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We love a good challenge: how to deal with exotic languages

Every project manager – no matter what field they work in – has had at least one memorable project. You know that Project, with a capital P, which seems challenging and exciting at first, then drives you crazy while you are in the midst of it but makes you incredibly proud when you finally complete it. The one that teaches you a lot, helps you develop new skills and eventually turns into a success story you will be happy to remember.

Perfect Babel

According to ethnologue.com, 7,111 languages are spoken today. And while just 23 languages account for more than half of the world’s population, if you work in the translation industry, you can easily juggle documents created in as many as 50 languages. Which means there are still over 7000 languages you rarely meet, and regardless of your extensive experience with languages, some of them are totally unknown to you.

The European Return and Reintegration Network (ERRIN), an initiative that facilitates cooperation between migration authorities, approached us with a request: they had prepared information material for migrants who cannot or no longer wish to remain in Europe, to help their return and reintegration in their home countries, and these country leaflets needed to be translated into the local languages. Human rights is one of our specialities and a matter very close to our hearts so it was obvious that we wanted this job. The opportunity to work with ‘exotic’ languages was an added bonus!

The more the merrier

The home countries for migrant people included India, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with several more African and Asian countries. We expected some rare target languages; however, to identify the full list of languages required in these countries was a challenge itself, not to mention recruiting qualified and experienced translators. The complete list included Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Dari, Gujarati, Hindi, Armenian, Kurdish, Nepali, Punjabi (Shahmukhi), Punjabi (Gurmukhi), Pashto, Sinhala, Tamil, Urdu, Kashmiri, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, Pothwari, Saraiki.

Without efficient project management, the coordination of over 40 linguists would have ended in chaos. Thanks to our rigorous translator selection process and in-house quality assurance procedures, quality was not an issue. Local partners of the client were also involved in checking and approving translations, which in some cases led to additional work since the English source text had to be completely rephrased.

Translation is not enough

The client was glad to have one contact person for all the 21 languages but was even more pleased to learn that we could handle the typesetting for the leaflets too! From left to right, from right to left, Arabic script, Cyrillic script, Latin script – the layouts were as diverse as possible. Numerous correction runs were needed but this thorough approach proved effective, because even though English was a common language, misunderstandings did happen. Time zones and cultural differences made work slow, but we all knew that this was something you couldn’t rush. The patience showed by the client was an important asset throughout the entire project.

What may seem like “only a translation” to an outsider is actually a very complex job of efficient project management: drawing up time schedules, sending status updates, planning capacity, re-scheduling tasks, making sure everything is under control – whatever language is involved.

Written by Anita Salát, Communication Manager at Eurideas Language Experts

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