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Language Translation Machines – what’s the value? Spot the difference!

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Many of us who speak a foreign language – fluently – are highly interested, often sceptical about the claims made by language translation machines. Google translate wasn’t my favourite, the deepl tool however has me sitting up and experimenting.

What additional time and thereby cost does it take to get a deepl translation to a standard that is at native speaker level, affording appreciation not just basic understanding? And what happens when the translator adapts properly to local language structures – how much more expressive and readable is it? Is it worth the extra effort?

I had a piece published in German research portal www.marktforschung.de yesterday about how the various forms of Brexit might impact the research industry – topical stuff. The editor wove my input into an overall take – you can see the whole thing here: Brexit-Abstimmung/ Marktforschung.de

The article – my answers to 4 questions – was in German. Limited reach. I decided to have deepl translate it into English, and before publishing, went through to amend and improve, which took me about 20 minutes. I left the questions as they were in both versions.

A side-by-side comparison is interesting – I’ve published them both below, first the deepl one, then my own “improved” version. Read them through and see if you can “spot the differences”!
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Brexit Impact on the Market Research Industry – DEEPL Version, from German into English:

1./ How does the forthcoming Brexit affect cooperation in the market research industry so far?

Here in Germany: rather little. Brexit is just one of many factors influencing the economic and investment climate in 2019, such as the smouldering trade dispute between China and the USA, or various business climate indicators and stock market movements.

In market research, these are primarily aspects such as artificial intelligence or the automation of processes that shake up our industry globally.

Moreover, from a German perspective, the UK is a large market, but only one of many.

In the UK, on the other hand, there is already growing uncertainty among colleagues on the institute side; the level of concern is one level higher, one feels a change of mood towards the negative; competitive pressure seems to be increasing, the wind is blowing colder there. Growth there may be driven more by repression.

But all this hardly changes the cooperation in the market research sector.

2./ Where are the opportunities and risks for German market research companies and, of course, for your company?

Not much has changed since I spoke about this at marktforschung.de in late summer 2018, not even for Happy Thinking People.

The UK, or rather London, has long been a kind of competition – German clients are also awarding projects there instead of here.

London plays an important role in international Mafo projects: especially for American clients, London/ UK was and is a hub, a kind of hub from which they coordinate international projects. Linguistically, it is convenient for the Americans; the UK is also an innovative mafo market valued in many places, and all the necessary skill sets are available there.

Seen this way, the UK is competition for German institutes; I doubt whether the Brexit will change that greatly. Perhaps German institutes are now less jealous of their British competitors – but that’s all it is.

The attractiveness of the UK as a potential growth market has also not changed much – Brexit has probably made it a little less attractive from an entrepreneurial point of view if one wanted to gain a strategic foothold there.

But also here: the risks associated with opening a new office as well as the high costs have long been clear; moreover, the UK is not a real growth market compared to Asian markets.

3./ How do you assess the so-called hard Brexit with a view to the future for German market research?

Why should a “hard Brexit” be a huge topic? If this were to happen, there would certainly be an economic shock; both export and import companies would have to re-adjust. But we are (hopefully) talking about months, not years.

For market research, the anticipated effect should not be exaggerated: As I said, the UK is an important market, with (according to Esomar) 14% of the global market share, but compared to the USA (over 40% market share) it is comparatively small. The impact has to be seen against this background.

Moreover, market research as an industry is not really global – it is rather a global patchwork of locally networked institutes.

The institute partners in the UK with whom we (all) work will probably continue to exist after Brexit – I don’t expect a wave of Brexit-related Mafo insolvencies on the island. I hope so at best!

4./ How do you assess the so-called regulated Brexit with a view to the future for German market research?

In my opinion, a regulated Brexit will have even less effect in Germany than a “hard” one.

A prosperous future for German market research probably lies in the fact that it maintains its position globally – after all, Germany is the third largest mafo market in the world. This means taking on a global role, playing to the full its roots in psychology and social sciences, and raising its collective voice in global forums accordingly. We do too little of that.

To position ourselves more strongly at global conferences, to publish specialist articles on English-language portals and more: this is where I see the future of German market research.

