Top view of laptop, alphabet pillow, remote control, and slippers on a brown couch

Is a Freelance Translator or Translation Agency Right for You?

When you’re ready to grow your business in new markets, you’ll need to hire a professional translation service to prepare your content for the language(s) spoken in those new markets.

Here’s the good news: You have options.

Translation Agencies

Translation agencies come in many varieties, all with the same general business model of serving as a middleman between translation buyers (like you) and translators (like me).

Agencies typically consist of an owner, one or more salespeople, one or more project managers, an administrative/finance team, and possibly a team of in-house translators/editors. Most of the translators an agency works with, however, are freelancers with which the agency has an agreement. An agency could potentially have hundreds of translators in its database, thereby broadening its capacity of available language pairs and specializations.

The advantages of working with a good translation agency include:

  • Availability: Some agencies offer 24/7 availability. Also, with a larger pool of translators, agencies are better equipped to deal with tighter deadlines and can accommodate your schedule even when a translator gets sick or goes on vacation.
  • Multiple languages: If you need your content translated into many languages, an agency can manage the project for you. This is convenient for you as the translation buyer. Also, it allows for greater coordination during the translation process because, as questions arise during the translation project, the project manager can easily share answers with all of the translators working on your text.
  • Word of mouth: If a trusted colleague had a good experience with a particular translation agency, you may feel more confident about using the same agency, even if your content requires a different language pair or area of expertise.

Unfortunately, translation agencies have drawbacks, too. Disadvantages of translation agencies include:

  • Less control: You have no direct interaction with the translator. You could provide a style guide or glossary as guidance (please do!), and you can answer questions passed through the project manager. But when you work with a translation agency, you’ll lose the valuable opportunity to truly collaborate the translator working on your text.
  • No guarantees: Although agencies have many translators to choose from in their database, their best translator for your job might be backlogged or otherwise unavailable. This means that the agency will reach out to more and more translators until someone is available who feels comfortable with the text. Ultimately, there is no real guarantee that the translator working on your project is a great fit.
  • Still no guarantees: Even if you loved the first translation an agency did for you and you request the same translator the next time, there is no guarantee that you’ll work with the same translator and editor in the future.
  • Costly: As a company with employees, agencies have lots of overhead, which is reflected in the price they charge you.

Freelance Translators

Freelance translators are highly-trained translation professionals who offer their services on a freelance basis to agencies and/or directly to translation buyers. Most freelance translators have a professional website and are members of one or more translation associations.

Translators work in one or more language pairs, always translating into their native language. We also specialize in specific areas of expertise. Specializations may be stated in a broad sense, such as medical, legal, or technical, and within these areas, translators may specialize even further. Often, a translator’s specialization may even reflect a past career, as in my situation, where I have a degree in computer information systems and spent over 10 years in software before becoming a translator. I know other translators who similarly had other careers before ultimately becoming a translator.

It is important to choose a translator whose specialization aligns with your business area. The quality of your final translation will be better as a result.

You can find freelance translators by searching Google (try searching for “translator”, plus the language pair and business sector) or by searching in the directory of a respected translation association, such as the American Translators Association. Many freelance translators are also active on LinkedIn and Twitter. You might even meet one at a trade show within your industry, as we often attend events within our specializations to network and stay current on the latest developments and terminology.

The advantages of working with a freelance translator include:

  • Consistency: Once you find a translator whose background is a good fit for your needs, you can continue working with that same translator for years. Over time, the translator will become extremely familiar with your style and preferences.
  • Confidentiality: When working with a freelance translator, your file is passed only between you, your translator, and the translator’s editor. This streamlined process protects the confidentiality of your text. By contrast, agencies may pass your text among several translators until they find someone who is available to do the work.
  • Affordability: Unlike agencies, freelance translators have less overhead, so the price may be lower. That said, translation rates vary considerably. Good translators are in high demand and typically set their rates accordingly.

