2M CEO Tea Dietterich on the Translation Services Industry in Australia

Tea Dietterich 2M Language Services CEO

Tea Dietterich, CEO of 2M Language Services, joined SlatorPod at the beginning of November to talk about the language services market in Australia.

Tea shared her journey from establishing her business in Australia 21 years ago to the geographic outreach it now has and the emergence of RSI and VRI in the day to day work.

She also discussed the top translation and interpreting drivers, from the public and private sectors to the Cultural and Linguistic Diverse (CALD) communities. Tea’s segment begins at 22:45.

First off, Florian discussed Smartcat’s Series B funding, and Esther talked about the promising earnings updates from language service providers Straker Translations in New Zealand, and Honyaku Center in Japan. She also shared the latest increasing figures from the language industry job index.


Florian: We are here with Tea Dietterich, CEO of 2M Language Services. Tell us a little bit more about your background and how you ended up in such a great place? 

Tea: I was born in Finland and grew up in Germany. I lived in Florida in the eighties where I got a scholarship from the American Congress and the German Bundestag. I studied at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz at the renowned faculty for Applied Linguistics. That is where I studied translation and interpreting, so I am a trained translator and interpreter. 

Florian: What about Australia? 

Tea: It was 1997, I was in Brussels interpreting for politicians going to Sydney leading up to the Olympic games. I went and worked for the German Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce and was in charge of German-Australian Olympic events for translation and interpreting. Back in 97, Sydney was the place to be. This is how I came to Australia and very soon after in 1999, I registered the business name. It was called Multimedia Language Service because multimedia was a cool keyword back then. I was translating from CD ROMs, which was very high tech at that time. I started my business in the back of my bedroom with a laptop.

Florian: The two M’s stands for multimedia? 

Tea: Multimedia is one and very soon I realized that it is not only about translation, what we call today, transcreation. I understood soon that people do not really care about having anything translated, what they care about is the impact. They want to enter a market, it gives them access to information in another language. That is what counts. At that time it was marketing, so that is where 2M came from. We were Multimedia Language and Marketing for many years, until 2011 when we rebranded to 2M. 

Esther: What is the core offering now of 2M and what are some of the most important clients segments for you?

Tea: Our verticals are mining, the resources industry, oil and gas, defense, health, medical technology, finance, and manufacturing, and of course the public sector. In terms of expertise, it is the CALD translations. CALD is the culturally and linguistically diverse community, so that is the public sector, marketing, and technical translation, always subject matter expertise. We do interpreting, media localization, language technologies, but what really stands out is we are specialized in brand emerging languages, so your Pacific Island languages, Bislama, Solomon Island, Pidgin, Tuvaluan, Nauruan, Gilbertese, which is Kiribatese, Marshallese, Tetum, Maori. Then displaced communities between Thailand and Burma, like Rohingya and Hakha Chin, and indigenous ones. These are languages we all do, apart from all the standard languages. 

We are also an English powerhouse in the Oceania region. English is our native language here in Australia and from over a hundred languages we translate into English and because of our location, we are often the night shift for many of these languages. Look at the Australian dollar, which unfortunately for us is quite low at the moment so it is quite competitive as well. You would not believe how much Australian adaptation we do, we also do British adaptation, but into Australian.

Florian: Tell us a bit more about Australian adaptation, in the written form, what would that be? 

Tea: It depends, if there is rhetoric, logically, the language changes, otherwise Australian English is largely British English with some American spelling. Standards change some of the measurements, we take some from the States, some from England. It is unique. If you did not have the budget, you would go with your British English version for Australia but we do a lot of Australian adaptation. 

Esther: Were most of your customers Australia based, or do you have a footprint elsewhere as well? 

