Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Freelance Translators & the Effect Of Emerging Markets On Them


How are the so-called "emerging markets" affecting freelance translators and the market in general?

Sometime just after the advent of the Internet, multilingual people from all over the world realized its potential to help them to make money from their linguistic skills. Freelance translators - some working part-time as a way to earn a bit of extra cash, and some working full-time - decided to use this amazing new connectivity tool to cash in on their “skills”. Unfortunately, not all of them had the “skills” they thought they did (or claimed to).

Soon after followed the Internetification (it’s a word NOW) of a group of “emerging markets” - better known as “3rd world countries with electricity and a little bit of money coming in”. These emerging markets jumped on the Internet/Freelance Translation bandwagon even harder than the previously-mentioned folks did. And once they jumped on, they rocked it even harder.

This is relatively problematic for me, both as a translator and as a project manager. It’s problematic as a translator because of market saturation, i.e., too many people offering the same service as I, and usually for much cheaper than I am willing or able to offer it for. As a project manager, it poses a problem in that if I post a job on an Internet translation site, I tend to have an exponential number of candidates than before, meaning that I have to sift and weed through dozens and dozens of potential translators to find one that can fit my needs. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem – indeed, it would actually be more of a blessing – if the majority of these “translators” were actually working in their natives tongues as opposed to working both from and into their secondary and third languages.

As a rule I generally try to hire a person who translates from his or her secondary language into their native language. When translating, I mainly work in Japanese-English translations, and although I’m quite fluent in Japanese, the fact is it’s not my native language. I like to take pride in my work and because of this – and because I want my clients to come back – I try to put out the best possible translation I can. This is usually just not possible when working into a language that is not fully your own.

Since this outbreak of “McTranslators”- less-than-qualified translators who provide cheap quality for cheap prices – many of the more qualified freelance translators around the globe have been hurting. Especially with the world economy continuing its slump, more and more outsourcers and non-translation-related companies in need of translation work are turning to these “emerging market” translators in an attempt to keep costs down. On top of taking work from proper, qualified translators, these translators also tend to give the more qualified among us a bad image. Many companies become wary of hiring freelancers after having a few negative experiences with these people, due to general low quality of work and/or late or missed deadlines.

There may be more aspects to this turn of events of which I am not aware, but personally I don’t see much but trouble in the market in the future as long as this trend of what could almost be called “sweatshop translation” continues. Of course there are many, many fully qualified and capable translators in these “emerging markets” who do proper work with proper language sets, but I’m afraid that there are just too many who aren’t doing so. For now, all we can do - as translators as well as project managers – is hope that they find another market to saturate and somehow lose interest in ours, or at least that outsourcers and general clients learn to pick up on hints that the person they’re considering contracting is less than qualified for the work at hand.


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Friday, May 25, 2012

Crowdsourced Translation


Crowdsourced translation is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one that thrives on the technological medium known as the Internet. It basically refers to a translation project in which the source material is made open to multiple people – sometimes even millions at once – for tandem and possibly cooperative translation, as opposed to contracting said project to one individual or specific group. Also known as “community translation” or “collaborative translation”, the term’s roots lay in the concept of “crowdsourcing”, also a relatively recent idea.

Wikipedia defines “crowdsourcing” as follows:

Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community, through an "open call" to a large group of people (a crowd) asking for contributions. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).

Recently, a variety of online-based companies have been utilizing the crowdsourcing method for translations of their respective websites’ contents. Some of the more high-profile projects have been those conducted by online social networking sites such as Facebook and Hi5. Crowdsourced translation, when properly managed and administered, can make extremely large projects of unwieldy volume go much more smoothly and quickly, and in some cases even make the translation of the material even more accurate. On the other hand, if not properly managed and quality assured, it can create days, weeks, or even months of extra fix-up work for the administrators. This is especially true when specialized terminology and/or distinctive writing styles are required for the finished product.

There are many advantages to crowdsourced translation – especially for websites/services such as the aforementioned. One of these advantages is that on top of (usually) being free of charge, it also allows for more rare or minor languages to be translated not only accurately but also in proper modern parlance. Another advantage would be the fact that the source material is, by the nature of the act, translated just the way the end users would want it to be. This not only helps boost user satisfaction, but also provides the company in question with a way to avoid complaints about “unnatural” or “improper” translations, since they can always answer such accusations with a “it’s not us, it’s you” deflection.

