Great news for newcomers in the translating world and located in The Netherlands: workshop coming up September 7 in Endhoven! 👩🏼💻
It’s called “Speeddating met ervaren vertalers” and I’ll be one of 9 translators waiting for your questions.👥⏱
Don’t miss it, check the link here under, enrollment is open!
I'm coming back from a book sales. I'd usually be carrying a huge load of books, but not this time.
Because I felt sad and disappointed.
And furious, yes.
More than 70% of the books I was interested in did not mention the translator's name.
The author, of course, the editor, the publisher, the graphic designer, the guy who did the introduction, the photographer and so forth. Many carried "bestseller" stamps. Some even had exerts of reception critics in the translated language by known critics or other authors, praising the book's reception in the country.
Still no mention of the translator.
Sure, there were children books and travel/culture books in the mixt, some would say it does not matter.
But it does.
How do they think the book could be such a huge success if it had not been translated with talent?
Is the translator not an essential part of the good reception of the book?
I know that a good translation is one where the text flows so flawlessly and effortlessly that no one can say there was a translator, but still...it infuriates me.
So please, if you are a translator, fight for your name to be included. If you are a client, ask why the translator is not named.
And if you are in the position to publish a book, make it a habit to #namethetranslator
Language attrition is a well-known problem for anyone who lived in another country than their own for some time.
What I do on a daily base to avoid losing either my French or my Portuguese (a feeling I know well and fear), besides trying to keep up with my favourite authors when something new is published, is to read news and popular articles, even sometimes silly ones for they are a goldmine for new terms and slang etc..., watch movies and tv series when possible, listen to the radio, to podcasts. Some days it will be more French others more Portuguese.
As a language teacher, I speak both on a daily base, but often a polished version of it, the one acceptable in the classroom.
As a translator I am able to work on all registers but it takes the effort above described for me to be able to provide for the right term when it's something recent in the culture.
Some days are a true challenge when one language takes over all the others.
Then, the only solution is a nice phone call to a dear friend or to family, to just chat and get the groove back.
Losing your first language? Here’s how to rediscover your voice
Expats are often shaky in their mother tongue. But fear not: the fight in the brain known as language attrition can be stopped
Monika Schmid is a professor in linguistics at the University of EssexTue 3 Apr 2018 12.28 BSTLast modified on Wed 4 Apr 2018 10.39 BST
‘In a foreign context, expats like me feel like a fish out of water or, perhaps more accurately, like a sea lion.’ Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer
When a former PhD candidate recently asked me to write a reference for her, I found myself facing an unexpected dilemma. She is a wonderful person and a brilliant scientist whom any employer should consider themselves lucky to recruit, and I’m delighted to provide a reference saying just that.
The problem lies in the fact that the job is a lectureship for teaching German. I’m German myself, as is she, and so I felt I should write the letter in German.
I couldn’t do it.
First off, I no longer trust my German spelling. This is partly because the spelling rules have changed in the 20 years since I left, partly because I spoke and wrote Dutch for a long time, where many words sound quite similar but are spelled differently, and partly because my knowledge has simply eroded. What’s more, words elude me and I’m often no longer sure if they mean exactly what I think they mean.
My grammar is restructuring itself along the lines of English, which in German translates to simpler, less sophisticated sentences. None of this, I felt, would shine a good light on the candidate.I’m not alone in experiencing this. Having spent any length of time – and this can be as little as a few months – in a foreign context, expats like me tend to feel like fish out of water or, perhaps more accurately, like sea lions out of water: we can survive, yes, but movements that otherwise are natural, fluid and efficient become a huge effort. We flap, we fumble, we wobble along, feeling and looking slightly ridiculous.
In linguistic terms, this means that we um and ah a lot more. We pause more often. Our sentences go wrong in the middle, and we have to backtrack. Our vocabulary becomes less sophisticated, and our grammar less complex. And there are more subtle effects, to do with the different ways in which politeness and social interaction differ across languages.
What is considered appropriate and polite varies hugely between countries
For example, English has only one pronoun – “you” – to address others. Many other languages make the distinction between a familiar and a formal or polite pronoun: for example, French tu and vous, or Spanish tu and usted. There are no clear, straightforward rules telling you in which context to use a formal and in which a familiar pronoun, and what is considered appropriate and polite varies hugely between countries.
