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 January 1, 1998

Firms help ‘localize’ tech products for global markets

BOULDER — For a business person, being able to speak the language in a foreign country isn’t always enough anymore.

These days, computer programs also may need to be in a foreign language, too.

There’s no problem if an American business hires only employees who speak and read English. But what if employees in Italy are more productive in an Italian-language computer program, or workers in Mexico need to translate a document from English to Spanish?

An e-mail mailbox icon makes sense in United States computer programs, but may have no meaning in other countries. Or maybe an English-language software program cannot support the thousands of characters required for a Chinese translation.

Boulder-based International Language Engineering and Tampa, Fla.,-based Sykes Enterprises, which bought Rocky Mountain Translators in Boulder in 1994, can help. The two

“localization” companies take products, mostly computer software, or services, and make them linguistically and culturally appropriate for a target country.

Founded in 1984, International Language Engineering does translations in 30 foreign languages. It employs 240, including translators, engineers, desktop publishers and Web page experts. Customers include computer, telecommunication, and medical technology firms. Revenues in 1996 were $15 million.

Before a native speaker can “localize” a software program or technical document, text must be extracted from existing software resource files or data files, says Walter Smith, emerging technology analyst at ILE.

Ten years ago, ILE began developing filtering tools to extract text to be translated while preserving the original code or formatting information.

To encode text extracted from an original file of any software, ILE developed the OpenTag format, which standardizes markup codes. If files contain italicized text, for example, the OpenTag representation of the italics would be identical whatever the original format’s markup method, Smith says.

“By presenting translators uniformly extracted text, they get a consistent environment to work with. This allows them to focus on the translation and not worry as much about the technical aspects of the original files,” Smith notes.

After software is translated, text is merged with the original programming code, and software is built for the designated country.

Last February, ILE invited organizations and companies in the localization industry to comment on a draft of the OpenTag format. Then it launched an initiative to establish OpenTag as a standard markup format for extracted text. Incorporating public opinion, ILE completed its first version of OpenTag, which was recently released on the Web.

Globalization and the information age are fueling the demand for localization services.

“The localization industry has grown substantially within the last five years because of the spread of computers to countries where people do not speak English, and the growing competition from abroad,” notes Raimund Berchtold, senior pro gram manager at Sykes Enterprises.

In 1994, Tampa-based Sykes Enterprises, an information technology firm, took over the assets and liabilities of Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Translators, and consolidated its translations at a Boulder localization service branch.

Sykes deals in 22 languages and employs 55 people in Boulder; 4,500 worldwide. Company revenues in 1996 were $117 million. Clients include companies in all phases of the computer industry.

Like other localization firms, Sykes extracts text. Native speakers then translate, edit, proofread and test the product and issue a “bug report” to engineers who fix the problems. Resizing dialogue boxes to handle new translations is an example of an engineering task.

At this time, Sykes is not using OpenTag for marking. Commenting on the OpenTag initiative, Berchtold says, “Sykes has joined the OpenTag interest group, and is currently evaluating the format as a standard.”

Translation memory and bilingual terminology lists are two examples of translation tools that allow translators to maintain consistency and quality control in their work.

A translation memory database contains English sentences and their translations in various languages for each client’s project. When a translator is working on an update of a customer’s product, he can use translation memory to find previous translations to use again, Smith explains.

For a previous translation to be re-used directly it must be identical in text and coding. “Having markups in the OpenTag format boosts the chances of sentence reuse. When mark-ups are different in two sentences an exact match does not occur even if the text is identical,” Smith says.

Bilingual terminology lists contain English words and their translations. “A dictionary typically offers more than one way to translate a term. Terminologists pick one option from the dictionary to standardize on for the list,” Berchtold says.

“Often you are working with more than one translator on a project, so it is important to have consistent terminology,” Berchtold adds.

Internationalization training classes developed by ILE teach program managers, technical writers, and software developers about language and cultural issues. Development methods are also stressed so the technical product is ready for the localization process, Smith says.

For example, software developers should consider the fact that an “A to Z” sorting process in English may not work in Scandinavian countries where users would expect to find words starting with accented vowels after the “Z” in the program, Smith explains.

BOULDER — For a business person, being able to speak the language in a foreign country isn’t always enough anymore.

These days, computer programs also may need to be in a foreign language, too.

There’s no problem if an American business hires only employees who speak and read English. But what if employees in Italy are more productive in an Italian-language computer program, or workers in Mexico need to translate a document from English to Spanish?

An e-mail mailbox icon makes sense in United States computer programs, but…

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