Some freelance translators and translator associations are against crowdsourced translation, especially when the work is done free of charge, because they feel that it takes away valuable work opportunities. Unfortunately for this section of the translation industry, in some cases – be it due to financial reasons, time restraints, or other causes – crowdsourced translation is not only the most effective way to go, it’s sometimes the only method plausible. Facebook, for example, undergoes constant criticism by its users regarding its language and terminology, but in crowdsourcing the site’s recent multilingual translation, the company responsible not only saved literally hundreds of thousands – if not millions - of dollars in translation/proofreading/quality assurance fees, they were also able to get the site’s terminology and general linguistic feel just as the end users preferred.

As crowdsourced translation continues to evolve and expand into other areas of business in general and the world of online translation in particular, we can expect to see new technologies and translation methods based on or related to this practice crop up gradually. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a subjective matter, but one that will no doubt become more and more a source of discussion in the days and years to come.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The difficulties of translating manga SFX

Sound effects appear on virtually every page in Japanese manga, but is their translation into English (or other languages) essential for the reader to understand the story, or are they just “decoration”? I find that when reading manga, I tend to pretty much ignore the SFX completely and concentrate on the story. That may be just me…

However, most digital publishers of translated manga require most - if not all - SFX to be translated, and this can prove to be a difficult task for the potential translator. This is not only in terms of creating an accurate translation, but also in ensuring the text does not sound “naff”.

In fact, there is a variety of websites which list a whole range of Japanese SFX and their English translations. However, even using these sites does not guarantee a perfect translation, as the same SFX often have entirely different meanings.

If I can give one example from a recent manga translation:
In this particular part of the story, a giant samurai has burst onto the scene, apparently making his way to engage the main hero in battle, and the SFX “DON” is written underneath him in large letters.

The translator took this as the sound of the giant samurai’s feet stomping towards his enemy. The Japanese “DON” can be a loud noise as in a “THUD” in English, or “BAM”.

However, “DON” can also mean something less obvious - an SFX used to add dramatic effect - to show something astonishing has happened. Therefore, the correct translation would be something that signified the dramatic appearance of this giant samurai, bent on revenge. A “TA-DAH” might not exactly match the atmosphere of an Edo period samurai story.

This is where a translator’s skill is really put to the test: they have to find a word that fits the mood of the scene, while accurately reflecting the original Japanese.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BAM! ZIP! POW! The Language of “Sound Effects”


One thing that has always amused me about languages of the world – and the people who speak them – is, as Vincent Vega once said, “the little differences.” Although many, many people in many, many countries around the world speak fluent English, these people are all from widely varying cultures and upbringings. There are slight-to-major differences in accent and speech pattern obviously, but I was always more interested in “sound effects”: those small, virtually meaningless words that we create to represent nonverbal sounds.

For example, if you had someone from Iceland, someone from Cambodia, and someone from Zambia listen to the sound of an explosion, and then asked them to transcribe that sound onto paper, you would most likely get three different answers. Although the actual sound itself is exactly the same, the spellings we assign to these nonverbal sounds differ greatly based on our respective backgrounds, and the language(s) we feel most familiar with.

For a really extreme example – and one of the few which I can put out with any real confidence, as it compares the only two languages I’m personally fluent in – try comparing English and Japanese comics. If a bomb were to go off, for example, in English you’d probably see something like “BOOM!” or “KABOOM!”, whereas in Japanese, it would usually read something like “DON!” or “DOKAN!”. To my American ears, a bomb going off sounds a lot more like “BOOM!” than “DOKAN!”, but to the guy sitting next to me, “BOOM!” probably sounds silly.

Another aspect of this comparison is languages with similar roots and shared grammar and/or words and the differences and similarities in their respective sound effects. For example, while the previously-mentioned bomb would be “BOOM!” in English, in Spanish it would be “BOM!”. Although English is technically a Germanic language, and Spanish a Romance, the two languages not only share many similarities in etymology, grammar, and alphabet - they also come from regions in geographically close proximity to each other. The respective cultures and peoples from which the English and Spanish languages were born spent many, many years – centuries, even – in very close quarters, and with relatively abundant cultural exchange. On the other hand, native Japanese speakers and native English speakers had very, very little contact until only 200 or so years ago, and the languages and cultures are extremely different.