For example, in the Netherlands I became used to addressing the Rector Magnificus of my university with the informal pronoun and by his first name. In Germany, one was expected to call him Your Magnificence (I’m not making this up). Using a familiar pronoun, let alone a first name, would have been unthinkable. Not only have conventions changed over the past 20 years, but I feel that I’ve entirely lost my sense of what’s appropriate in any given situation.
Many of these phenomena of what is called language attrition are quite similar to the changes in language use often found in the very early stages of dementia – although, of course, the underlying cognitive processes are completely different. Language attrition is not a neurological condition, but comes about because two languages are fighting it out in one brain. Like people living with dementia, those experiencing language attrition are faced with the stark reality that we assess and judge people based on how well and how confidently they use language. When linguistic performance becomes compromised, intelligence, capability, and overall cognitive functioning are underestimated.
Unlike people living with dementia, people with language attrition may take comfort in the fact that these symptoms are unlikely to persist or get much worse, and that reimmersion in the native language will probably make them disappear within a few weeks.
But for 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1 million Britons on the continent, many of whom may now be contemplating a return to their home country because of Brexit, language attrition could be a real problem. A badly spelled or clumsily worded letter of application, a fumbling and hesitant performance at interview, or – horror of horrors – an inappropriate use of a pronoun or a first name, or the omission of a honorific title, may ruin any chance to prove yourself in the job. Such errors are, of course, completely unrelated to how competent you are to carry out a particular function – but that will not provide much comfort if language attrition has cost you the job of your dreams.
AdvertisementSo what should you do if you are thinking of going back on the job market in the country of your birth? Here are some tips that may come in handy:
• Always have all documents you submit checked by a fully competent native speaker who is currently living there.
• Think yourself into the language, starting as early as possible. Play out the conversations you may expect to have in the job interview. Consider not only specialised key terms but also the ways in which you will interact with the members of the panel. Do this out loud.
• If possible, look up who the panel members are and what their titles are. If you are unsure, ask a fully competent native speaker what the proper way is to address them. Practise this.
• If you are unsure about certain technical terms or specialised vocabulary, make a cheat sheet for yourself, and don’t feel embarrassed about referring to it during the interview.
• If you can, arrange a mock interview with friends or family who share your native language.
Some of this may seem over the top – but it could make the difference between you feeling like a graceful sea creature in its element or a clumsy lump of lard wobbling along on dry land.
This article was originally published on The Conversation
Support to Literary Translation Projects 2018
STATUS DEADLINE CALL REFERENCE OPEN 23/05/2018 - 12:00 (CET, Brussels time)EACEA/13/2018
2018 call for proposals EACEA 13/2018 for 'Support to Literary translations projects'
Date of publication: 27/03/2018
Deadline for submitting: 23/05/2018 at 12:00 noon (midday Brussels time)
If I was a civil engineer, would you still ask...?
I received today another application from someone wanting to work with me, as a translator. As a professional translator. Delivering work to actual clients. Earning money.
The email, a variation of many other I receive daily, reads as follow:
"Hi, my name is T., I currently live in .... , and I'm interested in working as a translator at your website. I don't have much experience (besides translating my own artwork and some school based projects), but I'm really looking forward to an opportunity to practice my English and French, and obtain some experience as well. As a consequence to my lack of experience, I don't really have a price established yet, but I hope that we can figure that out. Finally I hope to get a response soon, thank you for your time!"
It's to the point , in a good enough English and polite, 3 things that are not always true in such emails.
Still, it rubs me the wrong way.
