[IEEE IPCC 2005. Proceedings. International Professional Communication Conference, 2005. - Limerick, Ireland (July 7, 2005)] IPCC 2005. Proceedings. International Professional Communication Conference, 2005. - Communication as a key to global business

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  • 2005 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings

    0-7803-9028-8/05/$20.00 2005 IEEE.

    Communication as a Key to Global Business

    Reinhard Schler Localisation Research Centre

    University of LimerickReinhard.Schaler@ul.ie


    Communication is the tie that binds our global community. It must be conducted in such a way that its content is accessible to all and respectful of local languages and cultures. The idea of English as a lingua franca, as the universal medium of communication among the people of the world, is extremely appealing, but while its role is important, we believe that it is essentially a fallback, a second best. We will maintain that localisation must be the key enabler for making connections in the digital world and will provide arguments based on mainstream localisation practice for those wondering whether they should localise their digital content. We will argue that current mainstream efforts are not enough to deal with the exploding volume of digital content that requires localisation into an ever-growing number of languages. We will put forward a case for a new approach, development localisation, and introduce the Global Initiative for Local Computing (GILC).

    Keywords: localisation, communication, business

    Language Is Communication

    The mission of the technical communicator is to help engineers make the results of their work more accessible to people, using state-of-the-art digital media. The single most important task for technical communicators today is probably to help non-native English speakers communicate technical and scientific information effectively to other non-native speakers using the English language as their medium of communication.

    In a world where people communicate using sophisticated and highly efficient global networks, which make boundaries formerly imposed by time and geography irrelevant, language as the means of

    communication remains as one of the last barriers on the way to global understanding.

    This is so because communication is essentially about making connections between human beings using language, not between digital networks using standard protocols and fibre optic cables.

    To make communication possible in a multilingual, collaborative, global and digital environment, either people need to use a common language when conveying a message (today this is mainly English), or they need to adapt the source language and culture to those of the people they want to communicate with.

    The alternative to teaching English to the world and then having the world communicate in English is the adaptation of what is being communicated to the language and culture prevalent among the people that one wants to communicate with. This includes the provision of services and technologies for the management of multilinguality across the digital, global information flow. In other words, the alternative to the attempt of using a lingua franca for communication is the localisation of its content.

    Whats Wrong with English?

    It could be argued that communication problems related to multilingualism are already solved to a large extent. English has become the language of business, science, and tourism.

    Large multinational companies conduct internal communications through English. For example, Airbus, one of the worlds largest aerospace manufacturers, directly employs some 52,000 people of over 80 nationalities and 20 different languages, and English is the companys working language. [1]


  • 2005 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings

    In the aerospace industry, English is the language most widely used for writing technical documentation. However, it is often not the native language of the readers of such documentation (nor necessarily that of the writers). Many readers have only a limited knowledge of English. They are easily confused by complex sentence structures and by the number of meanings and synonyms that English words can have.

    In the late 1970s, the European Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA), on the request of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), assessed the readability of maintenance documentation in the civilian aircraft industry. The result of this effort was the AECMA Simplified English Guide, now the Specification ASD Simplified Technical English pending.

    The primary aim of AECMA Simplified English is to help non-native-speaker readers of English language documentation in the aerospace sector understand what they read. This approach has been so successful that other non-aerospace industries have adopted the principles of the AECMA Simplified English guide for their own documentation. [2]

    English is the common language of choice not just in science and technology, but also in the tourism sector. No matter whether you are in Asia, the Middle East, the Americas or Europe, chances are that English will help you order a meal, find a hotel or get directions.

    Every day, hundreds of political, technical, business and academic conferences and meetings are held around the world where English native speakers, if present at all, are a minority amongst delegates. Yet, communication is conducted through the universal medium of English.

    English has become the medium of communication in many domains. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that this is so not by choice but out of necessity and due to the lack of an alternative.

    While advances in technology, trade and politics have made the world a smaller place, politics and business remain essentially local. People prefer to communicate in their own language and to conduct business in their own language.

    Its a Buyers Market Willy Brandt, the former German Chancellor, once highlighted the essentially local nature of business, making a strong case for the buyers market: If Im selling to you, I speak your language. If Im buying, dann mssen Sie Deutsch sprechen [then you must speak German].

    Statistics, which show that business users are three times more likely to buy when addressed in their own language, bear out this view. [3]

    International Markets Outstrip the U.S.A.According to Don DePalma, founder and CEO of globalisation analysts Common Sense Advisory,exports and imports in the U.S.A. will make up roughly 20 percent of the gross domestic product in 2005, making globalisation a fact of life for most American workers. [4]

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that world output will increase 4.4 percent in 2005, down slightly from 2004s 4.6 percent. U.S. economic growth this year will slow to 3.9 percent. That means U.S. firms can expect profits from non-American operations to grow between 10 and 15 percent (roughly US$30-45 billion).

    DePalma believes that the economic ascendance of China, India, and Russia, their investment in infrastructure, and their cultivation of consumer societies will make the next generation of the internet a much more cosmopolitan affair with much more participation by Asians, Europeans, and Latin Americansin their own languages and using their own currencies.

    The Language MythIt is widely believed that most of the worlds population speaks English to a degree that allows them to communicate and conduct business with each other in this language. The fact that English is still the dominant language on the web, seems to support this argument.