The disadvantages of freelance translators include:

  • Availability: When you choose to work with an individual instead of an agency, you may need to plan more time for your translations. For example, your translator may be busy with other work when you need him or her, or your translator may be feeling under the weather or on vacation.
  • Capacity: One freelance translator can usually only help you with one language you need translated. If your content needs to be translated into five languages, for example, you’ll need to find and coordinate with five freelance translators, which may divert too much time and attention from your own duties.

Final Word

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your needs.

If you need translations into several languages and don’t feel the need to control the process, a translation agency may be the better solution for you.

If your content only needs to be translated into one or a few languages and you want to be closely involved in choosing and working with the translator(s), consider working directly with freelance translators.

Good luck!

La French Tech at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, NV

La French Tech at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017

The Chinese calendar’s Year of the Rooster will soon begin, but attendees of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were already seeing roosters everywhere thanks to yet another strong showing by La French Tech.

In recent years, France has dominated the show’s famed Eureka Park, an exhibition space within CES where startups showcase their innovative products. This year, there were nearly 200 French companies in Eureka Park alone. To put it another way, France accounted for about one-third of all startups in Eureka Park.

Mais pourquoi?

What is it about the French that makes them excel as entrepreneurs? And why the seemingly recent upsurge in talent?

As a French to English translator specializing in innovative technology, I’ve been following La French Tech online for a few years. But I hadn’t yet experienced it in person. So I decided to spend a day at CES this year to witness La French Tech in action.

La French Tech Press Conference

My first stop after picking up my attendee badge was the La French Tech press conference.

The press conference was moderated by Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs, a company whose technology helps consumers track air quality. He outlined three factors behind France’s entrepreneurial success and modern relevance, including:

  • highly talented engineers with a strong background in mathematics
  • the role of design in French culture, given the increasing focus by consumers on design and integration of tech into daily life
  • rising movement of risk-taking and venture financing

Lacombe pointed out that, while “entrepreneur” is a French word, the startups at CES all have a global strategic focus. He then allowed representatives of four La French Tech startups to speak individually about their companies. The featured speakers were Grégory Veret of Xooloo (integrated technology coach for children), Stéphane Jaubertou of Sevenhugs (streamlined smart home control), Luc Pierart of PKparis (painless blood glucose monitor watch), and Evelyne Raby of CybelAngel (online data security monitoring service).

Next to speak were two representatives from the investment side of French innovation: Ben Marrel of Breega Capital and Nicholas El Baze of Partech Ventures. They mentioned the strong education system in France, the talent of French engineers and their worldly perspective, the “cool” factor of entrepreneurship among new graduates of French universities, the strong ecosystem of support (La French Tech), and of course, the large amount of investment happening in France specifically and Europe as a whole.

To inspire upcoming startups, the next speaker was Quentin Sannié of Devialet, creator of the premium Phantom audio system and considered a unicorn among French technology companies, with its tremendous global growth and success.

The final speaker of the press conference was Axelle Lemaire (pictured above), France’s Secretary of State for Digital Technology & Innovation.

Lemaire spoke about the government’s role in promoting innovation in France in recent years. Faced with a struggling economy and high unemployment, a decision was made in 2012 to proactively invest in innovation in order to add value and create future jobs. She identified the requirements needed for truly successful innovation:

  • people: good engineering and business schools/universities in France, which are free to attend and therefore highly accessible to students. Also, coding is now a requirement in children’s education, and the government has allocated funding to train teachers. The government also offers training in web design and development that has proven highly successful in terms of job placement.
  • infrastructures: France has invested €21 billion to provide the entire country with high-speed broadband by 2021. The government has also invested in creating a vast data infrastructure, thereby creating new integration opportunities for businesses.
  • regulation: support for investment in startups. Example: legal framework for crowdfunding, reducing corporate taxation, creating favorable stock option and profit sharing plans, promoting public funding, a research and development tax credit, and more.
  • policies: La French Tech and the Alliance pour l’innovation ouverte (Alliance for Open Innovation) initiatives to help entrepreneurs.

Eureka Park

Before I got downstairs to the exhibition hall, the thought crossed my mind that I might not be able to distinguish the French companies from the others.

Yeah…. not an issue. La French Tech roosters as far as the eye can see!

