The story of how a badly chosen translation of the Japanese word mokusatsu led to the United States decision to drop the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima is well known to many linguists. But perhaps it would be interesting to tell it again just in case some of my readers are unfamiliar with the word and the story behind it.
By July 1945, the Allies were ready to put an end on the war with Japan. They issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan. The terms had included a statement to the effect that any negative answer would invite "prompt and utter destruction." Truman, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-Shek stated that they hoped that Japan would agree to surrender unconditionally and thus prevent devastation of the Japanese homeland.
Japanese reporters were pretty eager to find out what the official government response was going to be, and they bugged Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki nonstop for a statement. Eventually, Suzuki called a news conference. Since no formal decision had been reached at the time, Suzuki, fell back on the one-size-fits-all answer to reporters and replied that he was withholding comment. He used the Japanese word mokusatsu, derived from the word for "silence."
However, the word has other meanings quite different from that intended by Suzuki. Alas, international news agencies saw fit to tell the world that in the eyes of the Japanese government the ultimatum was "not worthy of any comment", that they were “ignoring it in contempt”. U. S. officials, angered by the tone of Suzuki's statement decided on drastic measures. Within ten days the decision was made to drop the atomic bomb, the bomb was dropped, and Hiroshima was leveled.
What’s the morale of this story? As I said earlier, translation is NOT a commodity. A bag of rice is more or less the same no matter where you get it. But this is not the case with translations.
Almost every day, we are told by a company or client that another translation provider offers much lower fees. Everyone should note that, if a translation service company can offer far lower rates than its competitors, it is worth inquiring why. If a translation provider offers lower rates by skimping on proofreading, relying on sub-par translators, or by abusing machine translation, then the money saved could easily be canceled out by costs related to revising or even re-doing the translation from scratch.
It’s all about the risks you’re willing to take. The mokusatsu story is the extreme case, but always remember that a bad translation, especially when displayed to your own clients/partners, can have the effect of a bomb on your bottom line. If your brand image is important for you in your own language, it should be equally important when translated for foreign markets.
Do you treat translation like a commodity?
Challenge: Einstein's Riddle
Historical Translation Blunder: President Carter Creeps Out a Nation
Funny cross cultural mistakes and blunders and part 2
What’s a commodity? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a commodity as a mass-produced unspecialized product. The translation of any document, however, is not a commodity. There are many elements which make translations services diverse from commodities. Here are a few of the factors that translators must take into account for any translation, which means that translation is, in fact, a very specialized and customized service:
- The type of document being translated will modify the kind of terminology necessary in the translation. The intended target audience for the document will dictate the vocabulary that needs to be used.
- Another thing to consider is the level of expertise required by the translator which is based on the document’s subject matter. For instance, a translator may be committed to financial terminology while another has a natural knack for business reports and correspondence, while a third one specialize in pharmaceutical documents.
- Often overlooked, the reason someone needs a document translated in the first has a big effect on the kind of translation they might require. For example, a personal document such as a driver’s license or birth record needs to be an exact word for word translation, because these details are standard and important. However a tagline for a product ad needs to be localized to the local culture where the ad will be displayed and should never be word-for-word translation (which may give you questionnable results like “Nothing sucks like an electrolux”).
- Does the translation require certain Certifications? This can be a very specialized area, whereby certain government agencies require translations to become performed by certified translators or certified translation agencies. Sometimes documents have to be notarized with a lawyer.
It is important to remember is that there isn’t a bouquet of rules and practices that may encompass every translation project. Unlike commodities, the translation associated with a document is a very specialized service. There are even specific qualité standards for the translation industry (These are equivalent to the ISO standards and certifications). In Canada, it’s the CGSB131.10 2008, and for the EU, there's 15038:2006.
The primary objectives of CAN-CGSB-131-10-2008 and 15038:2006 are:
- To guarantee the use of professional translators
- To ensure the consistent management of each supplier’s human and technical resources, as well as its quality standards
- To ensure documentation of and full compliance with all language, managerial and administrative processes
- To ensure that these processes are adapted to the particular requirements of the language industry
- To safeguard clients’ interests by establishing a framework for client/supplier relations
These standards are not legally required to work in the translation industry (as of today, they may be in the future). However, they can help a translation services customer to pinpoint real translation services provider that respect a documented quality standard.
