Translation 3.0: Commoditization, Context and Commerce
eBay has a plan. The global commerce giant wants to expand into the Russian, Brazilian and Chinese markets, but is having trouble connecting buyers from around the globe when they speak different languages. Right now, it's difficult for prospects to find what they want to buy, especially because so many posted products are labeled in English.
So, did eBay hire translators to help localize content? No, the company hired machine translation expert Hassan Sawaf, who holds a patent on hybrid machine translation. Sawaf's job is to build scalable infrastructure that can translate queries into a different language while analyzing context. For example, something labeled as a "purse" in the item description needs to match queries for purse, but also for "bag," "item" or "piece."
Translators and language service providers (LSPs) have been watching machine translation technology closely, but the reality is, tools like Google Translate have been around for years, offering consumers and companies a quick, free way to translate things in the blink of an eye.
The commoditization of translation services as we used to know them has already happened. However, as the demand for global-local collateral keeps rising, translation services have become much more than just changing copy into another language.
The evolution of translation
Twenty years ago, there was no question of how something was going to get translated. Companies would hire someone who was fluent in the language and have them translate marketing collateral and technical documentation accordingly. Often, translators would be independent professionals who had built up an expertise in an industry. The phrase "tech savvy" never even entered the conversation. Fluency and industry experience were the two most important skills a translator could have. And "breaking into a new market" meant little more than having documents available in different languages.
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