting your own battles, and that the association should do more to help you. But they don’t know Huntsville. They’re not in Huntsville. And if you don’t help them, their efforts won’t work. You know your market’s needs and if you don’t, there’s not an educational video out there that will keep you in business.

 

Regardless of who acts, the time to act is now. A whole group of new clients is out there, and if they don’t understand why they should get translation from professionals, then they will get it from amateurs. Clearly, video isn’t the only thing that could kill translation. But video may be the best thing to save it. Educational video changes public perception. Changing perception knocks down the tower. Knocking down the tower brings everyone together. Unless, of course, you want to stay trapped.

 

(This article initially ran in MultiLingual Magazine.)

 

References:

IMDb: the Internet Movie Database. www.imdb.com

O’Shea, Dan. “The New Power of Mobility.” Entrepreneur. June 2010. p 51.

Richards, Jonathan. “More people get news from web than TV or print.” Sunday Times: London,

        England, August 18, 2008. http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/

        article4559162.ece

Rutledge, Pamela. “Honey, We Shrunk the Time or 5 Things to Remember about Social Media.”

        Psychology Today Blog. December 1, 2009. www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-

        media/200912/honey-we-shrunk-the-time-or-5-things-remember-about-social-media.

Unattributed. News-Cycle. http://news-cycle.blogspot.com/p/newspaper-industry-layoff-totals.html

YouTube. www.youtube.com.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Interpreting Looks Like

Ever wonder what interpreting looks like?  Video one shows consecutive interpreting from French into English; video two is simultaneous, chuchotage (whisper) interpreting from English into Spanish.

   

Monday, December 6, 2010

Europe in Unlikely Places: Localization for Lesser-Spoken Dialects

“Unique dialect, Texas German, taking last gasp.”  The headline for a May 13, 2007 article in the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, it certainly grabbed my attention.  As a scholar of all things Southern and of most things linguistic, I wondered why I’d never heard of Texas German before.  In reading, I went on to find that Texas German is “a unique dialect that developed as German settlers came to central Texas in the 1840s.”  Further study lead to the discovery of the Texas German Dialect Project (www.tgdp.org), “an umbrella organization for carrying out research in representative Texas German speech communities in central Texas.”

Most of us have heard of Louisiana (or Cajun) French, the Acadian dialect that slowly developed as people were pushed from France to Canada then down the Mississippi.  Many are also familiar with Pennsylvania Dutch, the German dialect I was taught belonged to the Amish growing up, but which is in reality also spoken by Mennonites, Lutherans, German Reformed, and loads of other people who use electricity.  And then there’s Nebraska with all its Scandinavian language dialects providing splendid dialogue for anything written by Willa Cather.

But Texas German?  I mean, really. 

No offense to Texas, but if I were going to localize a non-English language for the folks who live there, it’d be Spanish these days.

And Spanish does seem to get all the attention.  A quick glance through back issues of Multilingual will uncover at least four articles in the last year which all address the need to make sure we localize for the “right” Spanish for our target market.  These articles are warranted, as the variants are indisputable and specifically requested by many clients in the know.  But how many clients have you had request Texas German?

Granted, Texas German is most likely not spoken in most LSP clients’ target markets.  According to Warren Hahn with that Texas German Dialect Project I brought up earlier, 100,000 people spoke the dialect in its heyday -- right before World War II.  To put that in perspective, according to the last US Census -- conducted in 2000 -- 5,195,182 Texans spoke Spanish as their primary language.  There’s no question where the bigger market is here, people.

But still, it begs the question: exactly how precise does localization need to be?

We’re all aware of the acute need for accuracy in our profession.  It doesn’t matter if Ohioans sit on a couch and Californians sit on a davenport.  If I live in Kentucky, when I go in the furniture store, I want the sign to direct me to sofas.  We all want to see, hear, and read the language we speak the way that we speak it.  Yes, we may all understand that a couch, a davenport, and a sofa are really the same thing, but if you’re wanting to sell me one, I’m going to buy it from the man who calls it what I do.  That’s the one rule of localization even the most difficult client can get: people don’t buy what they don’t understand.  But precisely how much understanding do we need?

In the case of Texas German, the Courier reports the language “is a hybrid, mostly German but altered by English…Spoken, Texas German sounds a lot like modern German…A German speaker could understand 95 percent of what’s said by a person speaking Texas German, and vice versa.”  Maybe it’s just me, but I certainly think that’s enough of an overlap that a separate ISO code really isn’t needed here.

