Lost in Translation

Localizing a corporate Web site can be a tricky, time-consuming affair. This may explain why few companies have attempted it.

So, too, is accounting for localization projects. “We’ve discovered that there’s no entry in any cost side of a budget that reads ‘localization,’ ” explains Alison Rowles, business manager of the Localisation Industry Standards Association (www.lisa.org), a Switzerland-based lobby group. In the IT industry, she points out, localization departments are often associated with R&D. But, she adds, a lot of corporate executives see it as a communication or marketing cost. Some CFOs just see it as a sinkhole. “Oftentimes there’s no one place to capture the information,” Rowles says. “So it’s hard for the CFO to say, ‘We are getting the return on our investment.’ “

Assumptions can prove costly. Just ask managers at Panasonic.

Adam Lincoln, executive editor at CFO Asia, contributes regularly to eCFO.

The Goulash Archipelago

In the bad old days of the Iron Curtain, workers in Hungary’s IT industry imitated Russian code, pirated software from the West, and toiled to translate technical manuals. Even securing a phone line called for the patience of a saint. Tamas Nikolits, technical director of Budapest-based GamaxNet, a network equipment reseller, remembers: “Not long ago, you had to wait 10 years for a phone line.”

Things have changed. “Now they ask, ‘How many lines?’ ” says Nikolits. The vastly improved, privatized phone service has ramped up Internet use. According to Carnation Internet Consulting, an ebusiness advisory firm, about 1 in 10 Hungarians uses the Net regularly. Carnation expects B2C ecommerce turnover (not counting financial services) to double by 2002, with B2B revenue growing at 75 percent annually.

Still, ecommerce companies are hardly rushing to launch Hungarian versions of their corporate Web sites. For one thing, there are only 10 million inhabitants in the entire country. Traffic jams in Manila have more people.

Beyond that, the Hungarian language presents localization experts with serious obstacles. The language is derived from the Altaistic peoples of Inner Asia, whose linguistic legacy can still be seen in a few countries stretching across Europe and Asia (this connection explains why Hungarian is related to both Finnish and Japanese). The Magyars’ language has also been colored by generations of occupation by foreign overlords, including Attila the Hun (hence, Hungarian).

Given this peculiar lineage, it’s no surprise that Hungary poses a real challenge to hundreds of millions of Teutonic- and Romance-language speakers on the Continent. Even native speakers admit that Hungarian is a tough nut to crack. Says Peter Surjan, localization manager at Gamax (www.gamax.hu) (which owns a share in GamaxNet), a translation and localization services company in Budapest: “Sometimes, it’s easier to read a document in English than a bad Hungarian translation.”

Eric Forssberg knows all about it. The CEO at CargoNow.com (www.cargonow.com), a Gothenburg, Sweden-based emarketplace for transportation and logistics, Forssberg headed the recent launch of a Hungarian-language version of the company’s Web site. All told, CargoNow.com has been translated into eight languages for 25 markets, and can be accessed by users globally.

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