Firms that send bids or RFP and just consider the lowest cost without thinking about quality are often surprised at the outcomes. Remember that, if your business model is even marginally dependent on brand image, you should think twice about going down the road of cheap translation providers. The old adage that you get what you pay for is extremely applicable to translation services industry.
Google Docs Translations Don’t Make Sense?
Origin of some punctuation marks we use everyday
18 Fantastic Words That Have No English Equivalent From Around The Globe
Google Translator Has Been Hacked
SDL's chief executive officer John Hunter is leaving the company “to pursue other business interests”. He spent less than two years in the top job, having previously been SDL’s finance chief. Chairman and founder Mark Lancaster, who was chief executive before Mr Hunter took the reins in February last year, has taken over as interim CEO until a permanent replacement is found.
Canaccord Genuity saw the move as a buying opportunity, arguing that Mr Hunter’s departure would act as an “immediate catalyst for a rebound in the share price”. The shares had tumbled since the group said on October 15 that ongoing litigation could cost the company up to $3m (£1.9m). The group also worried analysts by confirming that technology revenues remained “suppressed”.
Source: The Telegraph
For those of you who are not aware of the “ongoing litigation” that SDL faces, here’s a quick recap:
On October 15th SDL noted that it has a minor ongoing litigation with a former Trados shareholder, claiming breaches of fiduciary duty by former Trados directors on the sale of Trados to SDL in 2005. The company estimates the potential exposure to be between $1 million and $3 million, which if required, will be funded as part of the company's operational cash flow in 2013.
The SDL board believes the case to be completely without merit and expects that it will progress to a court hearing in 2013.
In its Interim Management Statement for the period from July 1 to September 30, the company said most of the growth in the quarter predominantly came from language services, whilst technology revenues remained suppressed.
Source: RTT News
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Google Docs Translations Don’t Make Sense?
Informations On Rhe Canadian Translation Standard
Google Translator Hacked
In 1973, Carter traveled to Poland to hold the United States' first-ever news conference in a communist country, one where he would be fielding questions from actual Communists. So the stakes of this little visit were mega-huge. Imagine President Barack Obama holding a news conference in Taliban country. Now imagine that the night before the huge news conference, Obama says he wants to have sex with the Taliban. You just imagined Jimmy Carter's Poland visit.
Carter was speaking through a $150-a-day freelance translator who barely spoke Polish. The guy's mistakes started early on and never let up: When Carter opened with "I left the United States this morning," it got translated to, "I left the United States, never to return." When he said, "I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future," it was translated into, "I desire the Poles carnally." If the people of Poland weren't creeped out enough by Carter's apparently insatiable lust for some Polish sausage, the interpreter made things even more confusing by using archaic words and Russian syntax, and while he was at it, he made fun of the Polish constitution, too. Carter couldn't catch a break with this guy.
So that guy was fired, and a new translator was hired for a state banquet. Carter delivered the first line of his speech, paused for the translator… and heard nothing. Carter said the next line, paused again, and again there was silence. Apparently Translator No. 2 was having the opposite problem – he couldn't understand Carter's English – and so he decided silence was the best option, forcing the Polish leader's own translator to step in and pick up the slack.
This is yet another example of the risks of working with a cheap translation provider…
Image: Wikipedia Commons
Quick, funny German-English translation
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In early 2011, a reporter at PC World did a series of articles on Google Docs, and he took a close look at their claim that they can “easily translate documents into 53 different languages.” He asked his bilingual Twitter followers for help, sending them an English document and its Google Docs translation and asking them what they thought.
The results were hit or miss. English and French was passable :
"I'd give the translation 7 on a scale from 1 to 10. I would not use such a service in a professional setting, although it gives a good general idea of the text."
But English and Hebrew was “one big disaster.”
My Hebrew-speaking volunteer said, "Sorry to say, but, in general I can describe the translation into Hebrew as "one big disaster". In 95 percent it is just unreadable (not only "hard to understand")."
He also tested Arabic, Spanish and probably several other languages. He summed up the results by saying, “Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t blindly trust any translation done by Google Docs. Obviously, the translations feature in Google Docs needs some work, to be, at least, understandable.