Let's do an exercise and change some words to what they'd mean if my business was civil engineering:
"Hi, my name is T., I currently live in .... , and I'm interested in working as a CIVIL ENGINEER AT YOUR WORKSITE. I don't have much experience BUILDING BRIDGES (besides BUILDING THINGS WITH LEGO AND SOME SCHOOL CONSTRUCTIONS WITH KAPLA AND CARDBOARD), but I'm really looking forward to an opportunity to practice my SKILLS AT MIXING CEMENT AND TRYING WAYS TO STAPLE BRICK, CEMENT AND IRON, and obtain some experience AT PUTTING TOGETHER A BRIDGE FOR TRUCKS AND CARS TO CROSS THAT RIVER WITHOUT PROPER TRAINING FOR IT, WITHOUT INSURANCE OR BUSINESS COSTS. As a consequence to my lack of experience AND LACK OF PROPER TRAINING AND LACK OF INVESTMENT IN THIS PROFESSION, I don't really have ANY IDEA HOW TO BUDGET MY EXPENSES, THE MATERIAL I NEED TO BUY AND THE VALUE OF MY WORK, but I hope that YOU CAN TELL ME ALL YOUR TRADE SECRETS SO I CAN GO AND ASK LESS AND GET YOUR CLIENTS. Finally I hope to get a response soon AS I NEED MONEY ASAP AND THIS IS SUCH AN EASY JOB, thank you for THE TIME YOU ARE GOING TO SPEND MENTORING ME FOR FREE WHILE STILL DOING YOUR OWN JOB!"
The saddest part of this misconception about what it takes to be a translator or an interpreter, is that it is commonly thought that anyone who speaks languages can do it. That it's easy. That there are only some business tricks to it and no training or true talent is needed. That it's really not that hard.
It is so commonly though that not one of those candidates sees the absurd of their requests, and it's not entirely their fault (besides the fact that some are profoundly clueless of the working world regardless of the area) when official professional sites, like employment agencies, offer advices on how to "make some money translating from home if you are unemployed and know a bit of X or Y language".
So, dear wannabe translator or interpreter, do yourself a favor, go get some training, there are plenty universities and professional workshops for specialisation, go read testimonies of seasoned professionals, get into chat groups to get a grasp of the profession.
Look for a (properly compensated) mentor, get some work done, deal with unhappy clients, get some praises for a work well done, get turned down 20 times before managing to get that contract you wanted, spend a few nights working to meet deadlines, struggle to get your payments on your bank account to pay your bills and rejoice when that huge invoice is paid in full before term... and then, then yes, come and see me.
I'll be happy to coach you further and work alongside on real projects with real clients earning you the money you'll deserve.
Welcome the this wonderful profession.
A very interesting reflexion on authorship of translation in literature.
An Author Asks: Why should a translator get royalties when the story is mine?
By Lisa Carter, Feb 6, 2015 Intralingo Inc.
A reader recently commented on my post 10 Truths on Royalties and Literary Translation, from way back in 2012. I wanted to raise this issue in a new post, rather than leaving it buried deep in the archives because it’s a hugely important topic.
Here is what author Alexandra Martins wrote to ask:
Hello, Lisa. I found this article, precisely when I was searching the net for the reason why would a translator get any rights to an author’s literary work.
I understand that translating something requires creativity and skills in writing. I understand that, and I think that a good translator should be well paid for his/her work. But only once.
I’m Portuguese and I wrote a novel. I created the story, wrote it down, put it on paper. I invented the story, the caracters, the action, everything. I and only I. It’s my work, it belongs to me, and nobody else. When I published it, anyone who bought it was actually being licensed to read my work. The only thing they bought was the paper and the ink. The paper and the ink belongs to them. The story is still mine. If a publisher was interested in publishing my novel and put it on sale in bookstores and other markets, I would not sell my story, I would only license it. Because, gess what? It’s my story. Nobody else’s. The publisher’s job would be simply to get the paper and the ink, so readers can read my story.
So please, help me understand: why should a translator (from Portuguese to English, for example) get royalties from a work that belongs to me? I understand translations are not easy, but all they are doing is translating words into another language. Telling my story in another language. MY story. Not theirs.
As for the creativity necessary to make he story appeal to English readers, isn’t it part of the job? I mean, if you don’t like doing that, look for another job. But having a share on a story, in whatever language, a story that you did not have a part in creating, I think it is very unfair.
Two readers (who are translators) shared their thoughts with Alexandra:
What an interesting point of view. Ages ago I wrote about why translation is creative. While it doesn’t answer your question directly, it might give you an idea of an answer. Hint: there is not one “correct” way to translate anything, especially in literature. So the translator creates something based on an original idea that is not his or hers. It is a heavily creative process. So the reader of the translation is given the licence to read the translation, just like the reader of the original is being licensed to read the original. [Emphasis mine.]
