Magazine article Information Today

Multilingual Content: Challenges and Solutions

Magazine article Information Today

Multilingual Content: Challenges and Solutions

Article excerpt

In a world of increasing global connections, the concept of providing multilingual solutions for information users sounds as though it's plain common sense. However, the challenges inherent in doing so, not to mention the scope of what a truly globalized solution comprises, means that this is not a project to tack on when everything else on the to-do list has been checked off.

Mary Laplante, vice president and lead analyst for Outsell, Inc.'s Gilbane Services, says, "The core issue has always been the recognition that globalization is a strategic, not a tactical, challenge." But that's not all. "It's easy to fall prey to Language Afterthought Syndrome," in which content translations and design modifications for multilingual users come only at the very end of a product design process and fall short of expectations. The same might be said for information centers that consider the ability to provide multilingual content as a nice-to-have option rather than a core competency.

The good news is that over the past few years, there have been technical advances in translation tools and vendor solutions to make it easier than ever for information professionals to serve multilingual content to domestic and international users alike. But providing truly globalized information services and support still requires ingenuity. "If I were a forward thinking librarian," says Laplante, "I'd really be thinking about the gap between user requirements for globalization and where the vendors are, and how I can fill it."

More Languages, Less Time

According to a 2Q 2011 member survey by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), an industry association for companies that specialize in language and translation services/technologies, the demand for language services and language tools continues to climb, with 57% of respondents reporting an increase in demand over the past 3 months, which is even higher than the 51% who reported increased demand for 1Q 2011.

A number of drivers point to the need for organizations to get more agile with international content issues. One driver is the increasingly global nature of the economy, in which organizations that once served primarily domestic customers are now a mouse click away from international users and the sales they represent. Information gathering for decision making (whether it involves competitor activity, product research, or marketing initiatives) must include accurate and credible information on local markets, which may only be available in local language.

The pace of change and ongoing weakness in the global economy mean that decision makers are looking for real-time insights on developments in overseas markets, regardless of the language in which those developments are reported. The ability to discern meaning quickly from local-language news sources or databases can spell significant competitive advantage. "It all comes back to flexibility," says Laplante. "You have to be ready to capitalize on what is happening in emerging markets and be tuned in to identify new opportunities quickly, even if they're not in your language."

Angus Davidson, regional managing director for Asia Pacific & the Americas for Bureau van Dijk (BvD), which provides company information and business intelligence for 90 million companies worldwide, says, "If you're an American oil and gas company, your peer group is no longer just [the] major listed U.S. companies. It includes oil producers in Vietnam, Australia, and China."

Even for organizations that still serve a largely domestic user population, it's a population that may be growing increasingly diverse. Alla Makeeva-Roylance, senior librarian at the Multilingual Center of the Brooklyn Public Library, works with a staff of five librarians and two clerks who speak a total of seven languages fluently, plus three more in a pinch. They provide circulating collections in about 20 languages and a reference collection (primarily dictionaries) in about 70 languages. …

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