I could go on for pages listing various sound effects in “English” and their counterparts in other languages, but I think that my point, while not exactly an amazing new revelation, was basically made in the first paragraph: “It’s the little differences” in language – which come from huge differences in culture and background – that really tend to amuse me the most.

Now, please allow me to run away as fast as I can, Roadrunner-style, in Japanese...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Developing in a Blooming Singapore: Envisage Reality & Protégé Production – Interview

Scanning the globe for video game and related content creation hot-spots, eyes quickly fall upon the North American, Japanese, and Western European landscape in hopes of catching a glimpse into the future of gaming, with a number of pioneers exploring the Chinese and Korean markets for hints as to what the growing global population of “gamers” look like.

But failing to examine Singapore as a rapidly emerging space for quality tech and original content creation could very well prove to be a major misstep. A culturally diverse and wealthy nation with government aid and educational support, the region is rapidly growing well beyond what may have in the recent past been interpreted as an outsourcing target. However aside from the blossoming abundance of resources, what the region may lack may also prove to be a powerful weapon for battle – not being bogged down by decades of game industry bureaucracy.

In this interview, Janelle Lee, game creator and project leader with Protégé Productions, part of parent company Envisage Reality and developers of the impressive Armor Valley available via the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, ponders the present and future of the industry in Singapore, discusses the goals for Armor Valley and the studio, and shares a bit of insight into the pros and cons of being a small developer in a growing development arena.

Active Gaming Media: Could you first tell our readers a bit about Envisage Reality? When was the studio established? By whom and with what specific goals in mind? What is the company’s relationship with Protégé Production?

Protégé Production – Janelle Lee: Envisage Reality was established in 2003 by Robin Tan, and considered to be one of the pioneer independent game studios in Singapore focused on serious gaming and real time 3D interactive visualization. Protégé Production is established in 2008, and is a sister company focusing on the new casual game industry.

AGM: Could you speak a bit about Armor Valley? How do you explain the game? What factors motivated you to create a game of this nature for this platform? What is it that your game is offering in order for it to be a stand-out experience amongst the growing library of games available on these downloadable channels?

Lee: Armor Valley is a blend of action and strategy game, where the player controls a flying ship while giving orders to ground units strategically. A lot of people compared it to Herzog Zwei, but I had not heard of that game before then [when we developed Armor Valley]. One of the goals was to create advanced casual titles, meaning games that are casual for people who have little time to play, but with a little more ‘AAA’.

AGM: The Xbox Live Marketplace is an interesting ecosystem. The production values and standards for package products, XBLA, and Xbox Live Indies are constantly evolving, to the point where people now refer to many titles as “AAA indies”. Using the platforms as a metric for determining a game’s appropriateness is getting more difficult and it seems to change every few months. With this in mind, what was it that spurred you to develop Armor Valley for Xbox Live Indies? Why was this the most appropriate platform? Do you think that it’s still the most appropriate platform? Do you see potential for the title on other services?

Lee: We had some government funding to develop [the game] so that was one of the main reason that spurred us to it! The XBLIG platform is great for indies because you don’t have to shell out tons of money for a SDK or go through lots of approval certification. There are still a lot of ideas for Armor Valley that we want to implement, hopefully for next version.

AGM: I think that the overall production values of Armor Valley are certainly an advantage, helping the title stand out amongst other games on the Indie Game Marketplace, but I imagine that promotion on that service is a bit of a challenge. What measures have you taken in order to raise awareness about the game? Do you get a sense of what has been helpful? Could you discuss a bit the challenges you’ve encountered trying to get the word out about your game and how you grappled with those?

Lee: Yes, like any other platform, you need a lot of marketing to be successful. We did not do a lot of PR other than entering some competitions and we were quite fortunate to win IGF China 09 Best Audio Award and [be selected as] one of top 20 finalists for Dream Build Play 2010. That said, more PR doesn’t hurt, and I felt there was still a lot more PR to do, but we just did not have the resources or time to do it.

AGM: How many people make up the development team at Envisage Reality? Are you able to handle all of the design and development in-house? If not, how do you handle outsourcing as a small studio?

Lee: We have a small core experienced team, and we use a lot of reliable freelancers for additional work. We do outsource parts like audio, UI design because our philosophy is to put the best resources [in charge of each] task.

