Friday, December 28, 2012

Translating for the manufacturing sector

Interview by Karen Tkaczyk
Scientific and Technical Translator

I was intrigued by a comment I read in Nataly Kelly’s recent Forbes piece: “Likewise, the majority of the world’s translators (who deal with written words) do not translate books. The largest amount of work in this field comes from the manufacturing sector.”[1]

The largest amount? I wanted to know more! I bet other scientific and technical translators would, too! I contacted Nataly, who works for market research firm Common Sense Advisory, with a view to writing something relevant for my colleagues. The firm has a new research report, “How Manufacturing Companies Buy Translation,” that had led to Ms. Kelly’s statement. Common Sense Advisory was generous enough to allow me the opportunity to interview Rebecca Ray, the lead analyst on this report.

KMT: Why did you research translation in the manufacturing sector?

RR: Depending on the vertical, translation buyers may have somewhat different requirements, so we decided to research the top ones that provide the most opportunity for revenue for freelancers and language service providers (LSPs). We chose the verticals based on our in-depth market sizing report that we publish every year, “The Language Services Market: 2012.”

Manufacturing represents the largest single vertical by far: more than US$11 billion for 2012, which corresponds to one-third of the total market language services market! What’s great is that there are hundreds of sub-sectors to serve. As a result, there are many opportunities for translators with an established offering for manufacturers, as well as those new to the vertical. We uncovered at least 16 specific opportunities while doing our research, including expanded language coverage, expansion into related patent- and IP-related services, and transcreation.

One of the big opportunities we uncovered was source content optimization, or editing original source text before it is translated. We confirmed that engineers – especially ones required to write in a non-native language – are one of the main causes of quality problems originating in source content in various manufacturing sub-sectors. They typically cut and paste from corrupt Word templates and recycle legacy PDF files that raise costs and lengthen delivery times for downstream translation teams. Therefore, opportunities for freelancers and LSPs abound in this area, including writing and editing services, education in how to write for global audiences, and automation for re-use.

KMT: You must have classified the market segments you were surveying. Do your results cover a wide range of technical areas? Do any stand out?

RR: Yes, we reviewed several sub-sectors within manufacturing. The largest ones for the language service industries are machine and equipment; pharmaceutical; computer, electronic, optical products; and motor vehicles and other transport equipment. In fact, these manufacturing sub-subsectors occupy four of the top 10 categories and 13 of the top 36 categories for the language services industry.

KMT: What differentiates the manufacturing sector from other market segments?

RR: A language provider must be able to supply the additional subject matter expertise in whatever sectors they focus on in this vertical – this is a given from the buyer’s perspective. Freelancers can do this through their own educational or work experience, or they can collaborate with colleagues who already have it. In fact, due to the pervasive requirement for deep subject matter expertise, freelancers and single-language vendors (SLVs) should be able to compete quite well against larger LSPs in this sector.

Suppliers should also be prepared for the fact that manufacturing clients often prefer to select their partners on the basis of word of mouth. Supplemented by their own experience, networking with peers, and translator portals, buyers in this vertical generally bypass the request for proposals (RFP) process. Vendors may also be surprised to find that price is not a top issue in vendor selection for this section. It actually ranks below subject matter expertise, linguistic quality, flexibility, and quality of the business relationship. This is probably because the actual users of language services – not purchasing specialists – often have the biggest say in this vertical when it comes to vendor selection.

KMT: My impression is that finding subject matter experts is a perennial problem for translation buyers. Would your results support that theory?

RR: Manufacturing buyers told us that the resources are often available, but it is a question of locating and vetting them. If you’re a freelancer who is fairly fluent in one or two other languages in addition to the ones in which you’re currently working, you should consider teaming up with a colleague who is stronger in one or more of those languages, but who may not have your technical expertise. Or, vice-versa. Presenting your service this way will show your clients that they can count on you for more than just one or two languages in one or more sub-sectors.

