How a Latin American translation agency managed to stay alive in the hurricane of post-modernityfev 28 2023
Our Brazilian translation company was established in 1985, initially working only with translation from English to Portuguese. One of our first clients, who is still our client to this day, was HP.
We provided translation services for other global companies as well, such as Sega, Kodak and Xerox, but our clients were the Brazilian subsidiaries of these companies. Translation was still basically a local business.
In 1994, HP started working with a multilingual agency based in the United States. That agency sent HP´s Portuguese translations to us, thus becomig our first international client. That was our first step into the arising global translation market.
Until then, the only software tools used by translators were software packages for communication and text editing. However, in 1998, Symantec Ireland, our second international client, announced that it would begin using a certain new system called “Trados”, and that we would need to learn how to use that tool. So, off I went for a training in Dublin, returning to Brazil as one of the first professionals in our country able to operate a translation memory tool (see our article on translation memory).
At the end of the 1990s, we started to work with several other multilingual translation agencies based in the USA and the United Kingdom. Many of them were still small companies, where the owners were also project managers.
And what was project management like at our company in those days? It was simple. Our clients would just send us the files to be translated, in their original formats, and we would create the projects in Trados, manage the translation memories for each client, and return the translated files.
I’ll mention something now that I will resume at the end of the article:
Twenty years ago, the workflow for our projects was entirely established by us. We followed our own work methods.
Two decades have passed. What has happened to the global translation market since then?
- In addition to translation memory tools, automated translation has also taken an important place in the market, leading to a reduction in costs.
- Most global companies have now their translations done by multilingual agencies (see our article on translation in the post-modern world).
- A strong economic concentration is taking place among multilingual agencies, with smaller agencies being bought up by large groups.
- In the countries where the global companies sell their products, the multilingual agencies have partnerships with freelance translators or local agencies to whom they outsource the translations for the local languages.
For the multilingual agencies, each of the options mentioned above has its advantages and disadvantages:
- By establishing partnership with freelance translators, an agency has suppliers with a lower nominal cost. On the other hand, a given professional may not be available when a job comes in, so each new job has to be negotiated individually. And it is also necessary to have some quality control over the work that is done. All of this increase internal operational costs.
- Having a partnership with a reliable local agency, the multilingual company just hands off the job estating delivery date and instructions, and receives the deliverables. No special quality control is required. The management cost decreases.
Each multilingual agency has to evaluate the positives and negatives of these solutions and make a choice. For the agencies that began working with us in the 1990s and 2000s, the clear option was the second one, which is proven by the fact that they are still our clients.
And what have these changes meant to agencies like ours? I would cite the following main points:
- The profile of our typical client has changed radically. Today we have few direct clients in Brazil. The overwhelming majority of our clients are global multilingual agencies.
- Our project managers have become specialized in working with their colleagues at multilingual agencies. They are already familiar with the kinds of problems their colleagues face and are proactive in helping them handle them.
- And here I return to what I previously stated in bold about work methods. Each multilingual agency has its own tools and it own workflow. Some use SDL tools, others use memoQ, Déjà Vu or Word Fast. Some use on-line translation platforms like Wordbee. Others use management platforms like Plunet. Each one has a machine translation engine of choice. We have to integrate with its workflows as smoothly as possible. The result is that a company like ours no longer follows one single workflow. What we do is learn the tools of each of our clients so that we are able to fit into their respective workflows. We’ve become specialists at using a variety of tools and following different methods.
This is how we’ve managed to weather the hurricane of the last few decades. We’ve developed the ability to adapt ourselves to our client´s varied processes, interacting seamlessly with them. From the vantage point of the project managers, it has simply worked out well and they want to keep working with us.
So, that’s it. I’ve told our story. It’s not easy to survive in the dangerous ocean of post-modernity, but, so far, we’ve managed to stay afloat for 37 years.
Marcos Chiquetto is an engineer, Physics teacher, translator, and writer. He is the director of LatinLanguages, a Brazilian translation agency specialized in providing multilingual companies with translation into Portuguese and Spanish.