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A Passage to Localization Down Under


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Evelyn Olsen, NZTC International, New ZealandNew Zealand is not just all scenery. It is gearing up for a full-fledged localization industry to emerge. What does it take for a translation company to become a one-stop localization shop in a country where there is no existing localization industry? Evelyn Olsen, who works for a local translation company, insists that New Zealand is ready for localization and draws attention to its urgent need for the training of localization professionals.

Living in New Zealand would be an enviable lifestyle choice for many people around the world – breathtaking scenery, no traffic jams as we know them in Europe (I am originally from Germany), a relaxed atmosphere and friendly faces wherever you go. The low population density certainly has a lot of benefits for the way of life “down under.” Kiwis are more relaxed than people in many other cultures, but that doesn’t mean that things don’t get done. In fact, I have never seen any other people engage in new developments and innovations with such enthusiasm as New Zealanders do.

The concept of “competitive edge,” “profit margin” and a “good return on investment” all play a very important role in NZ businesses as elsewhere, but people here are also anxious to ensure that a sense of fun is injected while doing business. This, along with a boldness and an open-minded attitude of a relatively young nation, unconstrained by the shackles of history and tradition, is certainly one of the key factors for success in this country (the Pacific-edition of Time in 2003 featured New Zealand, painting a rosy picture of the future of the nation).

When I say I work for a translation company in a sparsely populated country (4 million people in a country the size of the United Kingdom or Japan), people often ask me if we actually have enough demand for translation in New Zealand. Thanks to the dramatic developments in information and communication technology over the last 15 years, the answer is a resounding “yes!.” For example, the company I work for has been operating internationally since late 80’s, and the ever-growing international client-base certainly proves that there is ample scope for further development. New Zealand has an advanced agri-technology sector as well as innovative computer technology firms such as Weta, which played a significant role in the making of the The Lord of the Rings films.

The geographical isolation of New Zealand, once considered to be a disadvantage, has worked to the benefit of translation service operators here in the electronic age because of the time zone. New Zealand wakes up before anybody else in the world! However, working in a small nation on the other side of the world requires a different way of thinking at times. For one thing, export-oriented thinking is essential to compensate for the small size of the domestic market. And this very requirement makes localization an essential component for businesses seeking to expand into international markets.

Translating with TM

One of the significant changes to the translation production in my local working environment can be said to have come from translation memory (TM) systems. I can say that TM technology transformed the everyday work of translators beyond anyone’s imagination in our company. We use it to translate user manuals, marketing material and product brochures. It also provides an excellent terminology management and editing tool. For translators, it has taken care of the tedious job of translating repetitive texts, and for editors, it has ensured the consistent use of terminology, particularly for large projects.

Having introduced the product to the company and taken on the role of Trados consultant and tutor, I am extremely protective of “my baby” but I have to admit that, in some cases, it can cause more trouble than it is worth. Most problems with Trados can be attributed to the formatting of the original file. If the author of the file is not particularly competent in using the word processor, this can create all sorts of problems when using TM tools.

We have had our share of Trados turning into a linguist’s nightmare. This is particularly true for Asian languages. Font changes, complete changes of text layout, and the insertion of obscure symbols are only a few of the “mess-ups” that we have experienced. However, it is often a matter of working in the right operating system language. On other occasions, changing a few font settings solves the problem. Overall, our Asian language translators now obtain the same benefits from Trados as do our European translators.

Today, TM forms an integral part of our intern programme, which gives us the opportunity to teach the tool to budding new players in the translation industry and possible future freelance contractors. Furthermore, it is becoming an important tool for translators of Maori, the other official language of New Zealand.

TM for Maori

In the unique cultural context of New Zealand, TM technology can play an important role in the regeneration of the Maori language. Maori translation providers, as well as government agencies, are beginning to make use of TM tools and related technology for a range of projects, including (1) sophisticated on-line educational resources and websites, (2) digitization of historic newspapers and archival material, and (3) the creation of extensive terminology lists to record new terms being created for technical and scientific use.

Maori on-line dictionaries are now available (e.g., the Ngata dictionary) and proving very useful for today’s translators. Electronic versions of publications such as the Maori edition of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography are extremely rich sources for stylistic and terminological reference.

The problem of affordability is proving to be an obstacle to the adoption of the more expensive TM software, while lack of trainers and training opportunities also hinder the wider use of these technologies.

The Localization Scene in New Zealand

In Europe, the term “localization” has been linked with words such as “internationalization” and “globalization” for many years now, and is being offered as a service by localization companies which handle the whole process, ranging from the software/web development and translation stage through to the testing of the final product. However, in New Zealand, and until relatively recently also in Australia, vendors offering “localization” have mainly been translation companies, and hence have been offering only the translation component of the entire localization process.