Tea: We are one of the leading LSPs in Australia, Oceania, but we have a large footprint in Europe, in France, Germany, Switzerland as well, with focus on medical technology and Novartis. Also in Latin America, the USA, and the Asia-Pacific. Our head office is in Brisbane, we also have offices in Melbourne, Manila, and Paris since 2012, and we have got an office in Argentina and a very brand new office in Santiago de Chile.

Florian: What are some of the top drivers in the Australian language services market? What are the top three drivers of translation, but also interpreting demand?

Tea: Number one is the public sector. I mentioned the CALD, the culturally and linguistically diverse communities, that is a top driver. Private corporate, which is the export. All these companies need language services and localization to go into the export market. Third, you have multi-nationals. We have got some really big companies here, PHP, for example, the world’s largest mining company or Rio Tinto. These three, public sector, exporting, and multinationals, are top drivers for translation. 

Number one for interpreting is the public sector. This is healthcare, justice, so courts and also private sector interpreting, which is utility, energy, insurance companies. A top driver again is those CALD communities in Australia. Then there is conference interpreting, which is a smaller part and pretty interesting to watch now with the RSI, so that is growing.

Florian: For mining, does it matter where in Australia you are to service these clients? Is Australia an integrated market in the sense that it does not really matter which city you are in? 

Tea: Our Melbourne office is on 171 Collins street, which they call the ‘Paris End’ of Melbourne. It is the BHP tower, so we are in their building. There is marketing out of Singapore, Santiago, Houston, London, Perth. Perth is a powerhouse for oil and gas for the resources industry, but so is Queensland, so we are in all the right places. We have got a large footprint in Western Australia. Australia is a large country, but it is a very small pond. 

Florian: Are framework contracts popular in Australia now, as they are in the UK, where one is put out every other month where you are on a list as a vendor and the government agencies may choose to use you? 

Tea: It is a little bit similar to the UK. There are framework contracts, the provider arrangements, those panel arrangements are probably even more popular. Especially in the public sector, but in utility and insurance companies as well. This is for multicultural Australia because we have so many languages here. The so-called LOTE, Languages Other Than English speakers, they put out those frame contracts. We sit on a lot of panels, on Commonwealth state, and local level.

Florian: How does it work, you are on that panel and then they have to use you, or are they free to choose other vendors? Is there prioritization or do you still have to pitch each state?

Tea: There are a lot of them, so you sit on different panels and you might never get anything. In interpreting, for example, a job might go through and then it just depends on who takes it first. For translation, you might have to re-quote the rates you gave in your framework contract. If you are the sole provider, which also happens, then you have got that contract. If you are not on the panel, then largely you do not get those opportunities from those government agencies, so you want to be on the panel. Some of the government panels we were on as well, they also give leeway. Sometimes it is just a recommendation. We sit on most panels across different states across Commonwealth state and local government and you have to be there. 

Esther: What are some of the differences between the public sector and the private sector? Are there differences in pricing or turnaround expectations or languages? How do you tie the two or service the two within the same business as well? 

Tea: Most of the language service demand is in the public sector. Where a lot of LSPs in this region focus on that, 2M has always been different. We have always focused on the private sector, even partly smaller in size, unless we work with our multinationals, the requirements are very different. They include expert advice on the target audience, consulting, international SEO, very different focus, localization because you were adjusting to the locale. I remember years ago we were doing content for Germans in Australia, people in Germany would have been horrified to read that. 

This is not about having an award-winning translation, this is about getting the message across and creating access to information for people. It is a very different audience here, the CALD, the cultural linguistically diverse communities. Even the Vietnamese, you need to know if you go into Vietnamese, is it in Queensland, which corner of Queensland, what kind of Vietnamese are there? It is a very different kettle of fish as we say, if you work for the public sector, which is translating for non-English speakers in Australia, or if we are going exporting.

Esther: We have come across an association, NAATI. This is the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters. Can you tell us a bit about them? What do they do and are they relevant to your business? 