‘There is not one ‘correct’ way to translate anything, especially in literature.’ @keycheck_t9n
Translating literature is a process that takes just as much creativity and skill as writing the original does in the first place. As the author, the idea of the story is obviously yours. But once it has been translated, every word of the translation is the result of my hard work. So the translation is my baby just as the story is yours.
Having a novel translated is an opportunity that opens up a market and audience that the author could not previously reach. This would not have much of an impact on sales of the original text, which is entirely the author’s. A 1-3% royalty is not much, especially as the amount of effort and creativity this kind of translation requires is comparable to that required for creative writing in the first place. The author would still get much more, on top of the sales they already get from sales in the original language.
If anything, I would argue that a translator should receive equal royalties to the author on the translated version. Sadly the world is not ready for that idea yet, though. People still seem to think that because translators make everything look simple and pretty, they’re not having breakdowns behind the scenes going “Argh this word equivalent is not really equivalent at all! How can I express this without destroying everything!?”. Just as authors have breakdowns over things like “Argh this character is supposed to _____, but no matter how I write this it doesn’t work!”. Just because you love the work doesn’t mean you don’t pull your hair out over it… [Emphasis mine.]
I then happened upon this piece by Daniel Hahn, an eminent literary translator, on Words Without Borders. The article is about reviewing translations and how the translator should be credited, but the crux of Hahn’s argument is closely related to this topic. Here’s what he says:
So what makes me crazy is when the reviewer praises something that I did and gives the impression that I’m not there. By all means compliment the author on the tightness of the plotting, on the deftness of the characterization, and ignore me—they’re supported by my work, of course, but marginally. But a reviewer who thinks he can praise the rhythm, the texture, the beauty of the prose, the warmth and wit of the voice, without acknowledging who’s responsible—as though those things in an author’s original simply reappear automatically after the mechanics of translation have been applied to a text—that’s a reviewer who simply has no understanding of what translation is. There’s a reason the copyright in my translations belongs to me and not the original author. The plot and the ideas and the themes aren’t mine, but the words are, all of them, and the way they all fit together, too. And if that’s what you’re reviewing, I want credit. (Or, for that matter, criticism.)[Emphasis mine.]
As you might be able to tell from the added emphasis in the quotes above, I couldn’t agree more with what each of these translators has said. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see Alexandra’s point. It’s hard to understand all that goes into a literary translation unless you have been involved in the process, as a translator or as an author whose work has been translated. It is a complex process, not simply taking one word and giving it an equivalent in another language.
Translation is a complex process, not simply exchanging one word for another. @intralingo
In December last year, British art critic, novelist, paint and post John Berger had this to say in an article in the Guardian:
The conventional view of what [literary translation] involves proposes that the translator or translators study the words on one page in one language and then render them into another language on another page. This involves a so-called word-for-word translation, and then an adaptation to respect and incorporate the linguistic tradition and rules of the second language, and finally another working-over to recreate the equivalent of the “voice” of the original text. Many — perhaps most — translations follow this procedure and the results are worthy, but second-rate.
‘True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal.’ – John Berger
Why? Because true translation is not a binary affair between two languages but a triangular affair. The third point of the triangle being what lay behind the words of the original text before it was written. True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal. One reads and rereads the words of the original text in order to penetrate through them to reach, to touch, the vision or experience that prompted them. One then gathers up what one has found there and takes this quivering almost wordless “thing” and places it behind the language it needs to be translated into. And now the principal task is to persuade the host language to take in and welcome the “thing” that is waiting to be articulated.
Wow. Well put.
What I’d like to emphasize to Alexandra — and all authors — is that literary translators are not trying to take anything away from the writer. Quite the contrary, we’re hugely respectful of their work. We want to take nothing away, add nothing, yet convey every little last thing. A literary translator attempts to portray every single nuance of writing style, plot and character development in another language, for another culture. And that is precisely what makes our work so very challenging.
Translators are not martyrs. We do this for ourselves, too. @intralingo
We go to these great lengths in translation, often for very little money up front, because we believe in the work, in the author, and we want to share both with a wider audience. Our work is about giving, offering a new work to a new world, expanding the author’s circle of readers, influence and, ultimately, income. But we are not martyrs, we do this for ourselves, too. We expect to earn a decent income and a certain amount of recognition for our efforts.
