The Exponential in Us

by Vasso Pouli, CEO at Commit

It is said that we are living the most extraordinary era of all times in human history. Everything, from our personal lives, how we set up our homes and interact with our home environment, to how we work and how we run our businesses will change radically and forever within the next five to fifteen years. Concepts like exponential growth, innovation and disruption hit us more times a day than we have time to think about what they really mean. Technology is accelerating in amazing speeds and till now technologies were many and with many different purposes and applications. What is different now is how seemingly disparate technologies converge in platforms and ecosystems to serve humanity increase their potential or… to dominate it (?).

The keyword and common factor behind all technology today is Artificial Intelligence!

AI in the form of robots featured in science fiction movies as far back as shy of a century, with the first robot appearing in film Metropolis (1927), but the real revelation was Star Wars (1977) and The Terminator (1984) later on. AI has both been used and depicted as an enabler to reach a utopia, and as a weapon that leads to a dystopian future. And yes, the debate all those years has been on the ethics of how, when and where to use technology and AI, and yes, resistance by the majority of the population has been non-yielding more often than not.

Could that be due to the fact that once faced with dystopian futures where an AI rebellion subdues our species and leads to AI-controlled societies where the human race is dominated and enslaved triggers our fight-or-flight instinct? One way of fleeting would be to completely ignore it and resist the expansion of its application by not using it – not even as an enabler – wouldn’t it? While one way of fighting could be to hinder its growth by posing ethical questions where there are not any really, or ostracizing those working on improving it or even those using it through social exclusion based on acceptance norms and stereotypes depending on what suits us every time.

Could it be that while instinct was once what preserved the continuity and survival of the human race is now what seriously hinders its growth and alarmingly restrains its potential?

The undeniable truth is that machines, engines, artificial intelligence entities or how else you decide to call technological conceptions are doing many things a lot better than humans are. They can outplay the best chess players and even beat themselves in a Go game, they can control miles-long production lines in factories and diagnose health conditions by simply looking into your pupil, they can work out the most complex risk-management scenarios and make informed decisions on when they should intervene in a process and change it and how. It is also undeniable that when compared to people – highly specialized in their field, extremely knowledgeable, with above average IQ – they do all those tasks faster, better and cheaper than humans. In fact what they are best at are highly repetitive, patterned and structured tasks backed by a whole load of data like rules, statistics and corpora, and delivered through sophisticated algorithms.

What is fascinating though is how, despite the amazing things AI can do and the exponential potential it has, AI lacks understanding, context and flexibility. The impact AI has on language, communication and learning has been significant over the past 5 years to say the least. Learning and teaching models have been transferred from classrooms to technology labs to train engines, and so we moved from rule-based to statistical models of machine translation to neural networks and deep learning to natural language processing to adaptive and predictive models. And yet language is one of the most flexible and context-dependent things, but also one of the most exponential ones in terms of development and capabilities, despite the fact that it too is based on rules and structures, occasionally rather strict and unbending ones.

AI may produce language and engage in conversations, it may even infer our intentions gathering all the data we have consciously or unconsciously conceded about ourselves throughout the years, combine it with other data sets and offer us meaningful suggestions based on reasoning. But AI can hardly respond to novel scenarios. Lacking the basic understanding of purpose, of why it does what it does, at least for the time being, when faced with offbeat, singular instances of events, it can at its best make an educated guess, but does not take any extra steps to clarify things and does not take responsibility when things go wrong. Think how Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google would interact with a 2- or 3- year-old, and how effective natural communication would be – or even if you happen to have such a little person in the house, why don’t you try it. Then, all of you who happen to be parents, think how when your child was articulating his or her first words, you were the only ones who could understand what he or she was saying. No other person could at the time and definitely not an AI, and the reason is simple; you shared content and context that was singular between the two of you and only you had access to it.

No matter how evolved AI is as we speak and how it leapfrog within the next years, it still has quite a lot of ground to cover before -if ever- it can be singular. This is not what we should worry about. Instead, what we should start worrying about is how conditioned we are in our patterned lives and how safe we feel in our comfort zone that we dismiss the simplest change as threatening and distrust the bearers of it. What we should re-think is our definition of ourselves against the machines. Contrary to the latter, people and the human brain is not designed to be conditioned; humans can bend or break the rules and that makes us unpredictable. This is where the real exponential lies.