In summary, if your business model is even marginally dependent on brand image, you should think twice about using those “free” translation services. A professional translation company is always the best way to go.
Origin of the punctuation marks we use everyday
Google Translator Hacked
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Password aren't a good defense?
See the first post in this serie here
Although cruel, cross cultural marketing mistakes are a humorous means of understanding the impact poor cultural awareness or translations can have on a product or company when selling abroad.
1. When Kentucky Fried Chicken entered the Chinese market, to their horror they discovered that their slogan "finger lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off"
2. Chinese translation also proved difficult for Coke, which took two tries to get it right. They first tried Ke-kou-ke-la because when pronounced it sounded roughly like Coca-Cola. It wasn't until after thousands of signs had been printed that they discovered that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect. Second time around things worked out much better. After researching 40,000 Chinese characters, Coke came up with "ko-kou-ko-le" which translates roughly to the much more appropriate "happiness in the mouth".
3. Things weren't much easier for Coke's arch-rival Pepsi. When they entered the Chinese market a few years ago, the translation of their slogan "Pepsi Brings you Back to Life" was a little more literal than they intended. In Chinese, the slogan meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave".
4. General Motors had a perplexing problem when they introduced the Chevy Nova in South America. Despite their best efforts, they weren't selling many cars. They finally realized that in Spanish, "nova" means "it won't go". Sales improved dramatically after the car was renamed the "Caribe."
5. Things weren't any better for Ford when they introduced the Pinto in Brazil. After watching sales go nowhere, the company learned that "Pinto" is Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals." Ford pried the nameplates off all of the cars and substituted them with "Corcel," which means horse.
6. Sometimes it's one word of a slogan that changes the whole meaning. When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass. Instead the ads said "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
7. Coors put its slogan, "Turn It Loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer From Diarrhea."
8. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux"
9. The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?"
10. American Motors tried to market its car, the “Matador,” in Puerto Rico based on an image of strength and courage, however, in Puerto Rico the word, literally translated, means “killer.” The inappropriate name is linked to the car’s lack of popularity because of the many hazardous roads in the country and the correlation with death made by consumers.
Some funny cross cultural marketing and translation mistakes
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When CAPTCHA goes bad
The Association de l’industrie de la langue/Language Industry Association (AILIA) is Canada’s industry representative in all matters pertaining to the language industry, including sectors such as translation, interpretation, terminology, training and technology. In 2008, AILIA launched the first ever national standard for translation services, CAN/CGSB‑131.10‑2008, Translation Services.
The CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008 includes all applicable definitions, in addition to sections on Human Resources, Technical Competencies, Quality Management Systems (QMS), Client‑TSP Relationship, Project Management Procedures and the Translation Process.
The benefits of this new certification are:
The CAN/CGSB‑131.10‑2008, Translation Services Standard will give clients assurance that the TSP meets criteria deemed important in the delivery of translation services. AILIA’s position is that by having access to independently audited suppliers, purchasers of translation services in Canada are better protected.
Creating a level playing field
An important business objective of the CAN/CGSB‑131.10‑2008, Translation Services Standard is to create a level playing field for translation service providers. The certification will give clients the added assurance that the TSP applies certain quality control measures. Certified TSPs will therefore be required to make certain investments, making competition fairer. AILIA’s position is that all TSPs offering services in Canada should be able to provide independent proof of their competency in translation service delivery.
The CAN/CGSB‑131.10‑2008, Translation Services Standard can act as a baseline for contracting procedures. By focusing on auditing translation services processes, the certification becomes a natural tool for contracting authorities to use when purchasing translation services. AILIA’s position is that conformity to an independent certification should be the basis for procurement policy and practices among purchasers of translation services.
Supporting professional certification
Although leading Canadian TSPs promote professional certification for their employees and subcontractors, the CAN/CGSB‑131.10‑2008, Translation Services Standard takes an extra step by supporting professional certification and listing it as a criterion for CGSB certification. AILIA’s position is that a strong Canadian professional body is an essential pillar for a quality Canadian translation sector.
My company, Versacom, recently obtained the CAN/CGSB-131.10–2008 certification.