If you’re a language service supplier, you should confirm the languages that will be required by your targeted manufacturing sub-sectors over the next few years. If you don’t have the right talent under contract yet, start recruiting now.

KMT: A common problem for technical translators is not being able to find out what something means in context: the client does not send drawings, or when working via another LSP or in large firms the translation project manager has no access to the author. Do you have any impressions on this being a problem?

RR: This is definitely still a challenge for many verticals – not just manufacturing. Interestingly enough, more than one manufacturer we interviewed mentioned that they had offered training for translators and editors more than once that no one took advantage of. That may have something to do with the time commitment required, and perhaps no compensation being offered for the time involved. This is one reason some buyers in specialized verticals like to work directly with freelancers. By taking out the middleman, it can be easier for them to ensure that the knowledge transfer takes place.

KMT: In considering translating for manufacturing, we often imagine user manuals or standard operating procedures. What about marketing copy for manufacturing as being a translation challenge? Did you consider the varied types of documents that manufacturers need to have translated?

RR: Yes, we did. As in many other industries, content volumes, the number of required languages, and the variety of publishing channels continue to expand. Those responsible for translation and localization at manufacturing companies described to us a world in which their companies are being required to deliver more tailored products for more local language markets to stay competitive into the foreseeable future. They explained that this translated into smaller amounts of content per project, but rising volumes overall.

In several sub-sectors, manufacturers continue to move closer and closer to the final consumer as more of their products and services go mobile. For those companies, translation managers are experiencing an increased focus on marketing content, especially audio and video for online consumption. We think that freelancers and agencies should look for those opportunities, rather than waiting for their customers to approach them.

Sample Content Types in the Manufacturing Sector
Assembly instructions
Compliance documentation
Data sheets
Diagrams and CAD files
Employee handbooks
Engineering specifications
HR manuals
Installation, operator, and maintenance manuals
Labeling and packaging
Legal documents
Marketing content
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Safety manuals
Sales tools
Service agreements
Service bulletins
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Training manuals
Troubleshooting guides
User manuals
Warranty agreements

Manufacturers Produce Many Types of Content
Source: “How Manufacturing Companies Buy Translation,” October 2012, Common Sense Advisory, Inc

KMT: Did anything about the results surprise you? 

RR: Yes, and it concerned suppliers, rather than buyers. We reviewed several websites for our research and discovered that the majority of language suppliers still aren’t differentiating or marketing themselves very well to this vertical. Therefore, we address that in the report by including several specific ways that agencies can improve their websites and marketing programs to attract manufacturing companies. We also include a list of more than 200 possible keywords in English for people to make sure to include in their web content.

KMT: Is there anything else you would like to share?

RR: Yes! There is a lot of change going on in the manufacturing sector right now which may offer even more opportunities for language suppliers. As one geographic area slumps, another one usually appears on the horizon. The same applies to individual countries and clusters of cities where manufacturing sub-sectors tend to congregate. We expect this scenario to play out for at least the next few years as tens of millions of people continue to join the ranks of the middle class. By 2025, annual consumption in emerging markets is estimated to reach $30 trillion.

Currently, the largest 100 companies in developed markets generate only 17% of their revenue from emerging markets, even though these markets represent 36% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Small- and medium-sized companies, including many manufacturers, are busy taking up the slack. The language services industry is fortunate in that its members can play both sides of the fence: supporting veteran exporters that must replace waning domestic revenue with sales from new markets, at the same time enabling companies in growing economies to move beyond their borders for the first time.

KMT: Based on your results, what should technical translators be thinking about
· to promote themselves to LSPs?
· to promote themselves to the translation buyers? 

RR: Buyers in this vertical told us that they rely principally on three methods to identify potential suppliers: their own experience, recommendations from peers, and translator portals. Technical translators should trumpet their subject matter expertise and any additional languages they may be able to handle – either on a first-pass basis or through collaboration with colleagues. If they are comfortable with post-editing machine translation output, or they have expertise in editing technical content in its original source language, they should market those skills strongly.

