Category Archives: Translation

c-suite podcast show 18 – World Public Relations Forum Special II

++Please subscribe, rate and review the c-suite podcast series on iTunes to help us up the charts++

Last week, I recorded show 18 of the csuite podcast, the second in the series of specials that I’m producing on behalf of the World Public Relations Forum, which takes place in Toronto from May 29th to 31st and that I’m looking forward to attending.

Ezri Carlebach, Consultant, Lecturer and Senior Associate at the PR Network and Arun Sudhaman, President and Editor-in-Chief of The Holmes Report, were with me in the studios of markettiers and joining us on the line from Brazil was Paulo Henrique Soares, Director of Corporate Communications for Brazilian mining giant Vale.  There was a good connection between on all three of my guests as Paulo and Ezri had met before through the International Association of Business Communicators, whilst Arun’s publication had included Paulo in their Influence 100 list of in-house communicators around the world.

Once again, we got through a lot of topics, including:

  1. Challenges in Internal Communications across countries and cultures
  2. The work of Geert Hofstede
  3. The Holmes Report’s Influence 100 list
  4. Benefits of attending global conferences and winning awards
  5. Podcasting
  6. Global Communications Report
  7. Design Thinking

The main areas of discussion though, were around Paulo’s keynote presentation and Ezri’s workshop that they will be delivering at the conference in May.

We began the show discussing how Paulo deals with the challenges he faces in communicating to the 110,000+ employees and third party contractors that work for Vale across 27 countries, a large number of whom aren’t desk based but will be working in a mine, on the railroad or in the ports.

He explained that the first thing they have to overcome is the different languages that are spoken across the company and they do that by creating everything in Brazil using Brazilian Portuguese and English, and then allow the local teams to translate and adapt the content for their local languages.

Paulo then went on to talk about how those working in Internal Communications have to understand how people from different cultures want to react with their organisation and like to receive information in different ways, quoting the work for Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, who said that there are four dimensions to national cultures:

  1. individualism-collectivism
  2. uncertainty avoidance
  3. power distance (strength of social hierarchy)
  4. masculinity-femininity (task orientation versus person-orientation)

When doing my own research, I discovered a great resource, The Hofstede Centre, which is worth checking out if you want to find out more about this topic of the impact of cultural differences.

Paulo continued by saying that Brazilians or Latin people prefer more interaction and face to face communication and respect hierarchy much more than other countries and so he has to take things like this into account when delivering information.

Ezri added about the need to use visual communications in internal comms to get consistent messages across different languages and cultures, which Paulo said they use a lot of, but that they have a very strong mix of tools and delivery methods, including intranet, printed and email newsletters, digital, mobile apps, one minute podcasts, TV screens on boats that some employees use to get to work and even paid for billboards where they know around 8000 of their employees could be travelling past each day to get to the mines, for example. However, he explained that when it comes to images in particular, they also encourage their local teams to replace the imagery to suit their market, changing photos of employees on documentation, for example, to suit the right countries.

Paulo also explained how they train their managers around the world in a similar manner to media training, but instead for talking to the employees, as through research they have found that most employees prefer to receive information face to face. Vale have built, what they call, ‘The Leadership Hub’, which is online and is there to support this area, providing managers with the tools to communicate to their teams, including using videos and presentations.

The mention of podcasts led us on to a quick discussion about how we are listening to more of them, and in fact Arun produces his own one called The Echo Chamber, which I’ve recently subscribed to on itunes.  The topic of podcasting was actually covered in detail in Show 13 and is well worth a listen if you missed it!

Bringing the chat back to the World Forum, we then talked about the Global Communications Report that Arun explained will be launched by The Holmes Report in Toronto.  The research is being carried out in partnership with a number of organisations, including The Global Alliance and AMEC, but is being led by USC Centre for Public Relations, within the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Arun believes it will be one of, if not the biggest survey of the global public relations industry.

In the final part of the show, we focussed the topic of Ezri’s Forum workshop, Design Thinking, which he explained is a socially embedded practice and something that is high on the agenda of business executives.

Ezri referred to the Harvard Business Review from September 2015 (right), which explained that executives are using Design Thinking to devise strategy and manage change, being driven by a number of reasons, including the fact that businesses know they need to attract talent from a new generation that possibly thinks in different ways and that are also used to different types of attributes, particularly at work.  For example, younger pople are looking for ‘purpose’ from the companies they choose to work for, i.e. why is the business doing something, as opposed to wanting the huge salary package or the job security.