With Louisiana French, the differences between the American dialect and its European, mother language are more evident, or at least get more PR as such.  Francophone culture and language scholars Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow write in their book The Story of French, “[t]he Cajun French dialect is very distinct from Parisian French or even Quebec French.  The influence of English is strong, not only in vocabulary, but in calques such as laisser les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll)…Cajuns preserved different archaisms than those found in Canadian French…They also developed lively expressions of their own, including lache pas la patate (literally don’t drop the potato, meaning don’t give up).”

The United States is full of local linguistic pockets, with 26 different dialects of English alone as defined by linguist Robert Delaney (not to be confused with the former relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins).  According to his map, I grew up in the middle of dialect number 17 -- nowhere near the border of any other US English dialects.  But my grandfather would have said Mr Delaney was wrong.  We lived in the county and Grandpa always swore that people in town  didn‘t talk like us.  When I started being bused into the county seat for the 6th grade, I agreed with him.  Their accents and word choices were not the same.  At home, we still used linguistic patterns straight out of Chaucer (ex, I’m a-goin’ for I‘m going) and no one in town used the word polecat for skunk.  (Skunk in Texas German, in case you’re curious, is die Stinkkatze.  The word is part of the 5% distinguishing it from German as spoken in Germany, where they say das Stinktier.)  

Of course, it would be ludicrous for a client to request localization into Christian County, Kentucky English.  It would simply never happen.  But my grandfather’s observation does a-bring us back to precision.  It speaks to that question I raised earlier, the one that comes to light when you realize European languages are long past being just for Europe--that here in the States, all joking aside, hundreds of languages are spoken and many of them used to belong to Europe.

None of this is new information.  You can’t get past kindergarten without learning about immigration and/or colonialism in some small way-- even if it is only making Pilgrim hats and hearing Miles Standish’s name for the first time.  As many a wise man has said, the difference between a language and a dialect is an army.  We all know whose armies came to the Americas and we all know whose armies won: the ones whose languages we speak today.

But when it comes to localization, the lesson our industry is still yet to learn is that when we say US English or US insert-other-European-language-here, maybe we can be a bit more precise -- not to the point of ludicrousy, but rather to the point of -- well -- precision.  Localizing for Texas German or Kentucky English might not be necessary or even possible, but what about localizing for Southern US English or, as the need grows, Southern US Spanish?  Whenever we have a client call in requesting Spanish for the US market, where I work, the first question is where.  As it’s been better said before, US Spanish is a misnomer, often doubling as Cuban Spanish or Mexican Spanish or the ambiguous Latin American Spanish, which is, in of itself, riddled with difficulty.  In our office, when a client requests US Spanish, we ask specifically which state, then look at Census data to see which countries the speakers there are truly more likely to be from, hoping to derive dialect from there.

But just as each European language has its respective American dialects, each language service provider has its capabilities and limitations.  You know your clients’ needs best and if you don’t, I can guarantee they won’t stay your clients for long.  Clients and LSPs must work together to decide how much precision is in fact needed for the sake of the document and for the business relationship we share.  Some clients very much want to watch every word -- others couldn’t give a rip.

In the end, no matter what your policies are on the obscurest of the obscure, there’s only so much any of us can do--no matter which dialect we do it in.  We all must determine for ourselves, on a case by case basis, exactly how precise is precise enough.  And whatever we decide, well, all those Texas German speakers will just have to live with it.

(Please note this blog was originally published in Multilingual.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Translation Plus Two

From time to time, I've blogged on our social efforts as a company, how we're trying to change the world one translation at a time.  We call this Translation Plus Two, producing quality translations for our clients while creating economic opportunity for disadvantaged populations.  It's at the core of who we are and drives what we do.  This video shows our work in a different light and I'm sorry I haven't posted it on the blog before.  Do take a look and please let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Free Workshop on Domestic Violence Interpreting


On November 17th, In Every Language and the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association (KDVA) will present a free workshop for interpreters on violence against women. The event will take place at the Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort, Ky from 9 AM to 5 PM.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. For refugee and immigrant women experiencing domestic violence, language barriers complicate getting assistance. And for interpreters working with these women, their professional roles and expectations are just beginning to be defined. The workshop will introduce interpreters to the domestic and sexual violence program system and examine how they can incorporate standards of practice when working in the domestic violence field. Continuing education credits will be awarded by the American Translators Association.

In Every Language currently provides language services to the Center for Women and Families in Louisville, but hopes to prepare interpreters working with domestic violence victims statewide by partnering with the KDVA for this workshop. In Every Language offers translation, localization, and interpreting services internationally in 175 different languages.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Multilingual Mayoral Forum


On October 20th at 6:30 pm, the Americana Community Center presents “A Multicultural Evening with Candidates Greg Fischer and Jackie Green,” as part of their mayoral candidate forum. Interpreters from In Every Language will interpret the forum from English into Spanish, French and Swahili.