All of this information should be easily accessible through a website, even if it’s fairly simple, and the content doesn’t change much – except for updates with customer testimonials. With current customers – whether direct buyers or LSPs – they should let them know exactly what services they can offer, in addition to the ones they are providing. And last, but certainly not least, they should be very visible on translator portals.

Your research shows that there is opportunity “for suppliers to differentiate themselves through targeted web content, smart use of SEO, and the purchase of URLs related to manufacturing and translation.”[2] On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for inspiring me to rework my website!


[2] “How Manufacturing Companies Buy Translation,” Common Sense Advisory, October 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to start a Successful Career in Science and Technical Translation

Interview by Susanna Weerth

This year the American Foundation for Translation and Interpretation JTG Scholarship in Science and Technical Translation or Interpretation was awarded to Jennifer Clowery. The scholarship supports undergraduate or graduate students who plan to enroll or are training at an accomplished US university or college and have demonstrated achievements in the field as stated by their teachers or supervisors. More information about the award can be found on the ATA website:

If you are interested in starting or switching to a career in science and technical translation and want to know how to start you might be interested in reading the advice from this year’s JTG awardee Jennifer Clowery. Jennifer graciously provided answers to questions on how she became a science and technology translator and interpreter. I would like to thank Jennifer for sharing her experience and ideas on how to pursue a successful translation and interpreting career in science and technology and wish her luck and striking success for her future!

 When did you decide to choose translation and/or interpretation as a career and how did you decide on a school for translation/interpreting?

I had been an English as a second language teacher for several years after I graduated from college and enjoyed it very much, but eventually decided to move on to a different challenge. Since I loved languages, I started to think about the possibility of pursuing a career in translation and enrolled in an online translation course through New York University. I absolutely loved it, and subsequently began to research Master’s degrees. It wasn’t until I came across the Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS) that I thought about incorporating interpretation into my studies as well. Once I realized that MIIS was the only school in the U.S. where I could get a degree in both fields, and that the program has an international reputation for excellence, I knew that was where I wanted to go.

Why do you think it is important to specialize?

There are many good reasons to specialize. First, there are so many translators on the market, especially in my language combination (Spanish-English), that you need to think about how you are going to set yourself apart from everyone else. Clients want to hire translators who have an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and have experience in the field. Moreover, specializing is beneficial to us as professionals because it enables us to be faster and more efficient by cutting down the time spent on research and terminology, but still allowing us to maintain high quality. 

What was a major event/turning point in your translation/interpreting studies that sparked your interest in science and technical translation?

Actually, for a long time, scientific and technical translation intimidated me and I never thought I would want to work in those fields. I think this is a common attitude among novice translators and interpreters – we think we are “language people” who are not cut out for science. However, the program at MIIS includes a heavy emphasis on scientific and technical texts and speeches, and our professors insisted that with sufficient preparation and research, we could produce high-quality work. I realized they were right, and that, like most things in life, it was merely a matter of time and effort. I enjoy scientific and technical translation and interpretation because it affords me the opportunity to learn more about the world in which we live and how it works. 

Which trainings/mentors where the most important to guide you in learning the skills for your specialization and/or choose the career path of your choice?

Every single one of my professors in the program holds their students to high standards and teaches us the skills necessary to excel in the field. Professor Uwe Muegge, director of CSOFT, a prominent language service provider, teaches computer-assisted technology classes and provides us with a wealth of information about translation tools, terminology management and best practices. In order to be competitive and to minimize (potentially costly, and even deadly) mistakes in the scientific and technical translation fields, it is essential for translators to be able to utilize all these tools at our disposal.

Outside this academic training, where could you see yourself developing the necessary experience to become an excellent technical and scientific translator/interpreter?

From what I have seen, it is a rather difficult field to break into as a translator because many translation companies require several years’ experience as a scientific and technical translator. In addition to my studies, I have been working as a freelance Quality Assurance Specialist for a highly regarded translation and localization company that focuses on life sciences, and this has given me the opportunity to work with project managers and gain experience working with a range of different text types. Moreover, I plan on exploring possible internships and fellowships after I graduate that could enable me to gain more hands-on experience.

