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Boss In Translation: Finding A New Voice (In 38 Languages)

Rolling out content in dozens of different languages isn’t easy. In fact, without the right processes in place, it’s a bleeding nightmare. Here’s how Team Digital went from a scattergun workflow to a well-oiled localization machine.

September 09, 2019 | 6 min. read

How do you maintain a consistent tone of voice in so many languages? With an army of stakeholders involved, where does everyone sit in the workflow? And when it’s all said and done, how does your freshly translated content end up online?

For our localization queen, Nancy Ferreira (Senior Localization Program Manager), the previous answers to these questions left a lot to be desired.

‘Insane!’ she says, when asked to describe the localization workflow upon joining the team in November 2015.

‘There was no real process when I arrived. People sent English copy to a translation agency and we’d then receive a deluge of translations in our inbox. There were a hell of a lot of emails flying around.’

Given the amount of stakeholders involved in the process, this is still a generous description of the previous workflow. Each translation request requires the expertise of over 120 people.

‘Imagine what happened with five requests coming in at the same time?’ she adds. It’s enough to make even the most enthusiastic email aficionados shudder with fear.

This however, formed only a small part of the problem. While the sheer number of stakeholders spelled email chain hell for Nancy and her team, it wasn’t just translation speeds that suffered — the quality of the content was also taking a beating.

A host of in-country authors act as guardians of local content. They’re responsible for ensuring translations make sense in their native language and that content slots in exactly where it should do across all channels.

With no formal localization structure in place, translated content would often enter a Wild West-like environment of amendments.

‘Each country would make edits to the translations as they pleased before implementing them on the website or application,’ Nancy explains.

‘When this occurred, it essentially took a hammer to the consistency and tone of voice of our content. Pages could sometimes end up looking completely different from the original English copy.’

It was pretty clear that things couldn’t go on this way for much longer. The existing process was paralysing time-to-market, putting a huge administrative load on all involved and most worryingly, damaging the content’s messaging. There had to be another way.

By the time Nancy came on board, a procurement process for a new localization workflow tool had already begun. Four candidates had been identified but, for her, there was one clear winner.

Enter Smartling. A cloud-based translation platform, Smartling is essentially one big online portal that allows localization experts, translators and all other required content wizards access to copy in one centralized location. Translations and amends are then made to content in real time before being automatically uploaded to the content management system (CMS). Pretty cool, eh?

The difference it’s made to the localization workflow has been staggering.

‘First off, automation means an end to copy and pasting translations in our CMS — a process that caused errors and sucked up a ton of time,’ Nancy adds.

‘It’s also cut out the need for an endless exchange of Word documents and the dozens of different versions that sprouted up along the way.’

Using one central portal instead of a slew of docs has also transformed the way translators interact with content.

‘Smartling shows the master version of the copy laid out on-page as if it was already live. This lets translators see exactly where text will sit on our site or apps, giving them genuine context.’

Yet perhaps Smartling’s biggest plus is the invaluable insight it presents to the team.

‘Everything that goes down in Smartling is logged as raw data that allows us to evaluate and optimize the entire localization workflow,’ she explains.

‘We can see which languages are taking the longest and what’s causing most issues around quality. Stats on everything from how much we’re spending, to how much content we’re able to reuse is also available. And that’s just the beginning!’

Smartling’s gone a long way to transforming the localization process into an incredibly slick operation. But while technology is immeasurably important, there’s no substitute for hard work, joined-up thinking and industry-leading knowledge .

Leading translation agency Welocalize have become a vital cog in the translation machine since joining as a partner in the summer of 2017. They’ve provided consistent support and outstanding translation services, proving to be a trusted partner.

The ongoing quest for translation perfection has meant bringing in even more knowledge and industry nous.

Ireland-based Vistatec have also come on board as a service quality partner. Their content analysis expertise allow Nancy and the team to use data to make informed decisions based on facts, not opinions — helping maintain their unique tone-of-voice, style and exceptional level of translation accuracy.

So, mission completed then?

‘There’s always something to improve,’ Nancy emphasizes.

‘As we look ahead to starting a new localization adventure with FedEx, we know we can’t rest on our laurels.

‘There’s plenty of huge but enthralling challenges ahead. We’re just looking forward to tightening our relationships with our partners to almost telepathic levels. Our translation process is one seriously slick machine, but we know we can go one step further and make it even better.’

While there’s plenty of exciting times ahead for the localization team, the ever-moving content conveyor belt means the work is never truly done. For Nancy, though, patience is a virtue. One you literally can’t do without.

‘Basically, you need to be able to explain 100 times why “getting this translated” isn’t as simple as it sounds. So yeah, patience. You need it!’

Like to come and meet the locals at Team Digital? See if there’s a spot for you.

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