Tarjama on Scaling a Tech-Enabled Language Service Provider Across the MENA Region

Tarjama Tech-Enabled Language Service Provider at SlatorCon

They say there is no place like home — a truism Tarjama’s Chief Customer Excellence Officer has come to believe. After 20 years away, Sahar Salama has returned to working in the Middle East, where she now encounters the region’s unique needs, challenges, and preferences in her role connecting end-users and technology.

Founded by CEO Nour Al Hassan, Abu Dhabi-headquartered Tarjama bills itself as the first AI-powered language service provider (LSP) in MENA (an acronym for the Middle East and North Africa region). 

At SlatorCon Remote June 2022 in a discussion moderated by Slator Commercial Director Andrew Smart, Salama and Chief Product Officer Rebecca Jonsson, discussed how the company has responded to local demand drivers with proprietary technology and culturally relevant customer service.

Jonsson described the MENA market as ripe for growth: although Arabic is the world’s fifth most-spoken language, it is not represented online as such.

While MENA businesses want to expand outside their homebase, other international companies are eager to penetrate the market — and both require localization to do so. In addition to demand from the government sector, particularly in Saudi Arabia, clients in e-commerce and consultancy often rely on Arabic into English translation.

“Interpreting is also another requirement, because the dynamic of global companies is that they sometimes require interpreting even for their internal meetings,” Jonsson added.

Salama explained that, in her personal experience, the language industry in MENA still relies heavily on manual processes. This means Tarjama’s Arabic language technology and proprietary platform have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the regional industry while also supporting improvement for each individual customer.

The transition, she said, is twofold, requiring Tarjama to bring internal teams up to speed on the technology so they can onboard customers, with the second phase, training clients, launching in July 2022. 

In-House Linguists Meet SaaS Tech

Practically speaking, Tarjama’s platform includes portals for each participant in the localization process. Using the customer portal, clients can request quotes, submit orders, and check project progress; through the “front office,” in-house staff can interact with clients and assign workloads; and the sales and finance teams are connected through the “back office,” where they can track leads, onboard new clients, and automatically generate invoices. 

In-house linguists — plus a marketplace of more than 80,000 freelancers — deliver translations through Tarjama’s own TMS, which includes a proprietary translation productivity (a.k.a. CAT) tool and machine translation (MT). 

“Last year we started from mainly translating without [MT]. And now we’ve changed the whole company. So what we are primarily doing is light review or post-editing,” Jonsson explained.

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Salama pointed out that clients with their own in-house translators — a very popular model in the Middle East — can also opt to use Tarjama’s tools on a subscription basis without receiving other services. In other cases, client education entails expanding customers’ understanding of what LSPs can offer.

These services include interpreting, dubbing, SEO services, website management, copywriting, event hosting, and social media support. Subtitling for major movies and series, such as Game of Thrones, has also grown, from 4% of Tarjama’s workload in 2021 to 13% in 2022.

“The majority of customers in the Middle East perceive the translation industry as just translation,” Salama said. “‘Give me a file. I’ll translate it.’ So we’re trying to also educate our customers about the broader palette of services that we can provide them.”