This has never really been perceived as a problem with New Zealand software companies, since they are mostly SMEs (small- to medium-sized enterprises) usually marketing their products in English-speaking countries. The translation industry has therefore tended to focus more on business in other areas. There was simply not enough demand from the New Zealand market for local translation companies to offer comprehensive localization services. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that the tide is about to turn.

While our company may not be a full-fledged localization services provider, we are not a complete stranger to this field either. In fact, we have been paving our way towards localization over the past few years. A few years ago, we began to translate software strings and website content in Microsoft Word or Excel and Multilizer. More recently, we have also started the translation of Help files. Requests for localization come mainly from within New Zealand and Australia. Interestingly, it has so far not been companies in the IT industry but companies that sell specialized products (e.g., medical devices, UPS systems, radio communications systems) with specific software. The nature of the demand is continuing to change, and the niche for a localization business is becoming more and more apparent in this part of the world.

Where To From Here?

In view of the market development, it is becoming increasingly clear that New Zealand needs localization expertise. Where should we start? At present, we find that many of the companies involved in localization are small and have their own methods and systems, approaching localization in a piecemeal manner. If we can bring those companies together, the industry can gain some momentum and strength that one company alone can never reach within the same amount of time. With this objective in mind, we are planning to hold the first New Zealand Localisation Conference in Christchurch in June this year, together with other players in the industry. (If you would like to contribute ideas to the formation of the Localisation Forum, or would like to be involved, then please contact Hagen Issell, Sales & Marketing Director of NZTC International, at hagen@nztcinternational.com)

Another very important issue is the training, or rather lack of training, available for localization in New Zealand. This has turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. No existing localization industry and no training. And even our next-door neighbor, Australia, a world leader in the provision of interpreting and community language services, seems to be only just starting to offer courses, seminars or workshops in the field of internationalization/localization/globalization. We have to try to find the best ways of training and educating ourselves in this area, and this is likely to be one of the immediate focuses of developing the localization industry in New Zealand.

In this regard, a particularly interesting experience of late was a one-day workshop on Software Internationalisation at the Australasian Computer Science Week (ACSW) held at the University of Otago in Dunedin in January 2004 (see the report at the end of this article). The fact that we (myself and two colleagues) were the only representatives from the translation industry at this event was symptomatic of the lack of understanding of the detail of translation issues and requirements involved in localization. We soon realized that, while players in the IT industry vaguely know that translators are needed for the localization/internationalization process, there is still little understanding. And as translators, we had a rather limited capacity to understand the technical side of the process. It was more than clear that somehow these two worlds have to come together and find ways of understanding each other to be efficient.

What may seem to be a very late development to a European audience that has been familiar with the localization industry for over a decade, is going to be a whole new industry in New Zealand. However, I am certain that New Zealand is equipped to catch up fast, thanks to the innovative Kiwi spirit, know locally as “Kiwi ingenuity.” There is much to do and even more to think through and worry about – if I let my German roots come through, I would say: “Packen wir’s an!” (or “let’s get cracking”). However, I have to remind myself that things happen differently here – more like “up and at it with an open mind” and a positively optimistic attitude of “she’ll be right.”


Evelyn Olsen is a graduate of the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule) in Flensburg, Germany, and currently Head of the German department at NZTC International in New Zealand. She is also a Trados consultant and tutor.


The First Australasia Workshop on Software Internationalisation

The first Australasian Workshop on Software Internationalisation (AWSI2004) was held in Dunedin, NZ in late January as part of the Australasian Computer Science Week. Computer scientists attending the main conference and a number of localization professionals who made the journey from the North Island were treated to a number of academic and industry presentations highlighting modern internationalization practice.

While the presentations were all of a high standard, the highlights were undoubtedly the invited keynote address from the language technology researcher Robert Dale, and the industry experiences related by John Richardson of Oracle.

Dale’s presentation highlighted opportunities for language technology to contribute to localization practice, noting opportunities for work in context-based string matching, and the role of controlled language in the automation of localization services. Indeed, making good controlled languages more widely available was seen as a key activity for the community, facilitating research and the development of low-cost tool support for the SME community.

The workshop was an important and successful step in raising awareness of the research issues, but its sustainability depends naturally upon developing stronger links in Asia, and we have made preliminary contacts in this area. From 2005, we intend to organize an annual Asia Pacific Workshop on Software InternationaliZation, with the event to move around the region from year to year. Some efforts are already underway, but we would welcome additional contacts from Asian researchers or practitioners who would like to be involved.

Our thanks to LISA for its assistance during the organization of AWSI2004, and particular thanks to Oracle for its support in sponsoring the travel of our keynote speaker.

For more information, places contact James M. Hogan.


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
19 March 2004, Volume XIII, Issue 1.3.

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider: www.localization.org, LISA:
www.lisa.org)
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004









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