Meet Central Europe in review

by Eleftheria Tigka, Vendor Manager at Commit

This was my first visit to Budapest for Commit’s participation at the Meet Central Europe event (MCE for short), that took place at the Budapest Music Centre on October 30-31, 2018.

As the plane landed in the Budapest airport, I was full of excitement at the prospect of this conference. I was looking forward to meeting peers and vendors, clients and colleagues, but most of all I was looking forward to being part of this first, inaugural event on Vendor Management.

Day one (October 30th), was partially dedicated to the MasterClass, Vendor Management Training, that was presented by Agi Szaniszlo, Talent Program Manager at Welocalize. Agi walked us through all major VM elements, such as recruitment/vetting and testing of vendors, vendor after care, VM challenges and quality management. It was an inspiring MasterClass that solved many questions.

Later on, Arturo Quintero in his keynote shared his insights on the entrepreneurial quest raising the question “which one are you in the relationship; the committed or the participating?”. Well, relationships, business and otherwise, have always been like that, but it does take some introspection to realize where you stand and where you want to be.

Špela Vintar, from the Department of Translation Studies, University of Ljubljana, described how the Translators of Tomorrow need to have New Skills for New Thrills, and explained that language professionals will remain in demand for years to come, but their skills and competences will need to be thoroughly redefined.

Later in the day, Miha Knavs, Supplier Manager at Vocalink Global compared two Vendor Management Strategies – Price Driven and Client Value Driven, presenting his recruiting approach when looking for domain specialist linguists, providing the following key takeaways: hiring approach, negotiation strategy, challenges to overcome, potential barriers to face.

Last, but not least, Danilo Monaco, CEO at Arancho Doc, discussed principles and ideas stemming from personal industry experience, where Vendor Management might be conceived as a factor in generating revenue through specific initiatives and organization design.

On October 31st, the day started with Eva Nagy, Language Services Center Manager at AMPLEXOR International, who gave a presentation on Assertive Communication in Practice (For All Roleplayers of the Language Industry), and explained how to be assertive in our private and business life, how to provide helpful feedback to others, how to receive negative feedback, how to protect ourselves when criticized and how to deal with conflicts and challenging situations.

The “New” Vendor Management or How to Wake Up a Sleeping Beauty was a session presented by Anna Rudzka-Halas, Team Leader of Translation Projects at eurocom Translation Services GmbH. Anna asked the audience “Why not harness the power of vendor management and turn it into an important asset for quality management?” and she explained how to introduce processes that integrate vendor management strategically and operationally into the ISO 9001-certified quality management workflow.

Ferdinand Kovacic, Managing Director at Kovacic Consulting, described Vendor Management across Cultures, Countries and Distances focusing on cultural adaptability, communication across distances and practical recommendations on how to deal with them.

In the afternoon, Jaroslava Ouzka, Global Sales Manager at Skrivanek tackled the challenges of identifying, allocating & readying Vendor resources for large (multi-language) translation projects and gave her own input on successfully managing the client’s expectations through precise hiring, training, scheduling and allocation processes.

That was all the time we had in Budapest, as we had a plane to catch back to Athens, nevertheless the knowledge, the experiences, the feelings and the people of the event will stay with us for a long time. Furthermore, the city itself, the vibrant culturally rich capital of Hungary, is a place that we will definitely visit again.

See you next year in Prague!

Commit excels in Life Sciences

by Hara Samara, Project Coordinator at Commit

There is certainly a lot to be said for the importance of translation in Life Sciences and much digital ink has been spilled on the challenges involved in the field.  However, today we would like to take the opportunity to share and celebrate some amazing feedback we received from a dear client about projects we completed in 2018 for a global developer and manufacturer of clinical diagnostic products.

