Being a native English speaker in a German international company, I have noticed that my colleagues use Google Translate to cope with international business correspondence more and more every day. Well, and also to cope with working with me, as my Deutsch is schlecht and I therefore only write in English. As well that means I need to use Google Translate to deal with internal memos and just about any instance where I am cc’d – when there are 5 people on the email loop and I am the only one who doesn’t read German, the language of the majority typically prevails.
Because we are the only non-American company in the top 5 in our industry, and we make complex electronic medical devices, that also means we have had to build up a substantial language services department with a comprehensive translation database and software, because our industry is so specialized that none else can really do an appropriate translation of our technical manuals other than us.
However, being translators and writers is NOT our core competence and often I shake my head at how much effort we need to put into this area of our work. It is the combination of these factors that got me to thinking…
Co-sharing is a big topic in Berlin right now - especially in the startup scene, maybe even the world. The focus is on sharing space, which is creates an environment conducive to so much more, but in any case sharing is sharing and that is the source of my inspiration. I also recently read a book about Google’s strategy, “What would Google do?” by Jeff Jarvis, and a phrase from the author has really stuck to my mind: do what you do best, and link to the rest. Open source info, sharing, transparency, collaboration the whole win-win paradigm has exploded in the last couple years, and is on a track to fundamentally change every business, economic, nonprofit – every – model in the world (in my humble opinion).
So, why not apply this to translations? I searched a bit (on Google) to see if such a specific ”Translate” project existed, and I came up with zilch. Well not exactly zilch, as they have something called “Upload your Translation Memory“, but it is sort of cryptic and is definitely not something any company would self-initiate. Google does have a different approach to creating translations, which in fact would perfectly align with this idea. Right now they search books, materials from organizations like the UN, and general websites around the world in order for their computer to learn how to get better and better at translating. They would now just need to find a way to actively target and collect specialized sources of translation know-how. And they do sell a translation program for companies, but I can guarantee that it is woefully inadequate to cope with the jargon we need to accommodate.
Imagine, if my company agreed to hand over all of our proprietary translation know-how for our industry, and companies in every other industry did the same. For none of us is this a core competence that provides any real competitive advantage, so what is the sense in keeping it? Google would then have the collective know-how and resources to really develop its translation capabilities into something awesome – and far more accurate for specialized industries than what is currently offered.
I am having visions of Google eventually being able to create flawless realtime Star Trek Universal Translator technology which they seem to be trying to get to anyway...(no Trekkie jokes please ). And all Google has to do to achieve this, is let their co-sharing partners in specialized industries get access to the translation services, current and future, for free in exchange for their expertise.