AGM: Does the size of the studio allow for planning, prototyping or pre-production for future titles while working on one title, or does the work on one game take up most of the studio’s resources? How do you work around this? Is it even an issue? How do you view the advantages and disadvantages of being a smaller team working on projects with shorter development cycles, like Armor Valley?

Lee: Like many other studios, we have more ideas than we have time to develop them. We do spend a lot of time on R&D for our internal ideas, but the contracted works are given priority. We like to have more time focus on prototyping but given tight schedules (usually), we setup the development process to be able to make rapid changes easily, so we design as we go along. Shorter development cycles forces us to complete the product, whereas a longer cycle, sometimes we get trapped into too much R&D.

AGM: The art direction of Armor Valley seems very “universal”, something very approachable by a lot of players in various international markets. Was this a natural style that the art directions took on or did you make efforts to adapt the game’s art to something that you felt would be appropriate for certain region(s)? What is it that you took into consideration when determining the game’s art direction?

Lee: We did not do much [in terms] of art direction or [art] concepts due to time constraints. The art style was evolved while it was developed because mainly these are the type of games we are used to playing.

AGM: What was the development cycle and timeline for Armor Valley like? What areas went smoothly and why? What were the trouble spots or areas that required the team to pull back and think about the game’s direction or development process/pipeline, if any?

Lee: Armor Valley was developed from scratch in 5 months, and at that time, most of us did not know XNA! Midway, some of us had to juggle other contract work that paid the bills (laughs), so that certainly took some resources from the game. Due to that, there are few features which we initially planned [but] we did not manage to get implemented in time.

AGM: From what I understand, Protégé Production has been involved with Microsoft in several areas from its early stages, from being a BizSpark company to entering Armor Valley in the Dream Build Play Challenge, where the title was very well received.
I’m rather curious about that relationship and how it tied in to the process of establishing the studio, the kinds of support provided throughout the development of Armor Valley, and then what the process what like actually getting the title released. What advantages were there based on this working relationship? Are there any disadvantages?

Lee: Bizspark is useful for startup companies to access Microsoft technologies and working closely with them for development. The local government, MDA, have funding schemes which collaborate with Microsoft which helps startups companies like Protégé getting started.

AGM: Singapore is becoming an appealing home of operations for more and more companies operating in game development? Why is that? What does the region offer that’s making it so attractive these days?

Lee: The government is active in pushing this industry, and Singapore is easier to recruit worldwide talents due to culture.

AGM: Is there a good amount of young talent coming up into games industry in the region? It seems that there are a fair number of educational institutes and supportive organizations trying to raise awareness as to the potential for careers in the games industry. Do you feel that’s true? Where do you see Singapore and its place in the industry 10 years from now?

Lee: Yes and no. I see a lot of potential talents as I lecture part time in these education institutes, however, they will need discipline and perseverance to be successful in the industry. A lot of people expect [that a] game development career consists of playing games, and they will get a rude shock.
I can’t predict the future as I’m not a fortune teller, but hopefully we’ll get [the opportunity] to produce AAA titles.

AGM: What is the communication and relationship like between development studios and supporting agencies in the region? Microsoft has set up shop there, IGDA Singapore is active, the Media Development Authority is supporting game development, you have the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab, as well as I’m sure many other agencies and organizations. From the outside, there seems to be a recipe for great successes being concocted. What are your impressions being there in the field?

Lee: Singapore is a small industry, so everyone knows almost everybody. It’s easier to get around and meet since we aren’t located hundreds of miles away.

AGM: What are some current disadvantages related to being located in Singapore? Are there things that you feel you could do more easily, with more efficiency, or have more opportunities were you located elsewhere? What, if anything, is holding Singapore back at the moment in regards to expanding and growing in the games industry?

Lee: Being in Singapore, it is difficult to talk to publishers in the US for deals, and Singapore being a relatively new player in games industry, there was a lot of disbelief that Singapore can produce content of international quality.

AGM: Singapore is considered one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. As a result, it would seem that individuals of different cultural backgrounds, and possibly gender, would have opportunities in the games industry. This is something that a lot of North American, Japanese and European studios are lacking, which could prove to be a huge advantage for Singapore’s games industry. Do you see a fair bit of diversity throughout the industry in Singapore? Are there a fair number of women taking up roles in the industry? What advantages do you see in relation to diversity, growth and market potential?