Our client ran quality checks on samples drawn from approximately 200 projects we completed from February 2018 to September 2018 and the results illustrate the quality of translations for biomedical laboratory instruments, in vitro diagnostics systems, chemistry data sheets and IFU documentation for haematology analysers among others.

The quality checks have been carried out in all 36 languages that the documentation is translated into and our Life Sciences team scored the amazing amount of zero errors in the sample analysed, which ranks us NUMBER ONE in terms of quality out of 36 languages in total!

Here is what makes Commit stand out:

Passion: We love localisation and this is probably our most effective trait, since our passion for what we do enhances the desire to pursue excellence and makes us motivated, creative and resourceful. As Aristotle put it “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

Specialisation: Handling volumes that exceed 1 million words per year, Commit has established expertise in the field of Life Sciences. Our industry knowledge and proficiency are what makes us successful and highly effective even when things do not go quite as expected, i.e. more often than not!

Tools: Commit uses a range of technical solutions to meet the needs of our clients and offer quality assurance. Our commitment to the ISO 9001 and ISO 17100 standards in combination with the use of state‑of‑the‑art technology in CAT and QA tools allows us to build and maintain translation memories and termbases, ensure consistency, minimise human error and deliver top‑quality translations.

Tailored services: Be it a 200,000 words document concerning instructions for use for an immunoassay analyser or a handful of words from a chemistry data sheet, our expert project management team analyses the request and its individual specs to develop a tailored plan that allows us to handle successfully the highly‑sensitive content our clients trust us with.

Expert linguists: Last, but by no means least, at the core of our success is teamwork and the professional specialised translators we collaborate with. Being responsible for this account over the last 10 months, I am thrilled to see our efforts pay off and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the linguists that travelled with me all the way to the first place among 36 languages and contributed in such top‑quality results. This would never have happened without your commitment, diligence, precision and attention to detail. I know it’s been a rocky road sometimes and I would like to sincerely thank each and every one of you for the excellent collaboration and support, even when things have been challenging – well, especially then!

Cheers to you and our future adventures!

Going global? Well it’s time you get local!

by Nikoletta Kaponi, Operations Manager at Commit

Localize your content to increase conversions and customer engagement in foreign markets

Whether you are a multinational company or an online business aiming to reach potential customers around the globe, you may have already found out that your approach for entering domestic markets does not have an equal effect in foreign markets. And that is not just because of the language barrier; except for speaking a different tongue, people in different countries also think differently. Slightly paraphrasing one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s quotes, speaking a different language entails a different perception of the world, thus rendering the limits of this perception primarily linguistic.

As such, when you try to communicate your brand, promote your products or services and engage with your potential clientele, you need to make sure you connect with them with content that is meaningful to them and has the same effect on the different locales as your original content would in your domestic market. To achieve this, you should not settle for just translating your content, but rather go one step further opting for the more creative services of localization, transcreation or even native copywriting which will transform your content into winning material.

Recent findings presented in a Common Sense Advisory report show that 87% of non-English speakers don’t buy products or services on English-language websites, and at the same time 55% of the respondents make purchases only on websites where information is available in their language. If the internet is your channel for sales keep this in mind, along with the fact that out of the 4,1 billion internet users worldwide just 25% of them are native English speakers (Internet World Stats, data as of Dec 31, 2017). This means that in order to connect with the remaining 75% of those users, build a trustworthy profile of your brand for them and convert them to loyal customers and advocates, you need to make sure you become “local” and engage with them in an authentic and culturally appropriate way.

China demonstrates one of the fastest growing e-commerce sales share over the total domestic retail sales, currently at 20% compared to just over 10% globally. This fact, combined with the figure of over 800 million Chinese-speaking internet users, surely renders the Chinese market an alluring target for sales expansion. However, if you fail to make your content, product information and customer support accessible to them, providing those in their language, this share of the market will remain unconquerable for you but will certainly be conquerable for those who decide to invest in a “local” identity in exchange for a promising ROI.

If you are wondering whether China would be an appropriate market for you, website traffic and big data analytics as well as market stats can help you identify opportunities in different geographies and make informed decisions not only about which markets to turn to, but also about the media and the content that would be more effective for reaching out successfully to your target audiences.

