Translation at the World Cup: 4 Lessons for Businesses

By United Language Group

The World Cup kicked off earlier this month. Soccer fans from around the world are gathering in Russia to watch the games in person. Millions more are following along at home. This major international event is played live for a global audience, and translation makes it all possible.

Today’s global businesses often struggle with balancing the language needs of different stakeholders, so here are four lessons from translation at the World Cup. 

Using English as a universal language won’t entirely do away with communication difficulties.

Should international businesses rely on English as a universal language of communication? This strategy is becoming increasingly common, but that doesn’t mean everyone will understand each other.

For example, the first World Cup match of 2014 was between Brazil and Croatia but the referee was Japanese. So, how can everyone communicate in a multilingual environment?

For referees, a system of colored cards and standard English terms are supposed to keep everyone on the same page, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  For example, Croatian player, Vedran Corluka told PRI that the referee in their match “was speaking Japanese . . . so it was real difficult to communicate with him.”

Likewise, businesses that insist on English-only communication should not expect that policy to stamp out communication difficulties. Some employees will speak English better than others, and sometimes, it’s best to communicate with people in their native language to ensure understanding. 

Having a reliable team of translators is only half the battle.

FIFA produces content in four official languages, French, English, German and Spanish. It also translates to and from other common languages like Russian (the language of this year’s host country) and Arabic.

How do they maintain quality on a deadline with so much content in play? A good translation team is paramount, but that’s only half the battle. According to Caitlin Stephens, Deputy Head of Language Services at FIFA, the other half of the equation is the creation of time-saving resources like translation memories and style guides.

For example, according to Slator, FIFA uses “a custom-built translation management tool through which the department receives requests from colleagues across the organization and distributes them to the individual translators. “The tool also enables us to track jobs and extract statistics,” [Stephens] says, adding that they also use translation memory software and maintain a terminology database.”

Machine translation can make overwhelming translation needs infinitely more manageable.

To attend this year’s World Cup in Russia, visitors and journalists alike have relied on machine translation apps like Google Translate. Although volunteer interpreters are available, there’s no way for them to meet everyone’s translation and interpretation needs all the time. So, machine translation fills in the gaps.

Likewise, it’s simply impractical to rely entirely on human translators to meet all of the translation needs of today’s businesses. Machine translation can (and should) be used to improve efficiency and for high-volume projects like cross-border eDiscovery.

However, some projects still need a human touch.

Of course, machine translation isn’t perfect. If you want the content you’re translating to read well and be free of errors, post-editing from an experienced human translator is a must.

For example, as University of Minnesota professor Andrew Cohen told the AP, Google Translate “may have considerable difficulty translating humor, sarcasm, subtle forms of criticism, curses, apologies so that they work, even requests in a way that they are appropriately mitigated rather than bossy sounding.” 

At United Language Group, we use customized versions of the primary machine translation engines along with human linguists to post-edit when needed. We combine effective translation technology with an efficient project management process to save you time and money! Ready to find out more? Give us a call at 1-800-737-8481 today!

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