This is something we often experience: Our customers are convinced that they already know the weak points within their processes – but actually the problems lie elsewhere (e.g. when terminology is missing). Just like a process police, we determine the actual weak points for our clients – so that things don’t end up like a thriller. But read for yourself…
At the tcworld conference
“Great lecture, very illuminating, really!” I’m packing my power supply into my bag when an attractive blonde coming from the back row approaches me. “Oh, thank you very much! I am happy that you found it useful! Are concept maps something you work with yourself?”. I take a sip of water – after an hour of lecture my throat is completely dry. Then, I step down from the podium and look at the woman’s name tag unobtrusively: Frenzy Flieder, Technical Documentation, Fliedertechnik GmbH. “No, no,” she says. “For us this still a long way off. Right now, we have other issues altogether.” Other issues? That’s when I start listening very closely. “Really? What kind of issues?”
Clear case: terminology gone missing
She comes one step closer and looks suspiciously to her right and left side. I start to feel a bit like in an Alfred Hitchcock scenario! She murmurs to me in a lowered voice: “Oh, first of all the translations have to fit. We constantly have to go back to the agencies and complain about this. Somehow they just can’t do it. Can you by any chance recommend any good agencies?”. I already don’t like the look of this. “Hmm, what exactly seems to be the problem?”.
She looks around again as if someone was watching us, and whispers: “The translations are simply wrong. For example, in several texts they use different terms for our parts. Or they do not use the correct product names and so on. We keep receiving complaints from the markets, which then have to laboriously correct these errors themselves. Not good”. I release myself from her grip and move to close the door. Not that I’m scared, but the poor woman seems to be. “Yeah, I can imagine that must be annoying for you,” I reply. Above our heads a flock of birds sits down on the skylights. Ravens – seriously? The room lights flicker a bit.
The service provider is (not) always the one to blame
I clear my throat. “So you provided the translators with a list of the correct product and part names beforehand?”. She looks at me wide-eyed and suddenly says not at all quietly but rather harshly: “No. But I actually do expect them to have the necessary expertise and, after reading a few of our texts, to know what things are called”. That’s what I thought. “Uh-huh. You do know that such an agency works with thousands of texts for many different clients. I am sure your agency is doing the best they can. But when terminology is missing, things tend to get difficult. Or would you be able to tell me the correct names of all your products and parts right now, right off the cuff?”. She moans and puts her arms on her sides. “No, of course not. There are thousands of them.”
A translation can only be as good as the source text
I get back on the podium and open a Power-Point presentation. “Come on up, I want to show you something quickly”, I tell her. But she shakes her head vehemently: “Rather not. Fear of heights. I can still see it on the wall from down here.” Things seem to be getting worse and worse! “If you ask me for a recommendation, I advise you to provide your translators with your corporate terminology first. This will already improve things a lot. If the quality is still not up to scratch, I would take a look at the texts that your authors are producing. They will certainly notice that terminology is missing too. Or do they all use the same terms?”. She rolls her eyes. “Phew, I don’t know. Everyone kind of fights for themselves. They are all very scattered around here.” I navigate to our oldy but goldy process diagram.
“A translation can only be as good as the source text. For example, if the authors themselves use different terms for one and the same part, the translators will think they are talking about different things. As a result, errors in the source text inevitably propagate into the target text. You see?”. The woman gives way. “But how can I get the authors to really use the same terms?”
Systematic terminology comes with a system
I go to the next slide. “This is where a well maintained terminology system comes into play. Here, the authors can search for a certain part, and are shown the correct term, including definition, images and everything else.” She groans in annoyance: “That only leads to more squabbling when someone wants a different term.” Click. “Then they can discuss the appropriate term with each other via the system, even if they are scattered in all directions.” The blonde’s head looks like it is spinning as if she just came down from a carousel ride.
The effects of correct terminology is noticeable in all areas
“Hmm. But isn’t that incredibly expensive and time-consuming?”. There it is, the cost-benefit blows raining down on me. “I mean, it’s not like we have a huge budget. Is it even worth it? And who will do this? We don’t have the manpower.” I take them one after the other, I’m already used to it. “You can’t make something good out of nothing. In the beginning, terminology work is indeed that ‘work’, but you move forward in small steps. And if you need help, we’re more than happy to support you!”. I’m talking till I am blue in the face. Slowly the ravens disperse and the lights are back.
“You will notice the effects in all areas: The source texts will become cleaner and clearer. Your customers will immediately understand what you are talking about. And, of course, your translations will be more consistent if your agency no longer has to grope in the dark because the right terminology is missing.” The lady’s facial features become softer. She understands what I’m getting at. “It doesn’t have to be expensive. Of course, this depends on what you want. At a later stage, it could be worthwhile to support the authors with language quality assurance.
And later yet, your terminology can be used to build concept maps.” She laughs: “But that is really still a long way off.” I laugh with her, happy to have given her some food for thought and better language quality.