Organizations are investing in multilingual operations as their customer base grows globally. As just one example, cross-border ecommerce transactions grew 21% in 2020 during the pandemic. Beyond ecommerce alone, every organization has become borderless with the rise of work-from-anywhere.
Many teams turn to services like localization to make sure that their websites, software, and other communications are translated into their stakeholders’ native languages. Localization solves many language problems for businesses; but with new and advanced technologies shaping the language landscape, there’s a strategic opportunity for localization teams to shift into powerful disciplines such as Language Operations (LangOps).
The most common translation options
There are several types of translation services that international organizations use depending on their needs. Here are the key ones.
Translation consists of converting content from the source language to the target language, while respecting grammar rules and conventions. While this is the most basic (and arguably the easiest) service to implement, it doesn’t cover the nuances and specific cultural aspects of different languages.
Transcreation is the process of adapting content from one language to another. Instead of translating word-for-word, however, this usually requires reimagining the content so it better resonates with a different culture. For successful transcreation, translators need to be creative and use their own cultural knowledge. This is an upgrade from translation in terms of working to elicit an emotional response from customers; however, it also demands plenty of research and hiring native translators in every language. Plus, this is most effective with languages and cultures that might be poles apart.
Localization requires adapting the content to local audiences, dialects, or cultural nuances, taking linguistic and cultural sensitivity into account. Translation is one of the several elements involved in localization. However, localization does not just adapt content from one language to another. The aim is to make a product or service feel like it’s been designed for the target market. The business has to bring cultural understanding into everything from locale, design, layout, and content, and even reinvent the product itself to suit the new audience.
Of the three most popular options, localization has been used for decades. But localization needs some rewiring — and LangOps, a much more modern approach powered by machine translation (MT) and AI, can help organizations build global growth with a holistic outlook.
LangOps: The next frontier in language localization
Language Operations is a holistic, cross-disciplinary function that helps global businesses communicate effectively with their multilingual customers and other stakeholders. The goal of LangOps is to empower organizations of any size to reach the scale and measurability of a sophisticated multinational corporation.
An emerging (and rapidly growing) discipline that leverages existing tools in the technology stack to help everyday people communicate in any language. In a sense, LangOps uses AI and MT technology to democratize language. It takes localization one step further in the direction of true progress, and powers any organization’s language strategy.
How does LangOps empower localization teams?
The LangOps approach brings some advantages to the table that could change the way organizations look at localization and language management across functions.
LangOps is less siloed
Typically, localization efforts within an organization are owned by a single department. For example, localizing a website or a digital campaign for different audiences is owned by marketing. To date, there haven’t been any efficient ways to operationalize language throughout the entire organization.
In contrast, in a LangOps approach, a chief operating officer or a dedicated LangOps executive would handle all language-related efforts. They’d focus on how the entire organization can roll out into a new market, from sales to marketing to customer service and beyond. They’d also choose multilingual machine translation technologies that can help equip anyone to communicate in multiple languages, but more on that later.
LangOps allows organizations to scale
Current localization efforts mostly focus on translating and regionalizing websites, software, and other products piece by piece. This approach often relies heavily on outsourcing and is hard to scale as the business grows into additional markets. What’s more, ensuring translation quality can be a difficult and manual process relegated to a small group of department-specific project owners.
The rise of operations-for-everything has shown us that technology (particularly AI) can help teams scale far beyond their own headcount or ability to hire external consultants. Operations practices across other departments — think marketing ops, revenue ops, and perhaps the most popular, DevOps — have leveraged technology to make cross-departmental collaboration more efficient and scalable.
For language, human-in-the-loop machine learning can help teams scale by using state-of-the-art machine learning models and fine-tuning them with human input. This approach means organizations can focus more on hiring for expertise (instead of language fluency).
LangOps is more holistic
Organizations need to view language as an organization-wide imperative, but one-off localization projects might not support such a vision. According to a recent study from Intercom, only 28% of people find they can get customer support in their native language. What’s really surprising is the fact that 70% of people would feel more loyal to companies with native language support — 35% of them even said they’d switch products altogether.
Given the real revenue-driving and brand-building potential of native language, it’s critical that organizations start to think about it more holistically (which echoes the point about siloes above). A LangOps strategy would focus on how to conduct business in a local market, taking into account the cross-departmental needs of the entire team. They’d consult on the best and smartest use of AI for each team and ensure that individual contributors were equipped to use this technology in the field.
From localization to Language Operations
Moving from localization to LangOps means rethinking your organization’s cultural approach to language. LangOps helps you think beyond a one-time, transactional localization effort: LangOps looks at language as a strategic imperative and revenue-driver for the organization. In the long run, your customers, partners, and prospects will value their interactions with you more if you’ve prioritized language as a central part of your international operations. Unbabel is also hiring for LangOps specialists, check out the role here!