If you consider that royalties granted to a translator generally range from 1-3% when the book is published traditionally or up to about 25% when the work is self-published, it’s clear we’re not trying to usurp the author’s due. The author will always earn as much and usually much more than the translator. We understand the weighting, recognize that even in another language the translation is ultimately the author’s work. But without us, without our skill, insight and participation, there will be no work in another language, so it’s only fair that recognition should go both ways.
La tienda de #palabrasolvidadas
What happens when a word is not used anymore?
Does it just disappear into the deep ends of a dictionary or does it come back from time to time to remind us of tastes gone by?
To avoid their death, this Spanish group of word's lovers decided to create this virtual "Shop of forgotten words" where anyone can "shop" for a word for the symbolic price of a share on any social network.
It's as amazing as it sounds. It makes one wish that other language lovers in other countries would do the same.
Have a look at their beautiful website and their funny videos.
LISA FELEPCHUK - FEB 13
If, instead of calling your significant other or child by their first name, you substitute an endearing pet name–honey, babe, pumpkin, sweet pea or the like–chances are you’re improving your bond without even realizing it. Because cutesy nicknames create intimacy between two humans. Research tells us that couples who use pet names report feeling more satisfied within their relationship than couples that don’t.
And, as you may have guessed, it’s not just North Americans who use these endearing words to describe their most favourite humans. Cultures all around the world use similarly charming and silly phrases and words the same way English speakers do. However, when pet names are translated from their native tongue into another language, they don’t always sound so sweet. In fact, some sound downright insulting.
Language learning app Babbel rounded up a handful of adorable pet names from Italy, Germany, Japan and beyond; we’re not suggesting you use them though, as translating them directly may not go over so well with your SO this Valentine’s Day (or any day). Here are 12 international pet names that get lost in translation.
MICROBINO MIO – ITALIANLike most Italian words, microbino mio rolls off the tongue. It sounds beautiful and sexy and cute all at once when said out loud, but the direct translation is “my little microbe,” so might be best saved for a science buff and not a germaphobe.
SPATZ – GERMANThe German word spatz translates to “sparrow,” which is actually quite a lovely pet name, but the way it sounds when pronounced in English is so similar to our word “spat.” It feels dirty, and not in a sexy, meet-me-in-the-bedroom-in-five kind of way.
CHANG NOI – THAIIn Thailand, chang noi is the way to call someone a “little elephant,” which is probably cuter than calling them a big elephant. But these massive mammals aren’t as celebrated in English culture as the are in Southeast Asia, so it loses some of its importance and appeal.
SÖTNOS – SWEDISHNobody wants to be told they have a pig nose…in English at least. In Sweden, however, the Swedish term sötnos, which means “sweet snout,” is often used as a term of endearment.
MON PETIT CHOU – FRENCHFoods that are cute and/or sweet often make good pet names: sugar, pumpkin, honey. Not so adorable: a head of cabbage. But in French, mon petit chou literally means “my little cabbage.” Even more adorbs: chou chou, which can be used for short.
MON SAUCISSON – FRENCHAnother French food nickname that shouldn’t be translated? Mon saucisson, which means “my little sausage.” If you don’t want to hear, “Are you calling me fat!?” accusations, avoid naming your bae this one.
DROPJE – DUTCHDropje (pronounced “drop-key”) is a traditional Dutch black licorice candy that only the locals seem to enjoy. It makes sense, then, that the word dropje is also used as a form of endearment, even though it directly translates to “little licorice candy.” If you’re going to use it, make sure the intended recipient actually likes black licorice.
MEDIA NARANJA – SPANISHIf you consider your partner your other half, then they’re your media naranja. Sort of. The direct translation of this Spanish pet name literally means “half an orange,” as in your lover is the other half to your orange. Cute, right?
PATATINA – ITALIANPotatoes are delicious, but would you want be referred to as a round and bulbous root vegetable? Maybe not. Patatina translates to “little potato” and definitely sounds more playful in Italian.
PUS – NORWEGIANPus is the way Norwegians say “kitten,” but again, our English meaning of pus makes one think of an infected sore. And there’s nothing less attractive than calling someone a word reminiscent of an oozing scab. However, the pronunciation in Norwegian puts emphasis on the “u,” so when said properly, it sounds more like our English word, “puss.” Meow!