Tea: They are a very important player here, they are the standards body. In Australia, they are owned and funded by the state and federal government. I have a long history with them. I am a NAATI certified translator-interpreter. I sit on the technical reference advisory committee of NAATI and I also sit on the regional advisory committee of NAATI. They test, they provide the certification and they play a crucial role in the public sector where NAATI certified translators are required. In the private sector it is different, nobody cares or knows, unless the documentation is required for migration purposes or official purposes. Otherwise, what is important is you have got the subject matter expertise. Are you an engineer in oil and gas, that is what matters. NAATI is really in that public service sector and is the main player. They have come a long way and they are the body to provide standards in Australia. 

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Florian: You also have this translating and interpreting service TIS National, is that a competitor? It seems like it is a government organization, does it compete for business? What do they do? 

Tea: TIS is a government service for migrant languages, so not indigenous languages. They provide in certain circumstances government translations. They do not do everything in house, they also outsource to other LSPs so they are actually the client of other LSPs. Then we have similar government organizations state-wise as well, there are state-funded interpreting providers. For example, Multicultural New South Wales has its language service. For many years they were called Community Relations Commission and they were the only ones who were allowed to translate driver’s licenses in New South Wales. Whereas in Queensland or other States, NAATI certified translators could translate them. They are very much CALD orientated, so, they would not be providing localization services for Australian companies exporting or your multinationals, let alone tech. Our orientation has always been smart workflows, technology standards, and the private sector does not consider them. So they are really important, they have a mission and they have a mandate to ensure there is access to information for Australia as multicultural communities. 

Florian: All first-generation immigrants need those types of services, but for the second or third generation, would English still not be their first language? It seems it is so important, that particular access component. Is this all for first-generation immigrants? 

Tea: I could paint you an amazing picture of these languages and how they have evolved over the years when it was all Italian and Greek. Today, we are looking at Rohingya, these displaced communities, I mentioned them before. Today, the influx could be refugees, but even if you have lived all your life in a country, you just go to Spain to Benidorm and you will find Germans who hardly speak Spanish, or even in Mallorca. You will find in many countries, people who have buying power and do not speak that language and we all know what it takes to get that to them. 

We have got Chinese communities here, Vietnamese communities, who it is their language. It is not the second or third generation because of course the young ones grew up here and they all sound Aussie, logically. It is all the influx, this is a migration country, just as the States, just as Canada. I often talk to the Canadian Translation Bureau, we all have similar issues and talking points, also with regards to indigenous as well.

Esther: What are your thoughts on consolidation in this industry? Particularly the big deals that have happened this year with SDL, RWS and Amplexor or Accolad. Does this have an impact day to day? 

Tea: We all observe and watch the super agencies, but at the moment in the day to day, it does not make a difference. However, they have the power to squeeze smaller LSPs out of the market. I would say the weakness of the smaller LSPs is clearly the limited budget for tech and R&D. You have got to be switched on. The solution, in my opinion, is a partnership with tech companies, so if you can not have an in-house development team, you need to have really solid partners. We need to not fear them. 

Quoting another fellow industry leader, Véronique Özkaya​, who famously said: “collaboration is the new competition”. That is one of my mantras. We collaborate, we have strategic technology partnerships here, so we can have in-house all of that tech that those super agencies have because that is, in my opinion, the biggest thing we can do. The bigger they get, the more budget for technology and technology is the single most economic driver of the future. 

Esther: Do you see the future as very much collaborative between technology and translation? How is tech evolving and changing in our industry? 

Tea: API is the religion. I was still on the gala board when we had the gala initiative topic, the translation API cases and classes were started, driven by many rockstars in the industry, including Klaus Fleischman. That is extremely important. We never talk about post-editing MT. It is important, it is a productivity tool. It is part of the workflow, not in all languages, obviously not for transcreation, not when we do advertising or bi-lines for Rolex. At the end we are responsible for the output, it does not matter the whole deliberation of, it would have been better if I had translated it from scratch instead of cleaning up. That does not fly anymore, that was for a while the narrative, while we had statistical machine translation, but with NMT, the whole ball game has changed. You have to be switched on. When I introduced NMT into the workflow for some languages, I honestly went in there and I learned. I know how switched on you have got to be. Is it helpful, yes, if it is not helpful then you just rewrite it. 