I spent all afternoon visiting booths and talking with French entrepreneurs about their products, their success stories, and their future plans. I geeked out, asked lots of questions, traded business cards, posed with a robot, saw a 3D-printed violin, sat on a sound-vibration enabled couch, had my skin computer-analyzed, talked about my kids, and talked about other people’s kids.

Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to work with at least some of the companies I met to help them reach their goals as their products launch in North America and require translations into US English.


What I hadn’t grasped prior to CES was what an incredibly optimistic and supportive group La French Tech has formed for its many innovators. They posed for group photos together (or “family photos”, as they adoringly call them), visited each others’ booths, eagerly pitched their inventions, and won numerous prestigious CES Innovation Awards.

I unfortunately didn’t have time to meet with all of the French companies at CES 2017. Next year, I’ll plan to spend more time at the show, and by then, perhaps France will account for half of Eureka Park. Pourquoi pas?

Confident pigeon strutting on asphalt

Common Mistakes on English-Language Websites of French Companies

In my work, I often end up viewing the websites of French companies. Sometimes, it’s to translate the website into English for the first time or to update a previous translation. Other times, I’m simply researching the company or its products to help translate some other text.

Regardless, I’ve found that many of these websites make the same telltale mistakes stemming from their original French versions.

Quality translation is often not a mere word-for-word translation of the source text, but rather a faithful adaptation tailored to the target market. Professional translators first convert the meaning of a piece of text into the target language and then consider how that meaning would be expressed by a native speaker of the target language.

This “What would a native speaker say?” step is precisely what seems to be missing in these common mistakes found on English-language websites of French companies. Let’s look at some examples…


In French, the verb “découvrir” is used to describe the action of gaining more information about a product or service. The English cognate “discover“, however, is not meant be used in this way, but I see this a LOT on the websites of French companies. It’s weird. Or rather, it’s a huge indicator that the website was not translated by a professional. On a subconscious level, this may signal to your potential customers that a) you’re an outsider and/or b) customer service might not be your highest priority as there may be other (more serious) translation missteps down the road.

Depending on the context (mid-sentence, button text, etc.), a better word choice might be “Learn more about…“, “Tell me more about…“, “Learn about…“, or “More info“.

“Who Are We?”

This is another example of a word-for-word translation that simply doesn’t work in a web context. Although French websites feature a “Qui sommes nous?” page with background information about the company, English-language websites routinely use the terms “About“, “About Us“, or “About [Company Name]“.


Another cognate that leads to confusing English text! The French word “intéressant” is often used to describe prices or a company’s goods or services. Since English has a cognate in “interesting“, it often ends up translated that way, but be careful! The word “interesting” in English can sometimes have a not-so-good connotation. We say something is “interesting” when we can’t really come up with something good to say about it. A much better translation in this context is “attractive” or “appealing“. Trust me, you’re much more likely to get a positive response to “attractive prices” than to “interesting prices“!


I confess… I feel guilty about this one because I admittedly use “offering” a lot when I translate the French word “offre“. Sure, we use this term in English, but we’re much more likely to talk about a “deal“, “plan“, “special“, or “package“. We also tend to simply say “products” or “services“, too, where the French would use “offre“.

Step-by-Step Procedures Involving “I”

I placed this toward the bottom of the list because it is so distinctively French and really doesn’t show up often on English-language websites. That said, I’ve definitely seen it. And seriously, it’s craaaaaazy when read from the perspective of a native US English speaker.

I’m talking about step-by-step instructions written in the first person, using the word “I”. For example, “I receive the file by email“, “I tighten the screws, without overtightening.

Always, always, always, English-language procedures use second-person commands in active voice. For example, “Click the button to continue” or “Remove the protective panel“. Stick with that formula. Always.

We certainly do use the first person in some contexts on websites. In fact, it’s very common to see this in FAQs or Troubleshooting areas, as if the user were describing a problem or asking a question. The first person is also common on buttons (ex. “Sign me up!“, “Subscribe me“, “I want to know more“, etc.).

Points of Ellipses in Lists

Not just on websites, these are commonly carried over from French texts into English. Where lists in French end with ““, lists in English end with “etc.

