- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

The road to his own business in Frederick, Md., began in Germany for E. Smith Yewell, president and CEO of Welocalize.com.
Mr. Yewell was a field artillery officer in the Army for four years. Unlike many American soldiers in Europe, he mixed regularly with local residents.
"From the outside looking in, it was apparent to me that Americans are ethnocentric and have the wrong assumption that everyone speaks English," he said.
That led Mr. Yewell to the idea that U.S. companies need help developing the international side of their businesses and propelled him into a field with a seemingly contradictory name: localization.
The Washington area is home to a rising number of businesses that help companies compete overseas by adapting products and services to foreign markets. Going global means cultivating a local appeal, whether the locale is Bethesda, Berlin or Beijing.
"This industry is about taking products and services worldwide," said Michael Anobile, director of the Switzerland-based Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA). "It doesn't matter if it's software, automobiles or financial services."
Welocalize.com started in 1995 as a broad-based firm that would help just about any company to create products for overseas markets. Mr. Yewell made software its strategic focus in 1997, partly with an eye toward helping booming tech companies in the Washington area make their products usable on all continents.
"All this technology is worldwide, so the user interface has to be worldwide," Mr. Yewell said.
The decision fueled growth in revenue, which will hit about $4 million this year, he said. The company now has 43 employees in Frederick and in Germany.
The basic concept of localization is by no means new. "Since St. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin, localization cultural and technical adaptation has always been part of the translation process," said Muriel Jerome-O'Keeffe, managing director of Alexandria-based JTG, Inc.

World markets

In the early 1990s, companies appeared that specialized in helping clients adapt their products for overseas markets.
Now, for many companies, localization is part of their business strategy from the first day. Products and services are introduced simultaneously in numerous countries, an event that frequently requires outside services. So, opportunity abounds, Ms. Jerome-O'Keeffe says.
The existing market is "easily" $2.5 billion in the United States alone, Mr. Anobile said. But that number is deceptive, because virtually any spending devoted to making products and services marketable worldwide can flow into the industry.
The fast-growing community of technology companies in Virginia and Maryland, which often market their products aggressively on an international basis from the start, has provided a vast pool of potential clients for localization firms in the area. And the presence of the nation's capital helps anchor a region that has plenty of connections across the Atlantic.
"Washington is a growing market for technology, and it is a nice mix of the East Coast and Europe," said Dev Ganesan, president of Alexandria-based Trados, which produces software tools for translators.
These companies cover a lot of ground, helping budding multinationals adapt telecommunications equipment, medical devices and documentation for pharmaceuticals. One mainstay of the industry is the Internet sites that are helping fuel the meteoric growth of electronic commerce, and software, Mr. Yewell's specialty.
The challenge of adapting software written by an American firm to a foreign market, Mr. Yewell explains, lies in letting translators focus on what they do best, using tools to speed up their work and seamlessly integrating the work of computer programmers, who must design and redesign a product with a nod toward another culture. Not surprisingly, these needs make for a multiethnic work force.
"We've got all kinds," Mr. Yewell said. Employees of the company come from France, Turkey, China, Germany, Latvia, Denmark and Korea.
Welocalize.com uses its own proprietary software to strip away the code in a piece of software and leave only the English text that must be translated into another language. At that point, Mr. Yewell explains, Welocalize.com typically outsources about 90 percent its work to the language experts.
"The key is still the human touch," said Walter Bacak, of the American Translation Association.