For anyone looking to read up on this topic, it was covered in an article in The Holmes Report about The Creativity in PR Study, but as well as the Harvard Business review above, Ezri pointed listeners to few sites:

If you are interested in getting involved in this series, whether as a guest or as a sponsor, please do get in touch using the contact form on the show website.

You can also keep the conversation going on twitter around these podcasts using #csuitepodcast and around the World PR Forum using #WPRF2016.

Is there enough Global Talent to support the demands of international clinical trials?

I was recently asked to write an article for International Clinical Trials Magazine discussing how the continuing globalisation of clinical trials and concerns over translation quality points to wider problems for companies that operate worldwide.

The questioned asked was ‘Will future talent entering the industry have the language skills and cultural experiences to bring a competitive advantage?’

Here’s my response …

Q) When is a clinical trial not a clinical trial?

A) When it is a clinical study, or perhaps a clinical research study. Although in Dutch, all three are the same – or to be precise, they are all translated as ‘klinisch onderzoek’.

And therein lies the issue. Two words combined can mean one thing in one language, yet in English could be described in three different ways.

So with clinical trials increasingly run on an international basis, involving many different territories simultaneously, imagine the difficulty a trial administrator must have ensuring the quality of the translations that they are responsible for when working ‘blind’– without the specific knowledge of the target languages.

Naturally, no one administrator can be expected to know every language that they are having to translate and localise their documents into, while also taking into account cultural nuances. In fact, some trials could require 500 to 750 different documents translated into as many as 50 languages. It is no wonder, therefore, that most translations are outsourced to language service providers (LSPs). However, the quality of the work can vary massively, often resulting in poor translations that have to be corrected in-house – and leading to additional costs and delays for the pharmaceutical company or CRO.

This might be quite an extreme requirement in terms of the need for an understanding of languages, but the lack of language skills and cultural awareness is a growing concern in many organisations that operate globally.

Multicultural Concerns
A recent study of UK-based business leaders by translation agency, Conversis, together with a separate survey of US based Hiring Managers by the Joint National Committee for Languages – National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), shows that many companies are finding it hard to operate internationally because they cannot find new staff who can speak other languages. Two in five (39.5%) of UK respondents went so far as to say that a lack of cultural understanding among their newest employees had resulted in lost business opportunities – a figure close to the 36% of those respondents from medical-related industries who said the same.

[Download the Global Talent Report]

The majority of respondents to the research put this issue down to education, with 76% of those based in large UK businesses (with over 250 employees) worried that many young adults’ perspectives or educational experiences are not broad enough to operate in a multicultural economy.

Higher Education
These findings were made even more significant considering that, as reported in The Guardian, the UK’s 2015 GSCE school exam results confirmed the number of students taking modern languages had dropped significantly. Only 302,500students took a language GCSE in 2015, compared with 321,000 in 2014 and around 332,000 in 2013, with entries dropping for French (down 6.2%), German (9.2%) and Spanish(2.4%).

In fact, more than 84% of the UK respondents to the Conversis research believe colleges and universities should do more to help young adults think more globally. However, as recently as August 2015, according to The Sixth Form Colleges Association, sixth-form colleges in England have had to cut the number of foreign language courses they offer because of financial pressures, and A-levels in modern languages have been reduced in more than a third of colleges.

Meanwhile, some 70% of respondents to the North American study by JNCL-NCLIS indicated that higher education in the US needs to do more to prepare graduates in terms of language skills and multicultural experience too. This lack of ‘global talent’ – professionals in all disciplines who have a high level of language proficiency and/or significant experience abroad – is creating an issue for those UK and North American businesses seeking recruits to better manage the increasing diversity of their workforces, and to design and market their services and products to multilingual and multicultural audiences in their respective countries and abroad.

Discussing the Findings
When it comes to recruitment, Chris Eastwood, Director of Clinical Operations at PRA feels that the interview processes in most organisations are also too focused on verbal skills, and do not then test written skills. He believes that often written media – for example, emails – are actually the most common communication format, and so we should not assume the same level of competency as verbal. Eastwood comments: “Ironically, written can frequently be much stronger as people use that daily more than they speak English.”

Dr Nitish Singh, Associate Professor at Boeing Institute of International Business, School of Business, Saint Louis University, says that the findings of Conversis’ report did not come as a surprise to him, but was another affirmation of the fact that importance of ‘language and culture’ will continue to increase in an ever diverse global marketplace. He states that “globalisation has led to an increased exposure to people, practices and institutions across the world”. This is exactly thecase now with clinical trials. Dr Singh also takes the view that cross-national differences in ways of thinking, communicating and behaving have the potential to create misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Trial Management
This issue is, of course, extremely important for whoever is managing an international clinical trial, as they should know exactly what is involved to ensure their translations are right first time – whether that process is managed in house, or the decision is made to work with an LSP.