Don’t get me wrong… We love ellipses, just not for lists.

Italicized Quotes

Take a second to glance back up through this article. You’ll notice that I’ve italicized all the quoted phrases. This is normal in French. Not so much in English.

I actually like the practice, which is why I’ve done it here. I also wanted to illustrate my point. Still, it’s totally weird in English, so please avoid it. Text within quotation marks should be formatted just like the surrounding text… nothing special.


Finally, please remember that there is more to multilingual SEO than simply translating your French keywords into English. I offer an SEO service to my clients that involves a few hours of SEO research and keyword compiling based on their English-language website. It’s worth the investment to take this extra step when doing business in international markets. (Email me for more information if you’re interested in this service for the English-language version of your website.)

Final Thoughts

I get it… Developing a multilingual website is an expensive investment. Your goal, of course, is to attract and retain customers in foreign markets by speaking to them in their language. So get it right!

Don’t cut corners when it comes to professional translation. If you need to keep costs down, maybe you can start by having only a summary page professionally translated. But please, skip the bad translation altogether because it reflects poorly on your company and its products and services. (Or should I say “offering“?) 😉

Swag from Arizona Translators & Interpreters Annual Conference 2016

Review of the ATI 2016 Conference

As a professional practice, I aim to attend at least one translation conference per year. Obviously, there are many benefits in attending conferences. I personally love conferences for networking, learning opportunities, and keeping a pulse on key topics and trends.

Conferences are also a great way to explore other parts of the world. Earlier this year, I visit Prague for the wonderful BP16 Translation Conference, and in a few weeks, I’ll be in San Francisco for the widely attended American Translators Association’s Annual Conference.

While attending these conferences in distant locations, people sometimes ask me about the networking I do with fellow language professionals on a local level where I live in Arizona. Sadly, I’ve had nothing to report… until now.

ATI 2016

On Saturday, October 1, 2016, I was one of over 100 attendees at the Arizona Translators & Interpreters Annual Conference in Phoenix.

The keynote speaker was Tony Rosado, who has interpreted at the highest levels and is a thoroughly entertaining presenter. In his talk, Rosado provided a brief history of interpreting and translation to demonstrate the importance of our profession and the value we provide. He stressed that we must recognize our worth and educate our clients so that they too see our value (and pay us accordingly).

He pointed out that translation and interpreting is a “profession”, not an “industry”. After all, we are professionals, not cogs in a system. He also suggested that we stop using the term “rates” and instead refer to our prices as “fees” as other professionals do.

The one-day conference was organized into three concurrent tracks of sessions. Much of the content focused on interpreting, which is fitting since many ATI members and conference attendees are interpreters. One track, however, focused on translation, which is where I spent my time.

All of the presenters were highly qualified and knowledgeable.

Dr. Gloria Rivera gave a scientific talk on forensic science, explaining how fingerprinting, blood, and DNA is used in forensics. Although this is not my area of specialization, I found her presentation very interesting.

Aimee Benavides spoke on the use of parallel texts in researching specialized terminology. She demonstrated methods for finding native-language texts and avoiding translated texts that may contain mistranslated terminology.

Lucy Matticoli-Mason provided an enthusiastic demonstration of Trados Studio and MultiTerm. As a regular user of Studio, I didn’t expect to learn much from this session, but she covered some tricks I didn’t know before. I also feel much more confident about using MultiTerm.

Felipe Lopez gave a tech talk on Passolo, a not-so-user-friendly tool designed more for software engineers than for translators. Still, it was useful to see how this tool works from the standpoint of someone who actually understands it.

Final Thoughts

All in all, the ATI Annual Conference was a well-organized event that truly honored our profession and left me feeling motivated.

While I will continue travelling thousands of miles to distant conferences, I look forward to many more opportunities to be part of and help foster the local translation community here in Arizona.

Portrait of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace: Computing Pioneer and Technical Translator

Today is Ada Lovelace Day! Observed on the second Tuesday of every October, Ada Lovelace day celebrates the achievements of women in science and technology.

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. Raised solely by her mother, Ada was given a strong education with a heavy emphasis on logic, science, and mathematics.