According to HubSpot Content Trends Survey Q3 2017, Latin America has the highest preference for video content (64%, compared to an average of 54% applicable to other regions) when it comes to choosing their favorite brands. So, if you are looking into an expansion in the Mexican market, aim for producing some quality videos as part of your content marketing strategy, to increase your brand awareness and the visibility of your products or services. And to ensure those videos get the attention of as many prospects within your target locale as possible, think about investing in audiovisual translation in the form of subtitling or even better dubbing, given that the latter is most common in Spanish-speaking countries.

Of course, such a process of becoming local in order to go global requires a certain budget to cover the costs of translation, localization, transcreation, subtitling or dubbing, depending on the type of content you choose to use for connecting with a foreign audience. But without that, your efforts to create great content for a new market may go unnoticed if they are not combined with equal efforts to make that content linguistically and culturally accessible. And in some cases, the cost may not even be as high as you think, especially if you have already some translations in hand which could perhaps be re-used or even re-purposed for your marketing campaign or your multilingual website or a post on your social media.

While the trend is for companies to go global, one should always keep in mind that people around the world are similar but different, and the differences they present are usually those that matter. As such, those differences should be respected, embraced and reflected in all attempts that the companies make when they aim at establishing true, original and meaningful connections with audiences in different locales.

Follow the big money: Making your brand successful in Japan

by Yuko Baba, Project Manager at Commit

September 7th, 2013 – it was a happy day for Japan. The country elated over the news that Japan will host the 2020 Olympic games. The expected cost of throwing this world’s largest party is reported to be 3 trillion yen (over 26 billion in USD), and currently, the city of Tokyo is undergoing major (I mean, MAJOR!) development to build its infrastructure to support this event and to welcome the participants and the visitors from all over the world.

It is a BIG deal – not only because of the resources that are pouring into this 16-days-summer event, but also because of its history. It has been more than a half century since the last summer Olympics was held in this city. In 1964, Tokyo was the first city among Asian countries to host the Olympic games, for which the city went through a huge renovation of its infrastructure. They developed Shinkansen (the bullet trains), highways and sport arenas. Prior to this event, the city had unsuccessfully bid for the summer Olympics in 1940 and 1960. After the first Tokyo Olympics in 1964, for a long time, the city was absent from this bidding affair until the voting in 2009 for the 2016 Olympics. The city has been planning and preparing for the 2020 Olympics for more than 9 years and counting.

Enough said, so it is a huge event in Japan for its people; but, what does that have to do with the rest of us – beside our patriotism to root for our own countries? According to the research by Bank of Japan (BOJ Reports & Research Papers, December 2015), they estimated the number of visitors during this event will be over 920 thousand per day. The numbers of visitors are steadily increasing in Japan since 2011, and if this trend continues, Japan will have over 33 million visitors in 2020. Basically, a whole lot of people are expected to be visiting Japan from now until 2020.

Where there is increase in the number of visitors, naturally, the consumption will follow suite.  This is the very reason why Tokyo decided to take on this huge gamble – to boost its on-going deflated economy via tourism and development. Yes, it is a gamble – with the huge bill to be paid for this one summer event; however, the city of Tokyo is very much optimistic. They estimated its economic growth to be 32.3 trillion yen (over 286 billion USD) and 1.94 million jobs will be created until 2030 (Article issued by Nikkei Asian Review External Trade, March 7th, 2017). So, yup, that is big money. Interestingly, the foreign-owned enterprises started establishing their entities in Japan, and the number tripled since 2014 according to a report by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). Could this be the “Olympic effect”? We will probably find out in the next few years. One thing is certain – Japan is one of the “hot” countries that many industries are looking into right now.

The question is, are they ready to jump into the Japanese market? It is said to be one of the toughest markets, one you cannot simply approach with the one-size-fits-all marketing. A lot of successful foreign companies have come into Japan and failed miserably over the years – Carrrefour (France), Tesco(England), IHOP(USA), Boots(England), Old Navy(USA), Au Printemps(France) and Haagen-Dazs(USA) to mention a few. All of them are quite successful in their own and other countries; however, they did not quite make it in Japan. On the other hand, the major toy company, Toys”R”Us and Babys”R”Us who filed for bankruptcy in 2017 is still very much alive and doing well in Japan(Toys”R”Us Asia Limited), since it opened its first store in December 1991. That itself speaks of how different the market really is.