Firstly, the ISO-recognised translation process comprises translation and then revision by a second independent linguist, with any disputed translations resolved by the LSP. Further optional steps include a second revision, in-country client review and back translation, although the latter can double the costs of a project without necessarily improving the quality of the original translation.

In addition, there is often the need for a review by an ethics committee; but, while this can remove some errors, it can introduce spelling or grammar errors, too. Any ethics committee or client changes should be sent back to the original translators to be checked again.

Further quality can be built into the process by using qualified translators with relevant medical expertise and using skilled linguists as project managers. Consistency can be improved by using the same translator for the whole project although, depending on the size of the documentation, this may sometimes be hard to implement. Translation memories can therefore help here, as well as saving time and money.

Finally, as discussed, with complex projects potentially requiring 500-plus documents in more than 50 languages, there should be a strong version control and tracked changes within the workflow system.

Global Expectations
Dr Singh believes foreign language and inter cultural skills are the key to avoiding cultural miscommunications, and that a lack of them is not a superfluous issue that business professionals and policy-makers could afford to continue to ignore. His view is that from a policy perspective, countries need to invest in educating their youth in cross-cultural competence skills, wherein foreign language proficiency should not only be desirable, but mandatory. As Dr Singh explains:“Today’s competitive advantage rests on the ability to effectively deal with diverse global expectations, and the role of language and culture is at the heart of it.”

Communication let me down

[an edited version of this post was first published on PRMoment.com]

If you’re looking to expand your business internationally, or are working for clients that already trade outside the UK, then you might want to pay attention to a new report that shows that British businesses are losing out because they have a lack of language skills and cultural awareness within their organisations.

The report is the result of work that I carried out for translation and localisation agency Conversis, since writing my post on the importance of getting the language right in international PR campaigns back in April.

Within that blog post, I referred to the fact that in the lead up to the General Election, the word ‘language’ appeared just once in the Conservative Party manifesto and not at all in Labour’s, this despite the fact that Baroness Coussins, chair of the APPG for Modern Languages, had previously said that the UK economy was losing around £50 billion a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce.

Conversis therefore wanted to look into the importance that the c-suites of UK businesses, that are currently or looking to operate internationally, put on Cultural Awareness within their organisations, together with the impact the current state of play has on enhancing their performance and competitiveness.

What we weren’t expecting though, was quite how much of an impact the lack of these skills were having on their trading opportunities.

One in four companies in the UK that currently, or are looking to, operate internationally said they had lost business opportunities because of a lack of foreign language skills, with two in five saying a lack of cultural understanding among their newest employees has resulted in the same.

Two thirds of senior UK directors at those businesses are worried that many young adults’ perspectives or educational experiences are not broad enough to operate in a multicultural economy.

With my own daughter starting university just last week, I was pleased to hear that she was considering chosing an additional language option with her course, especially as the research found that two thirds of respondents to the survey look for new college hires and graduates with first language competency other than English that can connect them to new markets. A similar number values those with the ability to speak other languages that are critical for their business’ economic growth and this percentage is also the case for those that say they would hire multilingual candidates over those who lack a second language. 61.5% also said they give an advantage to candidates with international experience and 64% to those with multicultural experience.

Gary Muddyman, CEO of Conversis, said “I believe the recent push to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects at school should be changed to STEM-L, to include languages too. The global economy and the Internet have changed the expectation of consumers across the world and we are now in a period of transition. The UK is falling behind the trend which will ultimately lead to a lack of competitiveness. Consumers are ten times more likely to buy goods or services if addressed in their own language, irrespective of their own linguistic skills. If we are not addressing our overseas customers in their own tongue we reduce the likelihood that they will buy from us.”

Glen Richardson the CMO of Fruugo.com, a global marketplace selling 1.3m products in 33 countries, added “Fruugo.com exists because consumers want to buy products from retailers around the world and the majority of retailers don’t have either the technology, skills or knowledge in-house to fulfil global demand. Not only are there language, currency and payment barriers to overcome but also the cultural marketing know-how to attract and convert shoppers to buy. We solve these issues technologically as well as employing foreign staff with the appropriate skills and languages to service both shoppers and retailers in foreign countries.”

As I wrote in that previous post, getting the language right when communicating internationally can make a huge difference to the success of your PR campaign.  That said, I don’t even understand the lyrics of Spandau Ballet’s 1983 classic ‘Communication’, and they were written in English!

The ‘Importance of global talent within international businesses’ report can be downloaded for free from Conversis.com

Do you speak Human?