Susanna Weerth is an English - German translator, editor and interpreter specializing in life sciences, patent and legal translations. She received her doctorate in Biology at the University of Munich/Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology and worked as a research scientist in laboratories studying neuroscience and neuroimmunology in the US and Germany. Prior to her studies she was a trained and certified medical assistant in a physician's office and clinical veterinary laboratory in Germany. She is involved as a special assistant to the board member at the National Capital Area Translators Association (NCATA) and in the leadership council of the S&TD.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

You know you’re from Ohio when…

Review of S&TD sessions Sarah Koby, Greenleaf Translation

This was my second year attending the ATA Annual Conference. My first was last year in Boston with the snowstorm. I loved every minute of ATA53! It’s so sunny in San Diego… though you know you’re from Northeast Ohio when it starts to get “too sunny” and you start hoping to see a cloud or two!

Last year in Boston I attended as a student. This year I attended for the first time as a professional, having just started my business – Greenleaf Translation – in the spring. It was surprising to me how much of a difference this makes: when I came as a student, I was there for the experience, to get a feel for the conference, and to meet people. Of course, I was there to learn, too – but it was more general. As a translator, now, I experienced the conference in a whole different way: I targeted sessions that could be useful to me in my daily work, and I experienced how helpful the moments between sessions can be for getting to know potential business contacts. My notes in the sessions were far more copious, too, because the sessions are conceptually and terminologically helpful. After my return, non-translators asked me what is in a session at a translators’ conference. The answer was, of course, complicated by the fact that the listener had only a sketchy understanding of translation in the first place. (I do my best to remedy this, but sometimes it is a grand undertaking!). I found myself using the words “continuing education” and “subject-area information,” which is what I focused on in my session selection.

Because I am specializing in science and technology, most of the sessions I attended had some form of a Sci/Tech (ST) focus. I attended sessions that were listed as ST (ST-4 “An Introduction to Aviation and Air Travel” and ST-5 “DNA Translation: It's All in the Genes”), several that had a fairly ST focus (G-2 “Milestones in DNA Sequencing Technologies and Genome Analysis”, G-6 “Wind Transportation and Logistics Terminology, Part I”, and G-7 “Wind Transportation and Logistics Terminology, Part II”), and part of another ST session (ST-10 “The "God Particle," Dark Matter, Black Holes, and All That”). For that last one, my mind was largely on my upcoming certification exam (fingers crossed!), so I wasn’t fully focused and ended up sneaking out early. That was unfortunate, since I heard it was fun and interesting–and informative, particle physics not being something I’ve read a lot about.

And I have to say, I had a lot of fun in these ST sessions! They were perfect for deepening my understanding in fields where I already have experience, and were also great for giving me a basic foundation and insight into fields where I have less experience. The sessions also allowed me to notice who else enjoyed similar topics, which was a great way to start networking.

I supplemented the technical sessions with visits to technically-inclined museums, too: the maritime museum (tall ships!) and the Midway aircraft carrier museum. These both allowed me to contextualize some of the info I’d already been gathering (such as the aviation terminology from Nick Hartmann’s session) and to learn new terminology, as well!

In all, this was a very rewarding conference for me, as I hope it was for others. I had fun, learned a lot, and met many people, though I’m happy to be home where there are sometimes clouds! And now I can’t wait ‘til next year!

Sarah Koby, (German>English, Sci-Tech), is a recent graduate of the Kent State University Masters in Translation program. She graduated with an MA in Translation, German. While she grew up learning German from an early age, she admits that she probably picked translation as a career because her father is also a professional translator. That said, she studied English as her major (and had a host of minors!) when an undergraduate. This gave her the chance to explore, so that she would later be certain that translation was the correct career choice for her. She now works from home as a freelance translator in Northeast Ohio.