Non-English languages are playing a vital role in tight races, such as the one for Louisville mayor. A recent Huffington Post article (“In Tight Races for Congressional Seats, Language Could Make a Difference”) stresses the importance of candidates reaching limited-English-speaking audiences in the upcoming election. According to the article, 4.2 percent of Kentuckians speak a language other than English in the home.“[E]ven tiny margins can make or break a candidate. The ability to communicate to potential voters in their native languages is taking on new importance,” says Nataly Kelly, the article’s author.

In Every Language is providing free interpreters at the event so that Louisville’s international community members may access the same information as Louisville’s English-speaking community.  In Every Language offers translation, localization, and interpreting services nationally in 175 different languages.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why "They Speak English" is a Crap Excuse

Of all the arguments I’ve heard against professional translation (and I’ve heard a few), “they speak English” has got to be the worst.

I am not a natural salesperson.  I feel funny inside when I think of cold calls.  So when I try to sell a client translation, it’s not because selling is what I do; it’s because I think translation will help them in what they do.  I love the idea of helping a growing business, of working with a company that is going into a country for the first time.  So much is new.  Everything’s exciting, brimming over with possibility as jobs are created and new markets born.

I get especially excited when I see another Kentucky business expand internationally.  I’m proud of my state, but you must admit we’re not known for being the most international people on the face of the planet.  We do wear shoes, but we’re not exactly seen taking them off at airport security as we fly to exotic destinations, either.

What we are known for, though, is hospitality.  As my grandfather put it, Kentucky is “south of the river.”  And while Kentucky’s being southern vs midwestern is cause for debate, when you’re south of the river, we put on that Southern hospitality shine.  Except when it comes to international business.  And there, we are some of the most inhospitable people in the nation.

I made a sales call this morning to what Louisville considers to be a large business.  They’re going international, preparing to open up locations in eight Middle Eastern countries.  It was easy to get the name of the person in charge of this international expansion.  This is a typically Southern company, after all, hospitable in the fact that the polite person (no push-button system here) who answers the phones will say, “Why, sure, sugar, I can put you through to her!”  This restaurant sells itself on Southern kitsch and making you feel comfortable.  But evidently, their highly-marketed hospitality stops at the Atlantic.

In no uncertain terms did the contact tell me that the company has no intent whatsoever to ever purchase translation.  When I asked her why (call me a glutton for punishment), she said, “They speak English over there.”

This has to be the worst argument against professional translation I have ever heard. 

For starters, it’s just lazy.  Instead of judiciously considering communications and how to improve them, let’s just make our foreign partners do the work.  Let’s not actually make any effort to make sure our message is perceived in the way we want it to be; let’s just assume they’re getting all of our highly colloquial, Kentucky-specific references and that nothing is lost in (lack-of-)translation.  It’s not like there’s a professional translation provider six minutes from the office or anything.  It’s not like a simple look at the American Translators Association website would give us access to 11,000 members ready to serve.

This argument also makes you look like a dumbass.  Now, forgive me for cursing in my blog, which I know is an unprofessional move on my part, but there’s no other word for this than “dumbass.”  You don’t have to watch “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” to know Arabic is the main language of choice in the Middle East, among others.  If anyone reading can think of a better word than “dumbass” for a college-educated adult who doesn’t know this, I’m happy to hear your suggestion.

But the reason that burns my biscuits most is that it’s completely lacking in Southern hospitality.  I don’t know about y’all, but my momma told me to always accommodate the other person above myself.  When you are a guest in someone’s home, you do as much as you can to put them out as little as you can.  You make your own bed, you help with the dishes, and you don’t eat the last piece of pie.  So why is it so hard for people to transfer this attitude to their companies?  Why is it so hard to realize that going into someone else’s country, asking them for their money, then making them speak your language is so highly rude?  Forget being ruder than eating the last piece of pie, it’s even ruder than I’ve been to this company in my blog entry.

Momma also taught me that honey killed more flies than vinegar and that no one listens when you’re yelling.  So I truly had a hard time deciding to write this blog.  We are good to our clients. We care about them and like to consider ourselves accommodating to all levels of professional language services purchasing experience.  We’ll work with new and first-time buyers when many providers of our caliber won’t.  Again, I love to help a growing company move into new markets, but I grow weary.  I grow tired of this attitude that goes against the grain of everything I’ve been taught, all I know to be logical.  If we cannot be professional, if we cannot be accommodating, then what can we be?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thanking the Troutmans

Louisville is losing the Troutmans.