High-tech translators

Mr. Bacak heads a group whose members are the core of the localization industry. Localization is one aspect of the translation business but it is the "sexiest" because, unlike translations of French literature, for example, it frequently involves the high-tech industry, he said.
Allied Business Intelligence, a research firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y., estimated in a 1999 study that localization comprised 32 percent of the $11 billion world market for translation.
Translators typically translate text into their native languages, so outsourcing this work means finding contractors overseas. Welocalize.com has contracts with teams in nine countries, Mr. Yewell said. And, again with a nod to the quick product cycles in the tech industry, translators employ software tools designed to speed up their work.
Trados is a market leader in this sector, known as translation memory software. The privately held company was founded in 1984 by two Germans, Jochen Hummel and Iko Knyphausen, and now has operations in Europe and Asia. Since 1997, it has been 20 percent owned by Microsoft Corp., and the firm has also won financial backing from First Union Capital Partners and Mercury Private Equity, a subsidiary of Merrill Lynch & Co.
Translation memory software lightens the load of the human beings who know languages by comparing what needs to be translated to what has been translated. So, at lightning speeds, computers sift through already translated words and phrases for matches, or near matches. It still falls to the human doing the work to file down the rough edges of a computer-assisted translation, but the time savings is impressive.
"A translator can leverage past work to do current work faster," Mr. Ganesan said.
Allied Business Intelligence concluded that only about 10 percent of the demand for translation services can currently be met. That leaves an enormous market for such companies as Trados, and for the people who provide Mr. Bacak's "human touch."
Once translations are complete, Mr. Yewell's team at Welocalize.com still has plenty to do. Some are fairly pedestrian, as simple translation can require subtle reprogramming of the software in question. For example, a user who clicks on a button labeled with the six-letter word "Browse" in the United States must, in the French version of the software, click on the nine-letter word "Parcourir." So, engineers must lengthen the button to fit the word.
Other changes require a localization firm with a keen sense of cultural differences, an area in which U.S. companies have racked up some legendary failures over the years. Chevrolet once marketed the Nova sedan in Mexico, blissfully unaware that "no va" means "doesn't go" in Spanish, and the Coca-Cola Company originally sold its flagship soft drink under a name in China that translated as a less-than-delicious "bite the wax tadpole."
In Japan, Mr. Yewell notes, computer users are deeply embarrassed by features that call attention to their mistakes. So, in the wake of translators, programmers must weed out the beeps that typically sound when a user clicks the wrong button or hits the wrong key.

Global reach

Companies that are serious about developing a global reach typically integrate the localization process into their product development at the earliest stages. Welocalize.com has, for example, worked with Jackson, Miss.-based MCI WorldCom to adapt successive releases of software that it distributes to its business partners in Canada. Under Canadian law, software must be in both English and French in order to accommodate the French-Canadian population in Quebec.
Ms. Jerome-O'Keeffe's firm, JTG Inc., has carved out a niche in the localization industry through its work adapting Internet sites to foreign markets. This work involves many aspects of localizing software, but places a heavy emphasis on impressing retail customers. Studies show, she points out, that customers are up to three times more likely to buy from a site in their native languages.
JTG is almost a virtual company that coordinates the building blocks of the localization process, rather than doing them itself, Ms. Jerome-O'Keeffe said. It contracts with translators, who frequently work overseas. It ensures that images pictures, colors and graphics work smoothly in other cultures. And it arranges market research to ensure that a Web site meets all the legal requirements for retailers in a given market.
"All these things require more than translation they require a redesign of the site," Ms. Jerome-O'Keeffe said.
The graphics on a site can help close a sale, but they can also drive away a potential customer, she points out. A white box with a black border could draw the enthusiastic attention of American visitors to a Web site, but probably not if they are French. That layout evokes the image of a death announcement.
Internet retailers in the United States typically ask for some type of identifying number such as a Social Security number that is not available in any other country. Changes like these highlight the need for localization even if the site is aimed at other English-speaking countries, Ms. Jerome-O'Keeffe points out. "There is a lot of common sense that goes into this work," she said.
Mary O'Neill heads up Columbia, Md.-based Translingua Inc., a company that specializes in localizing medical and diagnostic equipment. In that business, Ms. O'Neill has to have one eye on highly trained professionals who use these instruments to make life-and-death decisions. "Accuracy is paramount," she said.
So, Translingua deviates from the typical approach of outsourcing translation. The 16-year-old firm, which has done work for Becton Dickinson in Sparks, Md., has translators on staff who can grapple with highly technical and thorny translation issues. "Frequently, the concepts we're trying to describe don't even exist in other cultures because the technology is changing so fast," she said.
In Arabic, for example, many basic technology terms do not exist, Ms. O'Neill notes. But Arabic does have an alphabet, so creative translators can invent words. In Chinese, a language that uses characters representing fixed concepts, this task is infinitely more difficult. What is an "LCD projector" in Chinese? Translingua has to develop entire vocabularies to localize medical technologies and it assembles glossaries to introduce foreign users to parts of their languages they never dreamed existed, Ms. O'Neill said.
As companies have become more savvy about integrating localization into their business strategies, the process of localization has come full circle and become both a driver of globalization and a product of it, Mr. Anobile said. Early on, companies take the worldwide needs of customers into account, and develop products accordingly. The products, tailored to local markets, will then generate feedback from customers that influences the design of successive generations of products.
"You localize your products to be effective on a global basis," Mr. Anobile said. "It tells your customers in foreign companies that you know what they need."

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