Theories suggest that the myriad of global languages might one day die out – spelling the decline of translation and localisation services. But for now, these businesses provide critical support to CROs engaged in trials, although technology is changing the stakes.

The 50th Drug Information Association (DIA) conference that took place recently in San Diego, California, encouraged delegates to ‘celebrate the past and invent the future’. But by inventing the future, could we be consigning ourselves to the past?

Invention is what drives the human race forward. It is what sets us apart from other species and brings with it untold benefits.  Yet, for some, invention also creates fear for their own basic needs – there is concern that new technologies, for example, will replace their jobs and livelihoods.

This dilemma is, of course, nothing new. Some 50 years ago, when the first-ever DIA conference was being planned, the same concern was highlighted on the cover of LIFE magazine (July 1963), with the headline ‘Point of no return for everybody’ stating that ‘Automation’s really here; jobs go scarce’.

However, according to industry trend-spotter and futurologist, Magnus Lindkvist, the ‘will our jobs disappear?’ question is not necessarily something that should be tied to technology, but perhaps more to the underlying economic climate of the time.  Lindkvist believes that, while technology will replace the jobs that are highly repetitive and consist of boring tasks that can easily be automated, it can also be viewed as an enabler and empowerer. So it may be accused of stealing some jobs, but other roles will emerge in its wake.

Language Prediction

One such industry that has seen huge changes over the last 50 years is that of translation and localisation. According to applied futurist, Tom Cheesewright, the emergence of tools such as Google Translate could see a lingua franca – a bridge language – begin to emerge. He takes the view that as new words are created, they will spread like memes across the connected globe, becoming established in each language before local equivalents can be created.

But could we ever see a future where, if aliens landed on our planet 100 years from now, they could find us speaking only one language, Human? This is Cheesewright’s prediction, arguing that technology – in particular, the internet – is helping to break down the barriers, such as language and currencies, that once divided people.

He says that, just as disruptive finance businesses like PayPal have made the movement of money across borders easier – enabling everyone to forget what currency their partner was dealing in – languages will follow the same path.

Similarly to national currencies, Cheesewright believes that different languages will disappear from our daily lives over the next century. While they will not stop being used altogether, as technology abstracts us away from the complexity of translation, we will begin to forget that such great differences ever existed.

Business Impact

Exciting? Far fetched? Whichever way you look at it, it could be worrying for a business that services the CRO sector by supplying translation and localisation services. The implication is that such companies might become obsolete.

However, Gary Muddyman, Chief Executive Officer of Conversis Medical, is reassured that Cheesewright’s prediction means there is still a market for companies such as his, for the short to medium term at least. This confidence is, in part, because of the industry’s ongoing focus on emerging markets such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where the population is expected to reach 598 million by 2050. More than 1,000 different languages are spoken in Africa alone, and it is estimated that up to 7,000 languages are spoken around the world.

A recent white paper published by Quintiles stated that, while the MENA region (excluding Israel) currently hosts only about 0.4% of clinical trial sites and patients, its percentage of global clinical trial patient-related R&D spend could increase by a factor of 8-10 in the next decade – building an annual market of around $1 billion.

Translation and localisation therefore becomes a vital part of the clinical trial process. As Ann Van Dessel, Head of Global Clinical Operations at Janssen Research & Development, explains: “It is very important that we provide high-quality translations so the information is understandable and clear for patients participating in the study. As required, we submit the translations to regulatory authorities and independent ethics committees for review. These steps help ensure patients have appropriate information to guide their decisions.”

Human Survival

Muddyman also believes that, while the process of converting content from one language to another will get more automated, it will never completely replace humans. “Things will evolve, they will change, and faster, more accurate, effective and cheaper translations will always be the challenge. But humans and machines will continue to co-exist, and I think we will continue to have a viable business for the foreseeable future,” he says.

Tahar Bouhafs, Chief Executive Officer of Common Sense Advisory, agrees. “Machine translation can be used as a pre-translation step to help speed up the work of human translators, but there is no evidence that the technology will ever eliminate the need for human editing or translation.” Bouhafs adds that: “No information publisher can afford the business risk of unedited machine output. The financial and brand damage that ensues from mistranslation is already a significant liability, even with fully vetted human translation.”

Matthew McCarty, Senior Director, Health Engagement and Communications at Quintiles, thinks that use of language is only part of the challenge when localising information for a clinical trial, all of which is vital to help accelerate the study’s timeline. The visuals used in patient recruitment materials, for instance, can be just as crucial in ensuring the right image is used in context of the cultural characteristics within the region you are working.

