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in Localization

The Cinderella of the Industry

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We are the Cinderella of the industry—this is how I often define our company when I speak about how companies (especially manufacturing ones) relate to translation agencies. Just like the fairytale character, we are often underestimated, and overloaded with a great number of tasks to complete in little time.

Based on my experience working in the Italian industry, this relation between client and supplier is a consequence of the lack of knowledge of how translations are performed, and how they can be beneficial. In other words, I believe that people underestimate the value of translations because our product is an industrial niche and they simply don’t have all the information to understand it.

Often, people underestimate all the work behind a translation, especially when it comes to marketing texts. For this reason, many think that they can simply achieve on their own where a professional translator spends many hours on. For each translation-educated customer, there are ten who don’t understand why they should translate professionally and thus believe that they can manage on their own.

Some time ago, we got a request for Chinese language classes for Italian sales representatives. The goal was to enter the Chinese market and sell their products there. We suggested investing in translations and scheduling a couple of cultural and marketing consultancy meetings. Initially, they refused, as they didn’t see the need for it. “Our product is so widely spread and people use it almost daily, so there is no need to explain it further” and “internally we have a person who speaks English, so we can translate it into English and do it internally” were some of their reasons. While developing their marketing strategy for the Chinese market, they decided to write the name of the company in Chinese characters in order to make the brand “understandable.” '

Unfortunately, rather than seeking our help, they translated the name on their own. In the end, they had the name in characters, but the brand name itself was completely lost. Their name—which in Italian was reminiscent of the production of iron—was replaced with words like drag, diminish, and door. Clearly, they wrongly believed that a two-word brand could be easily translated using the internet. Only after explaining the result of their translation did they grasp the extent of the consequences by entering their new market with such a name. This is an example of a situation where people don’t see the bigger picture and focus solely on saving some money now, rather than investing it for a better result later. Because of their lack of experience with translations, they think that anybody with a little knowledge of foreign languages can do the job. After that specific episode, my client understood that those few hours of language advice would have cost far less than losing an entire market segment.

I came to realize that, even though we are surrounded by great examples of translations, the situations in which non-industry people relate to them in their daily lives are mostly poor-quality. Therefore, a lot of people come to the conclusion that given the end result, spending money on translations is not worth it. What I mean is that we are constantly surrounded by sponsored ads from international companies that want to sell us their products, and we don’t realize that those commercials have been adapted for each different country to sound appealing in that specific culture. 

When we click on advertisements, we just admire how good the advertisement is, because it made us click on it. We don’t think about the fact that it came from another language and is specifically adapted to fit our language and culture. On the other hand, how many times have you had to build something in your home, but had serious problems understanding the instructions included in the package? This is one of the most common scenarios that a person brings up when talking about bad quality in relation to translations. Not because this is the only situation that requires translation, but because a multilingual manual triggers the idea that translations exist. Thus, people end up believing that money spent on translations is often wasted.

For many years Italy invested less in innovation and thus ranked lower in technological advancement compared to other countries. Many companies didn’t fully take advantage of their product potential beyond national boundaries and experienced a harsher financial crisis. In the last few years, Italy redeemed itself with a new openness toward internationalization. Thanks to the industry 4.0 trend and with the drive of a growing number new fields of work, there are many more customers with a proactive attitude toward translation. That is, companies actually budget translation expenses during the project phase now. Not only are innovative start-ups experiencing this type of openness, but there are also many big companies that constantly monitor market trends and structure their work based on this. They’ve already changed a lot through the years and are once again trying to change and adapt to the new method of doing business and being competitive as never before. These are the companies that believe that a translation agency can be the right partner to “conquer” the world.

In conclusion, there are so many different Cinderella stories in so many different countries. Each version talks about a gentle but unlucky girl who ended up serving her stepmother and sisters. She worked hard to complete all the tasks and put the needs of others before her own. Although her life is hard, she always smiles and optimistically hopes for her dreams to come true. I must say that many of the older versions of the story ended with a not so happy ending, but I strongly believe in Disney’s magic, so I refuse to look at things negatively. To this day, I still think that translation agencies are Cinderellas—we work a lot, we are under a lot of pressure, and we help others achieve their goals. As I said, I believe in happily ever afters, and although we struggle a lot and are often misunderstood, for all these years, I wished for a type of customer who would understand the importance of translations. Although I can’t say that they all do, I can definitely say that that wish is coming true. 

Passion for languages and cultures is her distinctive feature. She understands and speaks many languages and she is always looking for new ones to learn. Interested in studying how cultures are reflected in languages, cooking and movies, she is the one to turn to in case of doubts on Asian ingredients or Star Wars localization issues. After graduating in 2011 in Comparative languages and cultures at the University of San Francisco, she immediately felt the desire to transform her craving for knowledge and her love for languages in a life mission and founded Athena Parthenos, her translation agency based in Porcia, Italy. Mirroring the characteristics of its founder, Athena aims not only at providing traditional translation services, but also at including a cultural approach to linguistic interactions, which is the real Art of Translation.
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