For me, NMT was an absolute revelation. Somebody else was doing the bulk of the work, and I had time to concentrate on the creative, important and technical stuff. You have to be quite an accomplished linguist. Still there is much work for translators, for creative, great linguistic minds and obviously for all those domain experts out there. 

In terms of tech and the ability to deliver increasingly smaller work packages in a streamlined way is very important. We are talking on-demand apps, which is really important. We have got one ourselves. If we go back to Melbourne when we had two towers that had COVID infections, they got evacuated, and people were scared. They got partly evacuated, partly isolated, so you need apps to be able to have very small texts immediately in languages, not German and Spanish, but brand emerging languages so you need to be able to cater for that. That is really important as well. That is where we have an R&D division and we are currently developing our on-demand apps. 

Florian: Why do LSPs like Straker list in Australia over the past half-decade? 

Tea: There is strong governance and legal framework on the AICD. I am actually at the moment about to graduate from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. I have been studying in corporate governance so I can more confidently sit on AICD listed companies’ boards. The strong governance and legal framework gives confidence to investors. Let us see where I end up, if I sit on some of those AICD listed company boards I will be able to give you more information.

Florian: We did talk a bit about COVID, but not about the impact on the business and your operations. How do you manage this now? Have you always been fully remote and how do you interact with clients? How do you sell during those times, develop new business? 

Tea: We had a massive year, as we are growing a lot. We are in a growth phase. I have been talking not only about RSI but VRI. We demoed to governments already back at the end of 2017. Sometimes the market was not ready and the supply chain was not there either. I remember a gala conference in Boston and we had the tables afterwards and some of us interpreting providers said the market is not ready. We are there, but the market is not there yet. With COVID the market was there, it had to be. 

We all know that many interpreters were very judgmental about RSI as if it was the easyJet compared to Air France or Lufthansa. Suddenly what was a threat became a lifeline, with the right remuneration and everything. It has been a very exciting year in business, RSI has gone through the roof for us. We do not have that many international conferences in Australia, but suddenly there were international workshops, seminars, board meetings, town halls, where Australian interpreters actually benefited. They are all being online and Australian interpreters get to do that on RSI. RSI has been great. 

You asked about clients, you use Zoom, Microsoft Team, WebEx, etc. Australia has a tyranny of distance, for me, it was normal to jump in a plane in the morning to have lunch with a client in Canberra and go to a function in Melbourne all in the same day. Now we just Zoom and you can be clever with online events. If you go to a physical event then you have to sometimes wait and hope that the keynote speaker has time to talk to you, whereas online everybody is online so you can listen, make some notes and then you hop on LinkedIn, and you are just clever. You can work it very well. The opportunities are there. 

Florian: What are your thoughts for 2021? The outlook for the industry and your business?

Tea: I think massive amounts of hardware equipment will be thrown away. Of course, there will be hybrid events but RSI is here to stay. E-commerce, growth in digital content and the globalization requirements have increased even more. VRI still has a long way to go in Australia. For us, it is really MT in long-tail languages. That is something that excites me because language technology and I am quoting here Noami Billman, she said: “language technology is about providing access”. We are really passionate about this. We put in a lot of investment into creating access to information, to crucial information in the long tail languages, which we have, including indigenous languages, which we deliver. 

Every company has a purpose, Slator has a purpose, we have a purpose and it is providing access, and this is something that drives us. Technology is the most single important economic driver of the future and it is really language technology combined with that precious human linguistic mind. I think if language technology has exposed one thing is that linguists are more important than ever, but you have got to be super switched on. Exciting times ahead.