Lovelace pursued a number of scientific interests, including phrenology and bird flight. In 1833, when Lovelace was just 18 years old, she was introduced to Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, who was impressed by Lovelace’s analytical skills. By that time, Babbage, who was 23 years older than her, had already spent 10 years developing his difference engine, a machine that uses finite differences to perform a series of calculations.

Over the next several years, Lovelace and Babbage corresponded over Babbage’s subsequent invention, the analytical engine, which could perform general computations using instructions fed into the machine via punched cards.

In 1840, Babbage presented his invention during a seminar at the University of Turin, in Italy. In attendance was young Luigi Menabrea, who would become Prime Minister of Italy decades later. Menabrea took detailed notes on Babbage’s presentation, and in 1842, he published Notions sur la machine analytique de M. Charles Babbage, in French, describing the machine.

Umm… But this is in French. Translation please?

This is my favorite part of the story…. Ada Lovelace was a technical translator.

At least, that was her springboard for leaving a lasting contribution in the history of computing.

Lovelace spent nearly a year translating Menabrea’s publication from French into English. In addition to the translation itself, she added extensive annotations to further explain Babbage’s machine, based on her direct expertise. These annotations include an algorithm that is often credited as being the first computer program.

For this reason, Ada Lovelace is often credited with being the first computer programmer.

But I relate to her MUCH more when I think of her as an early French to English translator, specializing in technology. 🙂

Book open to Hans Tausen's Danish translation of the Bible

Cheers to Centuries of Hardworking Translators

Clear your calendars… September 30 is International Translation Day!

The holiday is celebrated each year on the feast day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists.

Now, I don’t know what kind of parties those crazy librarians and encyclopedists throw, but translators and interpreters around the world will certainly raise a glass to the many hardworking men and women who have contributed to our centuries-old craft.

Bible Translators

Some of the earliest, most prominent translators were Bible translators. This makes sense, of course, because the Bible was the first book to be widely printed.

St. Jerome himself was a Bible translator, responsible for translating most of the Bible into Latin.

Likewise, translating the Bible made its teachings accessible to a wider audience. This is our role as translators: to bridge communication gaps across languages, so that texts written in one language can be shared with readers of other languages.

Good Ol’ Hans

I must confess… I have a favorite Bible translator, and it’s not St. Jerome.

His name is Hans Tausen (1494-1561). He studied under Martin Luther in Wittenberg and went on to lead the Danish Reformation. He was also a well-educated language scholar, fluent in both Greek and Hebrew.

In 1535, Tausen translated the first five books of the Old Testament (known as the Pentateuch) from Hebrew to Danish. According to The Nordic Languages: An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages, Volume 2, his translation “has been praised for its vigorous, bold and popular, strikingly vivid style, with rich, often genuinely Danish vocabulary; it has been judged as the most distinctively Danish Bible translation before modern times.” (Note: The image above comes from my copy of a 1932 reprint of Tausen’s translation, titled Hans Tausens Oversættelse af De fem Mosebøger.)

Hans Tausen is also my 13th great-grandfather. And while simple mathematics show that each of us has thousands of ancestors that far back, it feels pretty cool to have genealogical proof of direct lineage to a badass religious reformer and translator. Or as we lovingly call him in our family… Good Ol’ Hans.


Photo: me (far left) with family in front of a statue of Hans Tausen in Ribe, Denmark, in May 1998

I like to think that some strand of his DNA that predisposes linguistic talent has been passed down over the years. As if translation is our 500-year-old family business. 🙂

In any case, this Friday, on International Translation Day, I’ll be celebrating my great-great-great-….-grandfather, as well as the countless other translators and interpreters who have devoted hours of study to languages and other fields in order to bridge cultures and expand our understanding of others.


Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog

Man vs. Machine: Word-Sense Disambiguation

Before finding my calling as a translator, I studied computational linguistics at Georgetown University. (Hoya Saxa!)