To be successful, you cannot just put your top-of-the-line popular products in the store and expect long-lasting revenue. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that Japanese people do not like foreign things. In fact, they do, but it just does not last long. A good example of this is Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. When they first opened, people lined up for hours, literally, HOURS! The first Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store in Japan had 7 hours waiting time. Yup, 7 hours to get a doughnut. However, now they are closing a lot of stores, and the company has been in the red for the past 3 years. The new CEO, Takako Wakatsuki, is switching gears to revive this business.

The successful companies seem to have common practices that crossover the industry types – selling something that’s specific to Japan. Starbucks is famous for adapting to Japanese culture introducing the flavors and looks that are suitable for the Japanese market. Take a look at the difference between Starbucks US and Japan’s new Frappuccinos for Halloween.

   Photo from Starbucks US and Starbucks Japan websites

Japanese Frappuccino uses more food-like natural colors, whereas the US version uses very vivid purple and green which can be perceived as unhealthy and not tasty to many Japanese people. In fact, Krispy Kreme is trying to revive its business using the same methods as Starbucks by developing less sweet doughnuts and more photogenic doughnuts to appeal to the Japanese market. The word “Insta-Bae” (which means Instagenic) was selected to be the Keyword of the Year in 2017. Japanese people are crazy about reporting their new experiences (especially food related) on Instagram. If the product is Insta-worthy, it generates popularity.

Photo from Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Japan website

                Another key to success is to work together with Japanese partners and let them lead the way. The reason Toys”R”Us Asia Limited has survived the stiff competition of Amazon.com so far is because they have a very different business model from the way the US company was run. They, in fact, are increasing their number of stores, which at the first glance, doesn’t make sense. However, their strategy is such that unlike the usual large size store, they minimized the store space by more than 70-80%. With this limited space, the numbers of displays will be limited which drives them to select the most interesting toys and high-quality, easy to use nursery items to display for the customers to experience at the store. Basically, their stores now function as a showroom for their internet stores rather than a warehouse to store the products for sales which is what caused the US company to lose to their competition.

Photo from Toys”R”Us Asian Limited website

                The uniqueness of the product lines and business models will not take off if there’s no marketing effort to promote its business. One of the backbones of the successful launch in the Japanese market will be localization – whether it’s a product specification or menus to marketing collateral, good localization practices cannot be separated from a successful business. When it comes to the client-facing reading materials, there is no space for errors. Japanese expect nothing short of perfection – that is the standard. The right expressions need to be used depending on the context (e.g., Formal and informal expression). Good quality localization will not only help to highlight your products and smoothen communication, but it should also boost your company image overall which is the gateway to winning people’s trust! Here are some tips for Japanese translation:

  1. Flow of language is very important. When translating from English to Japanese, the language often loses the natural flow due to the grammatical differences between these two languages. Make sure the translation is not literal translation; otherwise, it will end up sounding like a very “suspicious” translation to a lot of Japanese readers.
  2. What tone would you like to use? Japanese business terminology and colloquial terminology varies and so do expressions (formal and informal). Within the formal expression (called Keigo), it can be divided into 3 categories: Sonkei-go(Respectful language), Kenjyo-go(Humble language) and Teinei-go(Polite language). It is very important to decide the tone prior to the project and to know to whom the document is being addressed.
  3. Create glossary and terminology prior to project. Japanese have 3 writing styles – Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. They also use Roma-ji (which is basically the alphabets). Prior to proceeding with the actual translation project, decide the key terms and determine how it will be translated.
  4. Always have a second pair of eyes or more to check the translations. This means, you need to have extra time set aside for the review which is definitely needed as language is very subjective and with many rules in Japanese..

                So here we are at the end of 2018 and less than two years until the Olympics. If your company has been considering to join the party (and share of the potentially huge pie), now might be the right time!