    On the strength of this argument, digital content was not localised into Indian languages because there was a belief that India was an English speaking countryor that at least those with access to and a need for digital content spoke English. The reality is that around one billion Indians speak close to 2,000 languages, around 20 of them being the official languages of India. In


  • 2005 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings

    fact, only 5% of the Indian population speak English. [5]

    The situation is similar in South Africa where a population of more than 40 million use 11 official languages. English ranks only fifth as a mother tongue and is fully understood by only 22% of the population. [6]

    Even within the European Union with its 380 million citizens and 20 official languages, it has been recognised by policy makers that everyone is entitled to information in their own language. According to the head of the European Union Directorate General Translation, Karl-Johann Loennroth, the possibility of limiting the number of official EU languages can be ruled out. [7]

    While people use, accept, or sometimes just tolerate English as a means of communication, they do so only as long as there is no viable alternative.

    LocalisationOpening Doors to the Digital World

    The localisation industry has claimed to be fundamentally different from everything done prior to its emergence. It is the localisation industry which provides the services and the technology to people who want to communicate with their friends, colleagues, customers and clients in the digital world, not in English, but in their own language and within their own cultural reference system.

    Localisation is like translationbut much more. It is like global marketingbut much broader in its approach. It touches on project management, engineering, quality assurance, and human-computer interface design issues, and covers even aspects of anthropology and international law. In the context of the phenomenal growth of the worldwide web, localisers have even started to debate issues around cultural aspects of localisation.

    In the following section, we will discuss the rationale behind current, mainstream localisation efforts. We will explain why people localise and introduce the three principles of localisation. We will also question whether current, mainstream localisation efforts adequately address current and

    future requirements for multi-language and multi-cultural digital content provision.

    The Rationale In the following section, we will discuss the rationale behind the localisation effort: the emergence of the localisation industry, the reasons to localise, and the three principles of localisation.

    The Emergence of an Industry The localisation industry as we know it today emerged in the mid 1980s. Ireland quickly became one of the world centres of localisation because of the advantage of having English as the dominant language, a highly educated but poorly paid labour force and exceptional government grants and tax incentives for an industry sector working under the label international product development.

    The localisation industry in Ireland was so successful in the nineties that the country became the worlds number one exporter of software, outperforming even the United States of America because seven out the worlds ten largest independent software developers had located their headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) in Ireland, amongst them Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Novell, Symantec, Apple/Claris, and Corel. In 2003, Ireland exported 14 billion worth of software and, according to industry observers, this figure is increasing. [8]

    Between them, they covered a large proportion of the world-wide market for translation and software or web localisation. According to IDC, the global market intelligence and advisory firm in the information technology and telecommunications industries, the revenue for worldwide globalization and localization services will grow from US$3.8 billion in 2000 to US$10.3 billion in 2005. [9]

    An interesting but often overlooked fact is that approximately 95% of all localised products still originate in the USA, where the overwhelming majority of digital publishers now make more money from the sales of their localised products than they make from the sales of the original product.

    Microsoft, for example, has made more than 60% of its revenues from its international operation for years, with the revenue from localised products exceeding US$5 billion. In Ireland alone, Microsoft carries out more than 1,000 localisation


  • 2005 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings

    projects (product/language) per year, bringing in revenues of US$1.9 billion from its international sales in 2001. [10]

    Why Localise? A short survey amongst digital content publishers carried out by the Localisation Research Centre (LRC) seemed to indicate that the business case for localisation is quite straightforwardso straightforward, in fact, that many otherwise sensible business people have not more to say than well, it makes sense or everybodyelse is doing it.

    Even authors of serious business books on globalisation show pictures of web sites such as that in Figure 1 and assert understatedly, If this page were all the information this company offered to world markets, it would not be the third-largest auto manufacturer in the world. [11]

    Other figures often quoted in support of a localisation business case are those in relation to the evolution of the online linguistic populations and global internet statistics by language (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). [12]

    According to IBM, more than two-thirds of todays internet users are outside the United States, and IDC states that fewer than 25% of web users in 2005 live in the United States with more than 70% speaking a primary language other than English. [13]

    Indeed, there seem to be plenty of examples to show that localisation is the route to take if a digital publisher is planning to increase their revenue. As already mentioned, the big three (Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle) make more than 60% of their revenue from international sales. It works for them, so it must work for everybody else.

    What is often forgotten, however, is that these multinational giants have almost two decades of localisation experience behind them; i.e., they started when the world-wide web existed only in scientists dreams and PCs were just about to appear in highstreet shops. During this time, they have not only figured out how to bring their products to international markets efficiently and effectively, they have also made crucial mistakes and learned very expensive lessonslessons, small and medium enterprises and even mid-sized divisions of large multinationals could not afford to take in todays economy.

    Figure 1. Toyota car sales, http://rent.toyota.co.jp

    Figure 2. Online linguistic population, www.global-reach.biz/globstats

    Figure 3. Online language population, www.global-reach.biz/globstats


  • 2005 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings

    Just adding a line item to your budget to cover your localisation costswhich can easily be calculated by multiplying the number of words in your source product with a rate per word and adding a percentage value for project managementno longer works and, perhaps more importantly, will no longer convince senior management to allocate the necessary budget provisions to your division.

    In addition, when making the case for localisation within an organisation, it is crucial to keep in mi...


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