TAMAGO GATA NO KAO – JAPANESEProbably one of the most bizarre translations is Japan’s pet name, tamago gata no kao. In English, it literally means an egg with eyes. But, wait–in Japanese culture, oval-shaped faces are prized, so an egg-shaped face is a compliment, but it sounds completely strange in English.
MURU – FINNISHMuru is short, sweet and fun to say. But when translated from Finnish to English, it loses a lot of its charm, as it means breadcrumb. Delicious, yes, but “breadcrumb” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as muru.
“If AI is to reach its potential in serving humans, then every engineer will need to learn more about the liberal arts and every liberal arts major will need to learn more about engineering,”Read Now
“As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human-development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.
“If AI is to reach its potential in serving humans, then every engineer will need to learn more about the liberal arts and every liberal arts major will need to learn more about engineering,”
(I am however baffled by this : "The researchers found that the median wage of a humanities major in 2015 was $52,000, or about $8,000 lower than the median for all college graduates. They do better, however, than graduates who majored in the life sciences, the arts or education." So, according to this research, arts or education are not part of humanities studies... Then, what are they part of ? They are not "STEM" either, so what? )
Report busts myth of unemployable humanities grads
Originally published February 12, 2018 at 6:00 am
No, they’re not all working as baristas. When it comes to pay, job satisfaction and career advancement, humanities majors do just fine, a new report says.
Seattle Times higher education reporterThe American Academy of Arts & Sciences wants you to know that studying the humanities is not a career-killing dead end.
In “The State of the Humanities 2018,” released last week, the national academy makes the case that humanities majors are doing just fine when it comes to pay, job satisfaction and career advancement.
And the report comes on the heels of a new Microsoft e-book on artificial intelligence, which discusses an important role that the social sciences and humanities will have in the development and management of artificial intelligence.
The academy’s report, which is based on U.S. census data and Gallup polling of workers nationwide, aims to show that humanities majors find jobs after college, don’t make that much less than other college graduates and are generally happy with their jobs.
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They’re also paid significantly more than those with only an associate degree or high-school diploma.
Almost 87 percent reported they were satisfied with their job in 2015.
The report measured financial satisfaction with a survey that asked respondents for a yes-or-no answer to these questions: “I have enough money to do everything I want to do” and “In the last seven days, I have worried about money.” While 42 percent of humanities majors said they had enough money, their financial satisfaction wasn’t too far below that of engineers, 51 percent of whom said they had enough money to do what they wanted to do.
Unemployment among humanities majors — as in all fields — rose during the recession but is down now, to just about 4 percent among workers ages 24 to 55. And about 14 percent had jobs in management.
The picture isn’t all rosy. More than a third of humanities majors said there was no relationship between their job and their degree. About a third with bachelor’s degrees were employed in sales, service, office and administrative support jobs.
Humanities majors who went on to get an advanced degree, beyond a bachelor’s, generally did better, with higher median salaries and a closer match between their degrees and their occupations.
In its new book, Microsoft called for more liberal arts majors to study computer engineering, and for more tech engineers to take classes in the liberal arts.
Sign up for Education LabAn easy way to stay connected to education. Delivered to your inbox Thursdays.
Sign up“The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and Its Role in Society” includes an introduction by Microsoft President Brad Smith and the company’s executive vice president of Microsoft Artificial Intelligence, Harry Shum.
“Skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math,” the two executives wrote in a blog post about the book. “As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human-development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.
“If AI is to reach its potential in serving humans, then every engineer will need to learn more about the liberal arts and every liberal arts major will need to learn more about engineering,” Smith and Shum wrote.
Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @katherinelong
How Starwood Optimized Its Website Translation Speaks to an Industry Becoming Fluent in DataSean O'Neill, Skift
- Apr 06, 2017 1:00 am
"Starwood recently changed its approach to the translation of websites for its 1,500 properties. Its move is a case study in how many hotel groups are getting savvier about using data to boost bottom line results."
— Sean O'Neill
Before its acquisition by Marriott was completed last September, hospitality company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide changed its approach to a problem that many chain hotels face — how to maximize the value of its spending on translation services for its property websites worldwide.
There were two aspects to the question: Was Starwood overspending on the translation of some of its branded websites, relative to how much business it was bringing in from the speakers of those languages? And was it failing to translate other websites and thus losing customers who were turning elsewhere and instead booking stays at properties that offered online information in their native tongues?
