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GILT: Observations from a Technical Communicator’s Perspective


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Bringing a technical communicator’s perspective to GILT, Steve Dyson comments on how even the biggest companies have not yet thought through the many ramifications of globalization in the economic and GILT senses of the word. He then provides some insights into why the marketing efforts of GILT technology companies have not been as successful as perhaps they should.

Steve Dyson Contracts to build multilingual web sites are still being won by graphics agencies on the basis of their creativity and design skills, with little thought being given to localization or content management.

Europe-based translators and technical communicators, working in industries generating large quantities of documentation and translation work from languages other than English, cannot help but be struck by the slow uptake of GILT and allied tools. Where translation and localization jobs are outsourced directly to specialists, translation memory (TM) and other GILT tools are, of course, used. The point I’m trying to make is that their clients remain largely unaware of the benefits of these technologies and how to exploit them more fully.

Contracts to build multilingual web sites are still being won by graphics agencies on the basis of their creativity and design skills, with little thought being given to localization or content management. Too often, industrial project managers fail to see the production, translation and management of documentation as a full-scale engineering project in its own right, so little attention is given to document workflow or reviewing the available tools.

Here are three examples:

Example 1: Portuguese Polos

I don’t know about other purchasers, but I hate being reminded of the options I don’t have.

My new VW Polo, purchased in Portugal, comes with a manual in Portuguese containing all sorts of information about other models and options I could not afford. I don’t know about other purchasers, but I hate being reminded of the options I don’t have. No content management there!

Come to think of it, content management could be taken further. Manufacturers could, presumably, produce a single booklet containing the manual for my particular car — nothing more, nothing less — plus really useful data like the body and engine serial numbers, paint color and reference, and so forth. Also, the fact that I purchased my car in Portugal doesn’t necessarily mean that I want the documentation in Portuguese. I accept the logistical problems of offering multiple languages. But surely, VW could make all language versions available for download in PDF format. Again, we see that even the biggest companies have not yet thought through the many ramifications of globalization in the economic and GILT senses of the word.

Example 2: Toshiba Portables

Without customer feedback, Toshiba will never understand its customers’ needs.

My Toshiba portable computer, also purchased in Portugal, comes with a Portuguese keyboard, which is fine, except that I happen to prefer a French keyboard (despite the fact that I work mostly in English). Various keyboard conversion kits are listed in the Toshiba catalog, but the Portuguese distributor refuses to carry them, and the Toshiba homesite in Japan refers customers in Portugal back to the distributor who couldn’t care less.

One thing is certain. Without customer feedback, Toshiba will never understand its customers’ needs. More generally, isn’t it surprising that, after all these years, the computer industry is still plagued by the infernal keyboard layout problem?

Example 3: Reinventing the Wheel Over and Over Again

Low awareness of elementary GILT strategies raises costs that no one seems to analyze.

European defense companies have yet, by and large, to realize the benefits of corporate “boilerplate” e.g., carefully honed mission statements and product descriptions. Poke around some of their sites, PDFs and corporate literature, and you’ll find multiple versions, often carefully adapted at considerable cost into two, three or more languages. Again, low awareness of elementary GILT strategies raises costs that no one seems to analyze. Try, for example, the EADS group’s four-language homesite.

If I were promoting localization tools in Europe, I’d look closely at the achievements and methods of companies like Macromedia and Quark. Products like Flash, DreamWeaver, ColdFusion and QuarkXPress are true industry standards that have been fully adopted by precisely the target group that should now be made aware of GILT technologies. It is interesting to note in passing that the Macromedia and Quark homepages are in U.S. English only.

Speaking of QuarkXPress, I wonder if Quark’s head office has any idea how many people in Europe still use monolingual versions to do layout work in multiple languages? Put off by the price of the multilingual Passport version of QuarkXPress, many agencies still use a basic version in language X to work in language Y. This results in major headaches for anyone preoccupied by spell checking, word breaks and hyphenation. Again, multilingual methods and tools continue to call out for new approaches to marketing and user education.

The marketing efforts of GILT technology companies focus sharply on language industry suppliers. The TRADOS site offers five language versions on the theme, “Only TRADOS delivers industrial-strength language technology.” The SDL homepage offers six language versions selling GILT as such, but how many graphics agencies will see any reason to investigate further? How many Dreamweaver users in say, Italy or France, with a multilingual contract in hand, will realize the potential benefits of teaming up with a localization specialist using DéjàVu, Star Transit or whatever?

There are deeper reasons why the GILT industry’s marketing efforts have not been as successful as they might.

I’m not saying that translation memory companies are on the wrong track. Marketing is, after all, a tricky business. It remains true, however, that many colleagues receive localization jobs via graphics agencies that refuse to work with anything but plain text files, which they then use to patiently rebuild each language version of a new site by repeated cut and paste.

There are, of course, deeper reasons why the GILT industry’s marketing efforts have not been as successful as they might. They include:

  • A high awareness of culture and literature, but a low awareness of how and why technical communication differs from literature. This is possibly because language studies (of both mother tongue and foreign languages) focus on literature and culture, and seldom on communication or technical communication as such. This results in a correspondingly low awareness of the technical communication industry and its methods and the importance of consistent terminology, not to mention standard blocks and corporate boilerplate.
  • Cultures with high graphics awareness may see the building of a web site more as a creative challenge than a case for cost-benefit analysis and project engineering. This may explain why graphics agencies in certain countries continue to win multilingual web site contracts despite outdated methods. In cultural contexts such as these, demonstrations of TM tools consistently fail to impress, and the concept of separating the graphics creation task from other localization tasks remains too alien to envisage.

Steve Dyson is a Europe-based Australian. After many years in France, he now lives in Lisbon, Portugal where he runs an annual terminology seminar at Toulouse-Le Mirail University. As a freelance technical communicator, Dyson specializes in English-language copywriting from French source documents. He can be reached at stevedyson@NOSPAM.sdc-language.com.

 


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
3 December 2003, Volume XII, Issue 4.5.

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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