Non-Latin internet addresses
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Google is developing software for the first phone capable of translating foreign languages almost instantly — like the Babel Fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
By building on existing technologies in voice recognition and automatic translation, Google hopes to have a basic system ready within a couple of years. If it works, it could eventually transform communication among speakers of the world’s 6,000-plus languages.
The company has already created an automatic system for translating text on computers, which is being honed by scanning millions of multi-lingual websites and documents. So far it covers 52 languages, adding Haitian Creole last week.
Google also has a voice recognition system that enables phone users to conduct web searches by speaking commands into their phones rather than typing them in.
“We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years’ time,” said Franz Och, Google’s head of translation services.
“Clearly, for it to work smoothly, you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that’s what we’re working on.
“If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there has been huge progress recently.”
Although automatic text translators are now reasonably effective, voice recognition has proved more challenging.
“Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch,” said Och. “But recognition should be effective with mobile phones because by nature they are personal to you. The phone should get a feel for your voice from past voice search queries, for example.”
The translation software is likely to become more accurate the more it is used. And while some translation systems use crude rules based on the grammar of languages, Google is exploiting its vast database of websites and translated documents to improve the accuracy of its system.
“The more data we input, the better the quality,” said Och. There is no shortage of help. “There are a lot of language enthusiasts out there,” he said.
However, some experts believe the hurdles to live translation remain high. David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University, said: “The problem with speech recognition is the variability in accents. No system at the moment can handle that properly.
“Maybe Google will be able to get there faster than everyone else, but I think it’s unlikely we’ll have a speech device in the next few years that could handle high-speed Glaswegian slang.
“The future, though, looks very interesting. If you have a Babel Fish, the need to learn foreign languages is removed.”
In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the small, yellow Babel Fish was capable of translating any language when placed in the ear. It sparked a bloody war because everyone became able to understand what other people were saying.
Source: Times Online
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Google Translator Hacked
Compendium of Dumb Laws in the United States
With all of the news about hacked e-mail accounts, it isn’t a big surprise that other Google services can be manipulated, too. Yesterday, politicking or pranking Russian translators forced a Google Translate mistranslation of four segments — “USA is to blame,” “Russia is to blame,” “Obama is to blame,” and “Medvedev is to blame” into English from Russian (click here to see a screenshot).
Google Переводчик (Translator) made the U.S. and President Obama blameless in the Russian translation (”USA is not to blame,” and “Obama is not to blame”, while placing blame on Russia and President Medvedev. Naturally, soon after the news went up, Google quickly fixed the translations.
According to Moscow News:
The same is true if the word combination is translated into Ukrainian and Belorussian. However, if the output translation is set to Spanish, French, German, and other European languages, it is translated correctly. […]
"These are translation bombs" said Alla Zabrovskaya, Google's Russian Public Relations Director. "We are not always able to weed them out, and it is good that our users find them, and let us know about them.
But the question that remains is: how many more of those mistranslations (or “translation bombs” as they call them) exists in the Google translation engine (or any others automatic translation engine)? Some of them should be very easy to spot (such as translation “White House” with “ Visit myspamsite.com”) but others will be spotted only through careful analysis of the translation.
The lessons learned here:
- Crowdsourcing applications need protection against malicious manipulation because the wisdom of the crowd will more and more reflect the politics of its members.
- Online translation applications are only as reliable as the crowd that feeds them. You should therefore never use those applications to translate important documents or messages. “Machine translation” is only useful to grasp the general meaning of a piece of content but nothing more.
- If you need real professional translations, you should work with a real translation provider. Unlike automatic translation engines, they have the ability to garantee you that your message will be the same in every language.
In the news: Bing translator now supports Haitian Creole
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Big news in the translation industry
Bing Translator now comes with support for Haitian Creole, also referred to as Creole or Kreyòl, one of the two official languages in Haiti, along with French. Vikram Dendi, senior product manager, Microsoft Translator, notes that Microsoft has worked in order to introduce support for Haitian Creole at the request of the community involved in Haitian relief efforts. In this regard, Microsoft Research unveiled at the end of the past week an experimental machine translation system designed to allow users to translate to and from Haitian Creole.