However, we have to focus less on the UK and more on the USA, which apparently is continuously expanding its global dominance in the mafo world.

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Brexit Impact on the Market Research Industry – NATIVE SPEAKER VERSION, from German into English:

1./ How does the forthcoming Brexit affect cooperation in the market research industry so far?

Here in Germany: not a lot. There are plenty of factors impacting the investment climate and client budgets alongside Brexit – the smoldering trade dispute between China and the USA, for example, or shifts in economic sentiment and the stock market.

AI and automation are arguably more important to the co-operation in market research than what’s going on between the UK and the EU right now.

Plus not to forget: UK is an important market, but not the only one, and much growth comes from outside Europe, albeit from a lower base.

In the UK, on the other hand, I detect a shift downwards in mood amongst colleagues on the Agency side; people seem increasingly nervous about the protracted uncertain business climate, and the relaxed, sharp but jovial manner one is used to is becoming occasionally strained. The mood music is definitely minor key.

But all that hardly changes the cooperation in the market research sector.

2./ Where are the opportunities and risks for German market research companies and, of course, for your company?

Not much has changed since I wrote about this for marktforschung.de in late summer 2018, both from my personal POV or from a Happy Thinking People perspective.

The UK, or rather London, has long been a kind of competitive hub – German clients can and do allocate projects to UK agencies.

London has traditionally played an important role in international projects: American clients in particular appreciate the language fit and multi-cultural access, the time zone is convenient, all the skill sets are present, plus the UK is home to many advanced/specialist outfits reacting quickly to concepts such as iteration, automation and AI.

Will Brexit change this constellation? I doubt it. Maybe German companies will likely feel less envious of the experts in the UK.

Looking at the UK as a potential expansion market, not much has changed either. The market is highly competitive, costs are relatively high in terms of real estate, and the market isn’t in clear growth mode. Most German Agency managers know that, however, so Brexit hasn’t actually changed much.

3./ How do you assess the so-called hard Brexit with a view to the future for German market research?

Why should a “hard Brexit” be such a big deal for market research? If it did come to pass, there would certainly be an economic shock, with adjustments needed for companies highly engaged in import or exports. But we would be (hopefully) talking months, not years.

For the German research industry, the anticipated effect shouldn’t be overstated: the UK is an important market, with (according to Esomar) 14% of the global market share, but compared to the USA (with over 40%) it’s comparatively small.

Plus the research industry overall isn’t truly global – rather a patchwork of networked institutes spanning the planet.

The UK Agency partners we (all) work with will in all likelihood continue to exist after Brexit – I certainly don’t expect a wave of Brexit-related insolvencies. Fingers crossed of course.

4./ How do you assess the so-called regulated Brexit with a view to the future for German market research?

A soft Brexit will have even less effect in Germany.

I think the focus needs to be elsewhere – to enjoy a prosperous future, German market research needs to think and act globally. Germany is after all the third largest research market in the world.

German agencies need to step up onto the global stage, making the most of/ tapping into their rich history in psychology and the social sciences, making sure their voices are heard individually and collectively. There’s not enough of that going on at the moment.

That means ensuring the German agency’s presence at global conferences, getting thought leadership pieces published in global portals and more.

The focus should be less on the UK and more on the USA, which is continuing to expand its global strength. If we don’t get our voices heard there, it probably means we remain marginal.

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To make a true comparison you’d need to see the original, obviously – get in touch if you’re interested.

My take-out in short: AI in language translation gives you the bare bones but none of the flavour, at least on the basis of this experiment.

It occasionally mis-leads (e.g. I didn’t “talk” previously about Brexit with mafo.de, I wrote about it, and the word “repression” is simply wrong from the German “Verdrängung”), and sometimes gets stuck – eg the word “Mafo” in German is a short-cut that doesn’t exist properly in German at all and so isn’t in deepl’s vocabulary.

That having been said, if you have no knowledge of the language in question, it’s accurate to about 90% from this German-to-English text. So immensely cost-effective if culturally bare.

Finally, the human translator adds a level of interpretation above and beyond a translation – a cultural prism that can be both enriching but with a degree of individual bias, not to say “translator’s licence”. Guilty as charged here ;)

Curious, as ever, as to others’ thoughts.



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