Open to Interpretation

By: Mark Athitakis

Translation is an essential part of the work of a global association. But who does the translating? How do you check translations for accuracy? And how do you decide what to translate in the first place? Three associations show how they get their international members speaking the same language.

About five years ago, ISACA (formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association) decided it was going to buckle down on its translation strategy. The organization, which serves IT professionals around the world, launched a three-year pilot program through which it would identify the publications and certification-related materials it would translate, and into which languages. ISACA staff established a three-tier system to identify which materials were essential to the organizations bottom line and which werent. Those decisions would then filter down to its nearly 200 chapters around the world.

It didnt work.

"Now we're much more market-driven," says Jane Seago, chief communications officer for ISACA. "With the three tiers we were telling people, 'Heres what were going to give you. What we found was that members wanted to tell us what they needed and in what languages. We were much better off listening to the marketplace."

Different organizations have different translation needs as they expand internationally. Some, like ISACA, require careful translations of highly technical information thats delivered the same way across multiple languages. For others, simply having the option of real-time, machine-based translation can provide a stable bridge to new markets. Regardless of the organization, a command-and-control strategy will likely be less efficient and meaningful to members than paying close attention to where the demand is and finding ways to serve it.

Making a Business Case

According to Seago, for the past decade a majority of ISACA members have resided outside North America. In that time, the association has broadened its certification program. It currently has four; one has exams and supporting materials that have been translated into 11 languages, and a second has been translated into three languages. Decisions about which languages to explore for translations are made from ISACA headquarters outside Chicago.

Translation of certification exams is a rigorous process: After a translation is received from a vendor, ISACA contacts subject-matter experts to make sure the technical jargon is correctly presented and that linguistic nuances are accommodated. As Seago points out, "Spanish is different in Spain, Mexico, and elsewhere in Central America."

Whats changed since ISACA abandoned its three-tier translation strategy in late 2010 is that its open to translation requests for additional materials from chapters in other countries. Seago cites a request from Latvia as one recent example. "We might never have decided to go there ourselves, but there was a market need that was tied to the Latvian government wanting to use one of our research frameworks," she says. In 2011, ISACA translated 38 items into Spanish, 30 into Japanese, 24 into Korean, eight into Polish, and four into Hebrew.

ISACA now listens more to its chapters for guidance about what to translate, and its established a process that includes funding and quality-control steps. If a chapter wants to translate a journal or study materials, for example, ISACA provides funds through its Translation Assistance Program. To receive the funds, a representative from the chapter is required to fill out a proposal that makes a business case for the work (see sidebar), establishing demand for the materials and estimating profit (or loss). ISACA asks that chapters pursue at least three bids from translators. The association retains all intellectual property rights regardless of who drives the translation effort; if the chapter funds the project itself and ISACA sells it through its bookstore, ISACA pays a royalty to the chapter.

The goal of that process, Seago says, is to make sure ISACA preserves its ongoing global strategy while allowing chapters to serve their own members as appropriate. "You cant translate everything," she says. "Every penny that came in the door would go out again for translation."

Global Growth Metrics

Sometimes launching a modest translation project can shed more light on where your members are and what they need. A sixth of the membership of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry resides outside the United States, says Michael DiFrisco, director of membership and marketing, and more than two-thirds of those members hail from countries where English is not the primary language. So when AACD began publishing online and mobile versions of its journals and conference guidebooks in 2010, it chose a vendor that offered translation capability for its articles.

DiFrisco stresses that the move to online publication had less to do with the ability to produce translations than with "the unreliability of international mail." The association keeps translation costs low by using Google Translate; the downside is that the translations arent vetted for accuracy. What was more important for AACD was to build a starting point for its members who didnt speak or read in English. "It was a nice surprise," DiFrisco says. "Once we realized we could offer it, it gave us a better story to tell our international members."

Online publication of AACDs conference guidebooks has provided another surprise, giving the association valuable information about where member interest in its meetings is focused. The typical distribution for its print guidebooks in recent years has been 9,000 copies, but online readership of the guidebook for the 2012 conference shot above 20,000. Online international readership is similar to AACDs international membership, which is concentrated in the Pacific Rim and Sweden, but the data also identifies other potential membership areas, such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Australia.

"While the metrics do not tell us if these visitors are using the translation feature or to what extent," says DiFrisco, "it is nice to know that its available to them and exposes the AACD brand to professionals who may have struggled to read our materials."

Lower Costs, Broader Scope

For Roy Chapman, executive director of Wedding and Event Videographers Association International, an increased focus on translation was born of economic necessity. In 2010 WEVA moved its annual conference entirely online, recognizing that its international membership growth was accompanied by a weak economy; members who could most benefit from the education sessions at the annual conference couldnt afford overseas airfare.

Online conference sessions feature a prerecorded presentation followed by a live video chat with attendees, so WEVA took a two-pronged approach to translation. Last year the conference had two sessions with Spanish speakers, and for their prerecorded sessions, the association hired a translation firm to caption the presentations, then asked volunteer members to check the translations for accuracy. "You need somebody in-house whom you trust who speaks the language, so you understand that when the translation comes back its correct," says Chapman.

During the conference itself, the platform WEVA used (INXPO) allowed for post-session video chat rooms in which text discussions were translated in real time. The machine-based translations arent perfect, says Chapman, but "its enough for me as an attendee to be able to understand the gist of what somebody is saying." Real-time, machine-based audio translation is a possibility that WEVA is considering for future conferences.

Chapman says the translation effort is especially critical for WEVA, because member filmmakers are predominantly self-employed and dont have employers to cover conference and travel costs. And the ability to present information visually is critical for WEVAs session presenters, who typically demonstrate filmmaking techniques. But Chapman argues that any international association needs to cultivate a flexible and reactive plan to respond to members translation needs.

"If you are international, you have to be cognizant of your international members now in a way that is different [from] even two and three years ago," he says. "In order to be relevant to international members, you need to be in their language."

Mark Athitakis is a senior editor at Associations Now. Email: [email protected]

Sidebar: Translation Strategy Questions

Below are some questions included in ISACAs Business Case Proposal form, which chapters requesting translation-assistance funds are required to complete.

Strategic Assessment

  1. How does the translation project support the strategy of ISACA?
  2. What is the local demand for the translated materials?
  3. What audience will the translated materials serve?
  4. What members/constituents interests will be served?
  5. How has the need for this project been established?
  6. What countries and members will be impacted by the availability of the translation?
  7. What local business environment makes undertaking this project advisable?
  8. Who are the competitors and what are their products in the market?

Project Activity Overview

  1. What is the availability of adequate resources to undertake and complete the translation?
  2. If translation is done by a commercial translation company, which commercial company will be creating the translation?
  3. Were there at least three bidders in the selection process?
  4. What criteria were used in selecting the company to do the translation? Provide the contact names, job titles, website addresses, and email addresses of all vendors evaluated.
  5. Why was the chosen company selected?
  6. Why were the other translation companies not selected?
  7. If translation is done by an individual or individuals, please provide a summary of their qualifications.
  8. Who in the chapter will manage the translation project at the local level? Identify members and their roles for those who will be involved in the translation and/or review of the translation, their job titles, and their assignments.
  9. When will the translation be undertaken?
  10. Why has this timeframe been chosen?
  11. What are the major milestones for this project, including an estimated completion date?

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a contributing editor to Associations Now.