“This is an experimental system put together in record time. While our typical approach to adding new languages involves significantly larger amounts of training, a higher threshold for quality testing – we decided that the upside warranted making the system available to the community at the earliest, and continue improving it subsequently. We are working diligently to keep improving the quality, but bear with us if you encounter problems. You can always contact us at mtcont at microsoft.com with feedback,” Dendi stated.
Machine translation associated with Haitian Creole is available not only in Bing Translator, but also via additional Microsoft Translator technologies, including services and application programming interfaces. An illustrative example in this regard, is the Messenger Translation Bot which can now speak Haitian Creole. All that users need do is add firstname.lastname@example.org to their messenger buddy list in Windows Live messenger and they will be able to talk with Kreyol speakers.
“The Haitian Creole translator is now part of the Microsoft Translator web service enabling many of the user scenarios powered by the service. Users can access the service through the Microsoft Translator web site. Developers would be interested in looking at our APIs – and choose from SOAP or HTTP (Support for Haitian in our AJAX API will be rolled out in the coming days),” Dendi added.
The Microsoft Translator API, the machine translation technology and services from Microsoft, including Bing Translator can be accessed and used completely free of charge. Developers can leverage the application programming interface in order to build apps or integrate translation services into websites with support for Haitian Creole.
“In the coming days expect to see support for Haitian Creole added to even more of our scenarios (Translator widget, Office etc) as well as the AJAX API. Known issues and announcements can also be found on our forums. We hope that this contribution proves useful to the various humanitarian efforts underway, and please stay tuned to this blog for further news on the Haitian Creole language support,” Dendi explained.
After a long wait, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has finally taken some steps to make web-addresses that are not based on the Latin alphabet a reality. In other words, the Internet is going to get a lot more friendlier for a major part of the global population.
A proposal for the use of non-English characters in web addresses is up for consideration. The proposed change is called Internationalized Domain Names or IDNs. At present non-English characters can only be used in a section of a web address. Once IDNs become a reality, native web-users from Japan, China, Russia, Arabia and Korea and many other nations will be able to fully browse through the net in their very own languages. The most obvious result of this development would be a significant leap in internet usage across many parts of the world. Another result of this development will be a growing need for translation services and localization because of the rise of cultural and linguistic diversity within the online population.
From the press release:
"The coming introduction of non-Latin characters represents the biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago," said ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush. "Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters – A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names."
Though they have not been put to use on a global scale, IDNs are not a new concept, on the contrary they been hotly debated for around a decade. There has been a lot of doubt about whether IDNs as a concept could work, however thanks to countries like China and the fact that over half of the 1.6 billion internet users are not familiar with Latin characters, ICANN has been led to consider IDN.
The organization has been testing the translation technology that can convert from one character set to another and deliver the correct address for over a couple of years now and is confident about its success. ICANN will be reviewing this historic proposal at the 36th International Public Meeting in Seoul and if the body approves it then we could be seeing the use of IDNs by mid of the coming year.
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Big news in the translation industry
Here are some interesting facts and numbers about the language industry.
Language Services Market
- The language services market is predicted to reach US$25 billion by 2013.
- North American telephone interpreting providers account for 85% of the combined revenue of the Top 15 global providers.
- The average year-over-year growth rate of the top 20 translation companies in 2007 was 26.68%.
- The total market for outsourced interpreting services stood at US$2.5 billion in 2007, with telephone interpreting worth US$700 million.
- 70% of LSPs employ between one and 10 people, 11% employ between 20 to 99, and the rest employ 101 or more. Only six firms worldwide employ more than 1,000 people.
- Nearly 90% of companies outsource some or all of their translation and localization work.
- In 2005, there were around 4,000 translation companies with more than five employees in the world; 450 of those were based in the United States.
- 20% of medium-to-large LSPs offer a house brand of translation management.
- 67% of language buyers say that a vendor’s automation capabilities are important.
- Content that reaches 200,000 words (roughly 400 U.S. letter-size pages) triggers the need for a translation memory.
- About 40% of translation buyers regularly buy from five or more suppliers, while 20% buy from only two.
- Almost one-tenth of software firms fully outsource localization work to a language services provider, specialty coding house or offshore developer.