Lee: Singapore primarily speaks and writes English, so most foreigners do not have difficulty fitting in. We do have a variety of cultures so we do not tend to create one style of games.

AGM: A lot of studios start out developing games of a smaller scale with hopes of growing and one day getting to develop larger scale, but also larger budget, mass-market titles. What sort of outlook or plans to you have for Envisage Reality? With the expanding number of platforms and growing number of game players, there are now many more viable markets within which developers can thrive. What are your goals for the company? What are your personal goals as a game designer? How do you envision making those personal goals a reality through Envisage Reality?

Lee: Actually, more platforms means more porting headaches, soon it will [become] like the old painful days of porting. As game designers, we want to be making newer better titles, not [spending our time] porting. And moving forward, I hope to make games that engage player in a [more] cinematic experience.

AGM: What’s next for Envisage Reality and/or Protégé Production?

Lee: If I tell you, I might have to kill you (laughs) . The next version of Armor Valley is in the works. We don’t have a date yet, but it will definitely be better than the first.
Thanks so much for your time. Best of luck to you with your future projects. We’ll all be keeping a close eye on the studio and the region!

Those interested in Armor Valley can purchase it here: Armor Valley

For more information about Envisage Reality: Envisage Reality home page

* This interview was originally hold and posted in spring 2011.

10 Famous Translation Mistakes In Marketing


One of the many problems that corporations face when expanding their business globally is not only the proper translation but the appropriate localization of their products’ names and slogans. Over the years, there have been many, many examples of directly translated product names, slogans, and catchphrases that have offended and/or confused consumers, and sometimes completely embarrassed the company responsible. Here is a list of ten of the more famous product name and slogan translation/localization mistakes.

10) Fried chicken fast food chain KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) faced problems when their world famous catchphrase “Finger Lickin’ Good” was translated into Chinese as “Eat Your Fingers Off”. 

9) When General Motors introduced their Chevrolet Nova to Central and South America, apparently their marketing department overlooked the very simple Spanish phrase "No va", meaning "It Doesn't Go".

8) The California Milk Processor Board launched their famous "Got Milk?" campaign in 1993, to huge success. However, Mexican residents in the US were confused by the rather personal question "Are You Lactating?” (“¿Tiene Leche?”).

7) In 1977, Braniff Airlines installed leather seats in their first class cabins, and followed up with an ad campaign featuring the slogan "Fly in Leather". Unfortunately, in Spanish, “Vuela en Cuero(s)” translates to "Fly Naked".

6) Pepsi used the "Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation" slogan from 1963 to 1967, which helped them to become a real competitor to Coca-Cola. However, the slogan frightened some Chinese, to whom it meant "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave".

5) Coors, the Colorado brewing company, had another slogan unfortunately translated into Spanish. "Turn It Loose", when translated in Spanish, carries the meaning "Suffer from Diarrhea" (“Sueltalo”).

4) Parker Pen's famous slogan "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you" was also translated into Spanish, the results of which confused many Mexican consumers with its claims that "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant" (“No goteará en tu bolsillo dejándote embarazado”).

3) Frank Perdue's slogan, created for its chicken products, said "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken". Translated in Spanish, it became "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.

2) The Coca-Cola name in China was first translated as "Kekou-kela", meaning - depending on the dialect - "Bite the Wax Tadpole" (蝌蝌). Coke then researched 40,000 characters, finally finding a suitable phonetic equivalent - "kokou-kole" – which meant "Happiness in the Mouth."

1) Finally, we have the extremely unfortunate mistranslation of the instructions pertaining to two baby food products by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, which had to be recalled. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, if both products were prepared according to the incorrect Spanish translation, they could have caused seizures, irregular heartbeat, renal failure, and death. Whoops!

There are obviously many, many more examples of mistranslations and “mislocalizations,” as the case may be, but these are some of the most famous. To this day, especially here in Japan, less than well-thought out product names and slogans continue to abound. With the spread of globalization, and with the so-called “shrinking” of the world, it sometimes amazes me that there are still companies which don’t bother to properly localize when moving into the global market. Of course, I’m actually glad that there are, as these things never fail to provide light entertainment.