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.)



IMDb: the Internet Movie Database.

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.


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

        Psychology Today Blog. December 1, 2009.


Unattributed. News-Cycle.


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