Yesterday, the announcement came that Dr Adewale Troutman had accepted a job at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health.  Today, the announcement followed that his wife, Denise, would be leaving, too.

Adewale is currently the director of Louisville's Department of Public Health and Wellness; Denise is the director of the Center for Women and Families, Louisville's domestic violence and rape crisis center.

Both LMDPHW and the Center are In Every Language clients, so we've been fortunate to see first-hand the impact these two leaders have made on our community.  While Adewale heads out in November and Denise next March, we already feel the difference.  Thank you, Adewale and Denise, for the work you've done.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are Teachers Like Translators? (Underappreciated?)



First day of school today in Christian County, Ky, where my mother, as I write, is working with 27 kindergartners experiencing formal education for the first time. Teachers, as a whole, are under-appreciated; I’d argue they’re even more under-appreciated than translators and interpreters by some people. But there is an awareness that you have to have a degree to teach and, in the public system, at least, you have to be certified. There are still misconceptions, though, especially among those who claim teachers get summers off. If there are K-12 teachers out there who truly get their summers off, I would like to ask them who straightens their room after a year’s worth of havoc, purchases materials for the next year to come, and prepares lessons as well as the room for fall. These people obviously don’t teach kindergarten and they sure aren’t my mother, who goes into school for work almost every day all summer long. She is constantly looking for new and different ways of doing, feeling the weight of those 27 impressionable young minds upon her conscious when she lies down at night. Teaching is her calling as language is mine.

My mother has very little to do with translation, except the fact that she raised me and I now run a translation company. But, in some ways, teaching and translation share a great deal. Whether her job is understood by non-teaching America or not, she still does it. She knows that when she teaches her students to read, to recognize shapes and colors, and to play nicely with others, that she’s opening up a new world to them with the earliest building blocks required. Some of her students and families are easier to work with and appreciate her role. Others are and do not. Some care about the education she gives their child; some are so disconnected from their children that they can’t even name where they go to school. She has had first-day students who could already read and write; she has had students arrive the first day who weren’t even potty-trained. “Not every child is the same,” she once told me. “So I don’t treat them the same. I learn what they need and give them that. This one needs help reading, I help him with reading. This one needs help with math, I help him with math.” But Mother is wrong in part; in a way, she does give all of her students the same thing. She gives them all opportunity.

Sometimes we as translators can feel misunderstood and underappreciated. We have some clients who come to us begrudgingly, bitter about their budgets and looking to translate only what will bring them under compliance with the law. They do not see translation as important just as some parents do not value education. But we have also clients who are easier to deal with than others, clients who know the value of the services we offer and how difficult our work is to perform. As translation providers, though, we give them all opportunity.

There’s been a lot of talk in industry circles lately about client education and who will work with the uneducated. Through recent and upcoming NCIHC and ATA efforts, client outreach is prepared to peak. I personally have an article coming out on this topic in the October/November issue of Multilingual. You’ll have to wait until then to learn most of my opinions, but the crux of the matter is, people out there need us, whether they know how to ask for our help or not.

It’s easy for a translation provider to only take on new clients who are seasoned translation buyers. It’s actually in a provider’s economic self-interest, as rates can be higher with this group and less project management time is often required. But with the booming need for language services in our country today, there are lots of clients out there who simply need the opportunity to learn who translators are and what we do.

My mother doesn’t personally pick her students. She never knows until she walks in her room the first day what she’s going to get. But she loves them and she educates them just the same, regardless of what they know before they get there. She loves them. And today, on her first day back, for her 19th year of teaching, I just had to take the opportunity to say I appreciate it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Business Advice at Jewish Family and Career Services

Guest blog today with information for our Louisville-area contractors from Linda Golden, Project Manager:

Running a business is not an easy task. Invoicing, tax forms, marketing - the to-do list never ends. Yet as an independent contractor, that is what you're doing: running your own business.

At In Every Language, the interpreters and translators we work with are all independent contractors running their own language businesses. We frequently get calls with questions about invoicing, mileage reimbursement and letters of employment verification; however, IRS Employee vs. Independent Contractor laws limit our legal ability to offer anything but the most basic response to these questions. That's why we're excited to partner with Jewish Family and Career Services (JFCS) to offer all of our linguists small business development advice.

Need information on developing an invoice template for your language business? Not sure which tax forms you need to submit? Is travel to an appointment something you can write off on your taxes? What associations should you join? Should you get a business card? JFCS is happy to meet with you to answer all your questions. They also offer free business classes. In fact, a new class on writing a business plan will begin this Sunday (July 25th) at 1:00 PM. To register, call Gary Liebert at (502) 452-6341.