It’s not often that hotel executives offer a peek into their thinking about challenges. So it caught Skift’s eye two weeks ago when Ora Solomon, director, global product management, digital, gave a presentation about Starwood’s effort at the CMO Digital Insights Summit in Atlanta.
To be sure, the approach Starwood took is not the last word in how hotels can approach similar challenges. In fact, Marriott’s approach to translations will likely be different than what Starwood took, a spokesperson for the merged brands said.
Starwood’s experiment, whatever it’s ultimate fate, illustrates a broader industry trend that’s one of the hotel trends we’re watching in 2017: More and more hotel groups are relying on data instead of instinct to drive decision making.
PUTTING A MORE ACCURATE PRICE ON TRANSLATION
Starwood has 1,500 properties around the world, half of which are outside the U.S. Obviously it has been expensive for the company to translate the individual details of each property across its 11 brands.
To contain costs, its policy had been to provide translations for nearly all of its properties in four common languages — German, French, Spanish, and Japanese — regardless of the revenue that speakers of those languages generate for each of the properties.
It also made rough guesses about when to offer translations in up to seven other languages, such as Simplified Mandarin (which it did for 452 hotels) and Portuguese (which it did for 237 hotels).
The problem was that Starwood wasn’t sure it had the best coverage. For example, its Aloft Charlotte Uptown had received a Japanese translation, even though all nine of its Charlotte’s properties had received less than about $20,000 of revenue from Japanese guests in 2014.
On the other hand, many Italians visit New York City. Yet Starwood had provided few Italian translations for its properties there.
To get the translation mix right, Solomon believed that Starwood needed to “come up with a translation model that was scalable, given that non-English revenue share was growing, and competitors were investing to win,” she says. At the time, the Starwood sites had 200 million visitors a year, representing about $4 billion a year in revenue.
So in 2015, the company hired a math star on a temporary contract to come up with a more data-driven approach. Along with other Starwood employees, the person came up with a mathematical model that weighs revenue over two years, versus the full on-going cost of translation at the market level, such as of French translation for a hotel in Kansas City, Missouri.
The results were striking. The formula predicted that, for 11 Starwood properties in the San Francisco area, spending on Japanese language translation produce revenued that was, collectively, 42 times the money spent on translation.
In contrast, investing in Japanese translation in Dallas didn’t deliver a good return on investment. Based on the data at the time, the cost of offering translations for the 17 Starwood properties then in Dallas would have meant that every dollar spent on translation would have yielded only a $2 gain in annual revenue.
Similarly, the company had spent on Dutch translation for only two of its properties worldiwde. The formula recommended it invest in Dutch translation for 161 properties if Starwood wanted to capture at least 60 percent of the possible revenue.
In total, approximately $600,000 investment in translation services could produce $45 million in additional revenue from guests who decided to book at Starwood instead of somewhere else that had a website in their native tongue.
The formula also predicted where Starwood could cut back on translation spending without hurting revenue. The company had been translating all of the websites of its properties into Japanese. But by only translating 611 properties that have high inbound traveler volume, the company could capture 97 percent of the revenue that it would have otherwise.
Overall, by dropping its policy of translating all of its websites into four core languages, the company would save about $300,000 a year without a loss to revenue.
Solomon says the initial results in 2016 for the $600,000 expense on expanded language translation were on target with the forecasted model. The company executed the program in phases, to limit up-front investment. The staged approach delays the effort to analyze the formula’s success until enough time has passed for comparative information.
Solomon says it is already clear that the cuts in the former four core languages did not negatively affect conversion rates online. The decrease in core translation has put minimal revenue at risk. She says, “We didn’t lose as much of the even minimal revenue loss that the model predicted, and we saved money, which we could redeploy.”
As with many aspects of the Marriott acquisition of Starwood, Marriot says it is “assessing and evaluating Starwood’s business applications as they would apply to the newly merged companies.” A spokesperson says that “Marriott has a system for determining the timing and scope of new websites and apps in new languages. Translations are going through that process, and we will await the outcome before commenting further.”
Regardless of the fate of its specific experiment, Starwood’s effort underlines one of the major hotel industry trends of this year: Hotels are getting smarter about how to interpret all of the data they have been collecting.