Language Service Providers – A primer

Manoj Tandon

In today’s world of Globalised Businesses an interesting issue is becoming more and more relevant.
It is estimated that there are more than 6000 languages across the world in more than 225+ countries.
If a business is lucky, it will end up operating only in the English speaking world but with the rise of Asia (e.g. China, India etc.) and Europe (Germany, France etc.) even that is becoming a challenging proposition…
If one looks at a micro level, businesses are transacted via telephone conversations, face to face meetings, exchanging of documents, emails, and all other forms of written and verbal form of communication.
The twist in the tale is that all the above happens between people who speak and understand different languages.

Therefore there is a big need for a bridge, a bridge which enables the business entities and its people to successfully communicate with each other.

Herein comes the role (and the business opportunity) of Language Service Providers (LSP).
Now, before we go forward, let me clarify something.

Language Services are not just Translation. The problem with translation is that it does not take into account things like language nuances, local culture, societal norms, colours, images, symbols etc. For example a typical British person will habitually understate things while an American will be more in the face. If the LSP misses this nuance one could land up in serious trouble.

So, what are the types of LSP’s that are there in the market and what are the characteristics of a good Language Services Provider.

Various types of LSP’s that you will see in the market vary from individual free lancers, to Single Language Providers and/or multi-language providers.

As the names suggest, a freelancer works alone and has (typically) expertise in one language. SLSP is a company which has multiple resources/people but they work only for one language pair (source and destination) and a Multiple-Language Vendor (MLV), which provides a wide range of services across multiple languages.
Now, how do you decide which one to go with, simple look for factors like

S.No. Type of LSP Positives Negatives
1. Freelance –      Highly Personalised Service
–      High flexibility in terms of re-work, tweaking the content etc.
–      Typically, freelancers are passionate at what they do, so they take on projects only if they are qualified enough to provide the necessary result. They also bring expertise in their area of work.
–      Very cost effective
–      Too much dependence on one individual
–      Can only handle one language
–      Takes time to find a good one
2. Single Language Service Providers –      High, focussed expertise
–      Relatively more flexible
–      If your need is more than one language, you need to deal with multiple agencies
3. Multi-Language Service Providers –      If you operate in multiple countries, you need skills in different languages hence it is helpful to have the solution under one roof
–      Lot of back-up expertise available within the company
–      People available to do QA of the work done before delivering to client (this is important because the customer may not have the skills to know the quality of Language conversion, specially the nuances)
–      Better equipped to handle large projects
–      Can meet tougher deadlines
–      Because you are one of many customers the attention is not very personalised
–      Likely to be more expensive than the other two options
–      The person who works for you matters, sometimes you end up with relative green horns. Also for next project there is no guarantee that you will get the same person hence the nuanced that you taught the earlier person are lost.

While, one could add many more points to the above, but given below are a few generic points that you need to keep in mind (in addition to the ones mentioned above in the table when determining which type of language service provider is best for your business.

1.      Comfort level
2.      Technical capabilities
3.      Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the Domain the content is in
4.      Linguistic (and other) capabilities
5.      Cost of language service providers

There is no doubt that the need for Language Service Providers has increased substantially. As the world becomes more globalised, this need and thus the business opportunity is only expected to grow.
As it happens whenever an opportunity starts to become seriously large, many players jump in to take advantage of the business opportunity.

In this case also we have individuals, companies and also companies which are trying to create tools to automate the process of Language Services jumping in to grab the business.

As a buyer of such services, one has to understand that while people or companies may claim to offer and benefits which are unbelievable, what is more important is to very clearly understand what do we need and require, in the immediate term, medium term and in the long term. If our needs are only in one language we may be better off by signing up with 1 or 2 freelancers but if our language management requirements keep changing with times, we may be better off engaging a company which can modify its solution based on our changing needs.

The key here is to know what is required and necessary for our business and not what is being offered.

About the Author :
Manoj holds a Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and PGDM from the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow. He has over 32 years of experience in the IT industry. A large part of his professional experience has been in leadership positions, rendering Technical and Strategic Leadership to software organizations at the level of Managing Partner, Member of the Board etc. During his career he has lived and worked in UK, Europe, US and India. He is an avid writer having written for newspapers and publications like Economic Times, Business Standard etc. Manoj also has been involved in Academics for quite some time. As a guest faculty he has taught in IIM, IIT etc. and has been a member of the Academic Advisory Board of many institutes. At present he is the CEO of TMTC, a leading business consulting company.

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