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Ratchadapisek, Bangkok, Thailand

Madonna, Wham…and the joy of international translation services

Posted 08 December 2016

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This blog contains several references to the 1980s. Those readers with an allergy to leg-warmers, sweat-bands and Jane Fonda fitness videos may want to tune out now. (Alternatively, meet the challenge, see if you can spot all 12 1980s references and get that application straight off to Eggheads!)

Obscure 1980’s reference #1:

“Let me take you to a place where membership’s a smiling face…” yes…the ALM Translations head office. At least it was until the boss, Rachel, asked if “anyone” would like to research a blog on international translation services in the 1980s – and the whole office turned to look at me.

Yeah, like I wouldn’t need to research it! I, unlike the rest of our fabulously youthful team, was actually there…and let me assure you, the drinks were most definitely not free. (and another, #2)

Being taught translation is the 1980s was highly focused and rigorous. “Buy a dictionary – a really big dictionary” was, more or less the full course. Back in the days before the Internet, mobile phones and electricity, a good translator was the person with the biggest and best dictionary. A good technical translator was someone with a really big technical dictionary. A good medical translator could be the same guy with access to a huge medical dictionary. A good marketing translator really didn’t exist in the 1980s because marketing, like swinging and discussing money, was only acceptable on the west coast of America.

I swept back my mullet (#4), fired up the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (#5) and gave translation a go. I failed miserably; Heaven knows I Was Miserable then (#5).

Good translators were like gold dust and unicorn droppings – thin on the ground. As such, they commanded high prices and needed long turnaround times. They had the brains….they had the looks and they made lots of money. (#6 –  and I may be mistaken about the looks).

Fast forward to today and I’m still standing (#7) although not translating – because it’s a whole new ballgame. Like so much in the past thirty years, the Internet and associated technologies have completely changed the industry.

Back in the day, documents would arrive by post and needed to be sent by post to a translator (I can hear everybody under 30 laughing – but it’s the truth I tell you!)

Nowadays, location simply doesn’t matter. A translator in Peru can be researched and tested by ALM as simply as one in Peterborough. So if you need a document localised for the Peruvian market, we can access a specialist in your field, in that specific country, who has up-to-the moment understanding of the language being used there right now. In the 1980s, it would have probably have been sent to a Spanish speaker, based in England for 40 years whose only link with Peru was that he had read the Paddington books and quite liked marmalade sandwiches….oh and had an enormous Spanish dictionary, obviously.

Nobody relies solely on dictionaries anymore. Why would you? We have the Internet – and glory hallelujah for that! 60% of translation time is spent looking up words….and let me assure you, it’s a whole lot more productive when you can do it online. All that extra productivity keeps down the cost to the customer.

Obviously I can’t link any 1980s song titles to the Internet because it didn’t exist even as a sci-fi fantasy (and that applies to most of the 1990s too). No, to us back in the 1980s, the Internet was no more than Electric Dreams (#8 –  and by far the most tenuous so far).

Speaking of cost, since the Internet and associated technologies were embraced by the translation industry, in the 2000s, consistency and accuracy have improved beyond belief through the creation of on-line glossaries and customer-specific translation memories. This has led to astounding cost-savings for the end user with prices hardly increasing since the turn of the century. In fact, as regards pricing, translation is one of the few areas where you can still Party Like it’s 1999 (#9 – and sadly missed)

But why do we still need international translation services? Can’t everyone just put a Babel Fish in their ear? (#10 –  and it’s a tricky one). Translation has BOOMED since the 1980s because everyone now trades with everyone. Back in the 1980s there was an Iron Curtain, a Bamboo Curtain and a film about space monster with John Hurt in… (#10…oof!). Back in the 1980s, when Wham! played a concert in China – it was front page news – for weeks.

Nowadays, nobody thinks twice about selling anywhere in the world. Nowadays, every one-hit-wonder from the 1980s has played China. Ironically, even China Crisis have played China – although they did have to localise their name to China? Booming – thanks for asking (because translation is so much more than just changing words.)

To sell in China or anywhere in the world, you no longer need to get on a plane with a smile on your face, a suitcase full of your products and family pack of Diocalm.

Now all you need is a localised website, some localised SEO and a willingness to speak to a market in a language they want to buy in.

This isn’t 1984 (#11), 1999 (#9…again) or even the Millennium (1998 – doesn’t count, sorry Robbie) so click on our website www.almtranslations.com and let us show us show you that the 21st century world of translation is both “chirpy chirpy” and “cheap cheap” (#1972 –but I’m having it anyway!!) See you there!

If you were able to recognise 9-12 of the above references, you:

a) Are at least as old as me

b) Can enter Mastermind with “the 1980s” as your specialist subject

c) Need to spend less time googling




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