Computational linguistics is a branch of computer science focusing on natural language data, as opposed to numeric or structured data. Its applications can be found in technologies like speech recognition, information retrieval, and machine translation. I was most interested in information retrieval and extraction, the kind of software that could sift through megabytes of unstructured text and pull out important information (such as intelligence data) or respond to natural language questions (like a chatbot capable of competing in Turing test challenges). I wrote my Master’s thesis on a machine learning system for the temporal annotation of news text.

Yeah, pretty nerdy fun stuff. 🙂

Although I ultimately chose a different career path, I still have a lot of respect for the technology behind natural language processing. Language technology has a clear place, even in translation.

That said, there are some tasks that qualified humans will always do better. One such task is word-sense disambiguation.

What is word-sense disambiguation?

Word-sense disambiguation is the process by which the meaning of a word or phrase is clarified (or disambiguated) when multiple meanings are possible.

This is something that we, as humans, do all the time with great proficiency. We consider the context in which a word is used and then select the most suitable meaning. In translation, word-sense disambiguation is made easier with the help of reference documents and glossaries, if available. We also have our real-world domain-specific expertise to help us identify which words are true possibilities and which can simply be ruled out.

Simply put… Within the neural networks of the human brain, we’ve really got word-sense disambiguation figured out.

For computers, however, word-sense disambiguation is a colossal challenge.

Software follows an algorithm to perform word-sense disambiguation. These algorithms must explicitly consider various factors about the word or phrase to be disambiguated, including its part of speech, the domain of the text as a whole, the immediate context surrounding the word or phrase (which may or may not relate to the surrounding text), language, dialect, statistical probabilities of collocations, and so on.

Even in a best-case scenario, this is a lot of processing for a computer. What if the word is spelled incorrectly? What if the sentence contains a grammatical error that throws off the part-of-speech tagger? What if the word or phrase is used within a cultural reference, easily recognizable by a human but just another string of words to a computer?

In translation (or machine translation), subtleties of the source text, such as wordplay or running metaphors, may be lost when word-sense disambiguation is not performed properly.

So, what does this mean?

Computational linguists have made impressive advancements in tackling the challenges of natural language applications, all of which involve word-sense disambiguation on some level. Yes, even machine translation is getting better. It can be quite useful in informal situations or in providing the gist of a text when no proper translation is available.

But if you are doing business in foreign markets, trust your translations to expert translators who can preserve the richness of your company voice in your written documentation and marketing materials. Make a good impression on your potential customers, because how you communicate is a direct reflection of your company’s professionalism and brand image.


Gray cup holding six freshly sharpened pencils

Is Your Business Ready for “La Rentrée”?

This week marks the end of summer, as the new school year begins.

It reminds me of the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the appearance of school buses, filled with eager(ish) kids with their clean haircuts and crisp new clothing. This is a time for renewed focus and new beginnings.

(Actually, my kids went back to school a few weeks ago, as many districts here in the United States start their academic year in August. Yet the “back to school” feeling is still fresh.)

The French approach this transition with particular gusto, enthusiastically announcing C’est la rentrée! There is a contagious excitement in the air, as la rentrée applies not just to school children, but to the country as a whole. This marks the end of les vacances of July and August. Businesses reopen. The government is in session. Cultural events are back in full swing.

With restored energy and renewed motivation, now is the time to get back to work. Time to focus. Time to regain clarity.

Now is the time to deliver on this year’s goals and plan ahead for next year. Are you ready?

With just four months remaining in the calendar year, is your business on track to meet its goals for the current year?

What can be done to position your business for what you aim to accomplish in the next year? Plan now, and start taking action.

If your business goals involve an updated website, marketing materials, or technical documentation, remember to include enough time in your schedule to have your texts translated into the languages of your target markets by professional translators.

The summer has been restful, but now it’s time to concentrate on our goals. Make the most of this optimism and opportunity. Bonne rentrée!


Close-up of Home key on a white keyboard

Yes, Even YOU Can Own a Computer (This Day In History – August 12, 1981)

Thirty-five years ago today, IBM introduced its first personal computer, or PC, complete with an operating system.

By today’s standards, the computer’s specifications were unimpressive: 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor, 16 kilobytes of memory (expandable to a whopping 256kb!), an external cassette or floppy disk drive, and an optional color monitor. The price was a cool $1,565, nearly $4,000 in today’s money. Gazoinks!