- Only 26% of companies can formally measure and calculate the return on their localization investment.
- 44% of translation buyers stayed with their vendors for five years or more, with the rest citing far longer relationships.
- Three-quarters of the typical purchaser of translation services have been buyers for six years or less.
- It would take 83 languages to reach 80% of all the people in the world, and over 7,000 languages to reach everyone.
- Websites offered in only one language can address at most 30% of the total online population.
- Translating into 50 languages provides access to almost 96% of the world’s online residents.
- 72.4% of consumers say they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
- 56.2% of consumers say that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.
- 72.1% of the consumers spend most or all of their time on sites in their own language.
- English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese add up to 88% of the addressable online market.
- More than 99% of what people write, say, or generate never leaves the language in which it was created.
- Websites tailored linguistically and transactionally to the residents of one country can address, at most, 20% of the total world online population.
- Over 70% of software suppliers localize new releases.
- Only 12 of the top 100 global brands and just four of the top 50 U.S. online retailers translated a significant part of their corporate websites in Spanish.
Source: Common Sense Advisory
The word on the street is that google is about to launch a new translation service. Called “Google Translation Center”, this service will:
- Connect translators with clients
- Let translators work for free or charge their clients for their work.
- Let translators translate their documents online
- Provide translators with a CAT (computer assisted translation) tool similar to the other tools available on the market
From the article at techcrunch:
If you have a document that needs translating, you can upload it and request a translator to work on it, according to the marketing information on the site. The Translation Center is set up as a marketplace for matching translators with people who need texts translated. It supports both paid translations and volunteer ones.
Also, Google doesn’t want to take part, for now, in the payment process. They state in their terms of service:
Your interaction with any third party participant(s) or user(s) within Google Translation Center, including payment and delivery of goods and services, and any other terms, conditions, warranties or representations associated with such dealings, are solely between you and such third party participant(s) or user(s) and Google is not involved in such dealings.
Translations created in Google Translation Center are purely between the translation requester and the translators.
As a R&D Director for a translation firm in Canada, this news rapidly caught my eye. Here is my breakdown of the impact this new service will have and my humble predictions:
So, what does all of this means for the translation industry
For translator networks:
This will surely steal business from a lot of web sites connecting translators to clients such as elance and craiglist, but not enough to get them out of business since they have more than translation projects in their portfolio.
For professional freelance translators:
For a lot of them, this will probably become their primary portal since Google is very good at indexing other sources of data than just theirs (just check the sources of the videos featured on google video and you will see what I mean). They will probably index every translator gig available in the world and provide translators with a portal to search, maybe bid on them and execute the translation.
For professional translation firms:
For translation firms, this is neither a good or a bad news. They will lose maybe a handful of customers due to the fact that they will get very cheap translations on Google platform. But, this is one industry where the saying “You get what you pay for” is really true. You won’t have any quality assurance when using this kind of service and, for many customers, this matters a lot. The quality of the corporate communications is a mirror of the company’s professionalism. And when you are a major bank, or in the medical industry (where a typo in a prescription can effectively kill someone), you can’t afford low quality translation. And you never will be safe with the quality of the translation provided by Google’s service (or any other online service for that matter) because the reviser might be your old Uncle Joe who runs only Word’s spell-checker on your document.
For translator tools software vendors:
This will probably be the main spot in the industry where the impact if this service will be felt. For these vendors, the whole market of freelancers is at risk since they will have access to a CAT tool and translation memories for free. The only market that will be left for them after the service will be mainstream is the big translation firms, for the reasons stated above.
For the future of Google’s platform:
The big challenge for google with this platform is to keep away the spammers. How easy will it be to log-in as a “fake translator” add advertising into a document. Then, when the client get his translation, he will be directly hit by the ad when reviewing this document. Or worse, the ad won’t be caught (very possible case since you won’t know every language your document/brochure/Web site/etc. has been translated into) and will be published as a part of that document. The worst case scenario for Google is that all the email spammers will use their platform to publish their ads, since the email rarely even get opened by the target of spammers. But inserting spam as part of a translation in a legitimate document will be a lot more effective.
UPDATE: Google removed most of the pages and reference documents (all URLs are now redirected to google’s main page).