He uses differences in healthcare in the US and India as an example: the latter is much more about a relationship with your doctor who may have looked after your family for years, compared to what could be seen as the competitive nature of how medical advice is provided in the US.

Specialist Roles

But what of the future of language and translation services in particular? Muddyman disagrees with the notion that languages will continue to die out and that global communications will become homogenised. In his view, technology will allow us to protect and evolve minority languages, like many of those spoken in certain MENA countries. However, Cheesewright states that “the intermediaries will come first, who will insulate us from each other’s languages, seamlessly translating one to another”. Of course, technologies will only get faster and more nuanced as the inexorable, exponential advance of computing power continues.

There is, however, room for optimism. Lindkvist believes jobs will simply evolve. He says there will be fragmentation of roles that will include specialist translators within the medical industry. Such a move has already been taken by Conversis, which has recently employed a scientist, Dr Mark Hooper, to oversee translation projects specific to the pharmaceutical market. This optimises workflow by ensuring that medical terminology is translated correctly – something that machines can only do a certain percentage of, and that human translators would, understandably, not be aware of, being language experts rather than medical specialists.

Dion Wiggins, Asia Online CEO, believes it is ‘smart’ of Conversis to have recruited Dr Hooper.  He said that having someone who can optimise the workflow and understand the issues is key, as that will then enable you to do things you would otherwise not be able to do.  It’s the same reason he brought in Professor Phillip Koehn as his company’s Chief Scientist.   Koehn was the 2013 European Patent Office European Inventor of the Year Runner Up with his advanced method of automated computer translation.

Different Thinking

With all this thought about how technology can improve our lives, it is also important to remember how new inventions come about. Lindkvist uses the example of the aeroplane. He explains that for a long time in the late 1800s, we tried to make machines fly by imitating birds – but, of course, the flapping mechanical ‘wings’ did not work as they were unable to generate the lift required. It was only when looking at other dynamics that the likes of the Wright Brothers started to see progress, eventually leading to their first flight in 1903.

Lindvkvist therefore says that when we ask the question whether technology can do human activity ‘x’, we are usually posing the wrong question. Arguably, it does not need to be done in the same way. So, in terms of translation, perhaps we should stop trying to teach machines to ‘flap their wings’. Lindkvist also reminds us that some of our most valuable discoveries, particularly in the pharma industry, are the results of mistakes or by-products, citing penicillin and Viagra as two classic examples.

While the pharma industry cannot afford any mistakes, Lindkvist makes an important point that language is often about interpretation and ensuring we engage the audience who is reading or listening to us. McCarty stresses, for example, that when Quintiles prepares materials for adult patients in a clinical trial, it aims for a reading age of 10-12 years old so as not to exclude people. Similarly, it would not look to make its visuals too scientific as otherwise potential patients will not understand them, which would ultimately impact on patient safety.

Local Delivery

But it is not always about literal translation, as Angela Radcliffe, Vice President and Director of Clinical Trials at Vio Global, advises. She believes that localisation is just as important in the delivery of a project; without foregoing quality, this can mean a difference of millions of dollars to the pharma company developing a new drug. You cannot translate conceptual nuances, she says. Similar to McCarty’s view, Radcliffe makes the point that we need to take account of cultural differences when presenting information in different territories.

One area where this is becoming increasingly important is social media, where consumers – in particular, patients or sufferers of diseases – look to pharma companies for immediate information. Radcliffe says that while the public may tolerate some mistakes on social media, the pharma industry simply cannot afford to make any. According to Van Dessel, the important message her company’s founder, Dr Paul Janssen, gave was “the patients are waiting”.

She adds: “That sense of urgency inspires us to get our medicines to patients, regardless of where they are, as fast as we can. Bringing a medicine to market faster can have a significant financial impact for our company, but what is most important is the difference it can make in the life of a patient.”

Evolving Approach

According to Wiggins, at present 50-70% of machine-translated documents will not be changed by humans, but to get to a point where humans are not needed to translate at all, we will need machines to understand and think. At the moment, machines learn patterns and then repeat them.

Automation is a must for companies translating huge documents. One of Asia Online’s clients has 1.1 billion words translated every day, and Wiggins predicts that leading language service providers to CROs, such as Conversis Medical, will soon be translating more content in one year than in the previous five years combined.

However, even as technology develops over the next 30-50 years, Wiggins still believes humans will do a better job in many areas – machines will not out-think a human. In addition, Muddyman agrees that companies like his will need to evolve with better segmentations and analysis of the roles of humans and machines in their processes. It may therefore be some time before Cheesewright’s prediction of one global human language comes true.

This article first appeared in International Clinical Trials, November 2014.