The Institute for Social and Economic Development recently published a brief article about JFCS's services on their blog. You can read it here: http://www.ised.us/blog/refugee-ida/his-goals-are-within-reach

If you would like to take advantage of the free services at JFCS, call Mary at (502) 452-6341 to schedule an appointment.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Translation's Triple Bottom Line

I have always considered In Every Language to be a social enterprise. The community nature of what we do is inherent. We take what one man is trying to say and make it so another man can understand it. Without us, information would be unable to correctly pass between entire cultures and countries. Being a translator automatically means being a helper. As language service providers (LSP’s), we do not have to integrate social cause into our business model, because, regardless of the message translated, the social benefit is in the act of translating the message itself.

I knew this when I started In Every Language. I had recently left a career in television and was looking for something to give purpose to my life—a way to help people. I started volunteering as an interpreter for Francophone Africans settling in Louisville. Somewhere along the line, I started getting paid. Any other job I had or took on seemed fruitless, without soul. It was only when I was interpreting that I felt like I was fully alive, like I was contributing, like I was using a gift God had given me to benefit others. When I interpreted, I disappeared and became a catalyst for change. The tremendous capability that translating and interpreting have to help others is why I got into this business. This focus on helping was always there—developing it into a business came later.

As I learned more and more about how to run a company it became, oddly enough, harder to help. Not everyone seemed grateful or even willing to receive what In Every Language had to offer. The director of a local refugee resettlement agency even accused me of trying to monopolize on “poor refugees” and of taking advantage of them for personal gain. Having started this company purely to provide a service to the community, these words stung and I searched my and my company’s behavior, trying to figure out what had led her to say such hurtful things. How could offering safe, professional, valued work to someone who deserves it be taking advantage?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize what she meant. She didn’t think I was taking advantage of them; she thought I was profiting from them. In Every Language is the first for-profit language service provider to contract members of Kentucky’s refugee population. I won’t go so far as to say that I was Kentucky’s first social entrepreneur, but I was definitely the first one she had ever met.

It’s been a weary road since then. Both I and In Every Language have had to prove ourselves over and over. The company will be five this August and I’m still trying to explain what social entrepreneurship is and why it’s important.

We’ve all heard of the bottom line, but many social enterprises have a triple bottom line. In the traditional model, for-profit companies focused on, well, profit. Then the double bottom line came around: people and profits. As our society rips itself apart with war and violence, people want healing. They want more. They are coming to expect both an economic and a social return on their money. As a global society, we no longer want to make only money; we want to make money and a difference.

But things are changing again. Just as the double bottom line was starting to catch on, we now face a triple one: people, profit, and planet. According to Bill Lockhart, author of Wal-Smart: What It Really Takes to Profit in a Wal-mart World, the for-profit world’s economic sustainability allows both social and environmental change to occur. And this makes sense. You may have the winning ticket to improving your world, but if you can’t afford to get to the store and cash it, those winnings are never going to help a soul.

I’m calling this blog “Translation’s Triple Line,” when really and truly, I’ve written more about that double line I mentioned and how I’ve staked myself out as a social entrepreneur. But I did say things were getting ready to change again. As soon as we’ve finally gotten people onto this people + profits idea, we’re going to start focusing on the planet, too. In Every Language is getting ready to move to the triple bottom line.

While the “people” side of translation is inherently clear, the “planet” side is going to take a little work. I recently attended Sustainable Brands, a conference for marketers of sustainable companies looking to learn how to better convey this idea of a triple bottom line to their customers. I have to admit, some people I met wondered why I was there. LSP’s don’t manufacture anything; the only thing we really have to recycle around here are the employees’ water cups, and in our case, we don’t even do that. We use reusable glasses instead. When people think sustainable industry, you’ve gotta admit, the first thing they think is not translation.

The key, though, is that we all have to be responsible. Language Line Services recently came out with an environmental responsibility report of sorts, discussing its green initiatives. And while the document was pretty much 20 pdf pages full of greenwashing, at least folks there are trying and aware.

Here at In Every Language, we’ve abandoned our downtown office and are going virtual in order to become both commute and paper-free. We’re giving preferential treatment to interpreters who take public transit to appointments instead of driving. We’re vetting the sustainability of any product vendor before use them. We’re also taking on more environmentally-focused translation projects, such as green marketing and packaging, CSR reports, and groundwater testing, and have pledged not to work with clients who are socially irresponsible. We’re doing what we can when we can—just like we’ve been doing for the past five years.

We’re not perfect. No company or person is. Like the double bottom line before, this idea may take a while for some people to catch on. But we do have a clear head on our shoulders and a clear goal of where we want to be. We’re determined. And we’re not going to take a single bottom line for an answer.