Yet the IBM PC was a momentous leap in consumer technology for a number of reasons, including its distribution and its components.

Unlike previous attempts within the fledgling personal computing market, the IBM PC was distributed through established retail chains, like ComputerLand and Sears Roebuck. This created widespread availability across a very large geographical area, so interested consumers could easily find and purchase the product.

Another distinguishing factor about the IBM PC is its use of off-the-shelf parts. This open architecture made manufacturing, repairs, and upgrades easier, while also exposing the market to competition.

Not surprisingly, it did not take long for IBM clone computers to appear on the market. Increased competition fueled innovation, and consumer demand for personal computers swelled. Thanks to plenty of supply and economies of scale, personal computers became more affordable to consumers. By the end of the decade, the number of personal computers in use in the United States had jumped from about 2 million in 1981 to nearly 54 million in 1990 (according to the International Data Corporation).

Corporate Innovation

In hindsight, the shift from office automation to personal computing was a good move for IBM. But it was highly controversial within the company at the time. How could such a large and notoriously bureaucratic corporation be so innovative?

The answer is the use of independent business units, or IBUs. IBUs are dedicated subsets of large organizations designed to operate relatively independently for a focused purpose, such as innovative technology. IBUs enjoy funding from the corporate coffers, while their smaller size gives them the benefit of faster decision-making processes.

This is precisely what IBM did in the late 1970s and early 1980s to develop its personal computer, within an independent business unit nicknamed “Project Chess”.


Personal computing has certainly come a long way since 1981. Sure, our smartphones are more powerful than IBM’s 1981 PC. But let’s still take a moment to pause and appreciate the spark of innovation that helped bring computers into our homes.

(Want to feel really old? My son once asked me why Word has a funny-looking square icon for “Save”. Yep… Kids today don’t necessarily recognize a floppy disk! Why would they? Disks are so old school!) 😉

Vintage blue alarm clock and its mirror image

The High Price of Bad Translation

It can be fun to laugh at examples of bad translations on the Internet. A poorly translated menu in China. A nonsensical sign in Russia. Indeed, if you have ever traveled abroad, you yourself may have encountered some poorly translated texts in brochures, menus, or other texts.

Harmless, right? Not always….

In 2009, HSBC Bank spent a hefty $10 million to correct a mistranslation of its “Assume Nothing” tagline, which had been wrongly translated into other languages as “Do Nothing”.  The company opted to change its tagline to the more translation-friendly “The world’s private bank”.

The Swedish company Electrolux famously blundered when introducing its “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” marketing campaign in the United States, where “sucks” is slang for “bad” or “unreliable”.

In 1980, an 18-year-old man was admitted to a Florida hospital in a coma. His family and friends, who could only speak Spanish, described him as being “intoxicado”. A bilingual hospital staff member understood this as meaning that the man was intoxicated, and doctors then proceeded to treat him as if he had a drug overdose. However, he was actually experiencing food poisoning (another meaning of “intoxicado”). The misdiagnosis and improper treatment left him quadriplegic and landed the hospital with a $71 million malpractice settlement.

Of course, these three situations could have been avoided with the help of a professional translator or interpreter. Paying a professional upfront saves big money in the long term.

Translation mistakes in advertising are highly visible. But what about mistakes in crucial financial reporting by international banks or in the drug development process by pharmaceutical companies? The wrong terminology can add up to huge losses for the company.

Doing translation right the first time can also protect a company against damage to its brand reputation. Potential customers may be turned away from a poorly translated brochure or website and choose instead to spend their money with companies whose brands appear more professional.

How do you put a price on that?

It’s understandable to want to keep costs low in your business, especially if you’re a startup operating with limited funds. But when you’re doing business internationally, there are simply no good shortcuts for professional translation services. A good-quality translation can have a ripple effect on your international growth, leading to a stronger brand reputation in your foreign markets and higher profits for your company.

Wait! Before you go….

Can you spot the mistake in the image above?? Let me know in the comments below!