Language is pretty exciting, as it gives people an opportunity to find out about culture and society in a unique way.
While weighty questions such as 'How do languages evolve?' and 'Does the way people think determine the way they invent a language?' are better left for another day, there is no doubting everyone stands to enrich their lives through the study of language.
Now here at EQHO Communications we may be biased, considering we work in the localization industry, but we think everyone should be a polyglot. Bearing this in mind, we decided to pick the brains of our group chief executive officer Ross Klinger to find out his views on learning languages and what the future holds for Asian localization providers.
How did you get interested in languages?
What really got me interested in languages was learning how to program computers. I was very lucky, I started programming in 1962, and it seemed to me that there was an analogy between speaking in another language and changing a concept of something that you wanted to be done into a series of machine language instructions. Languages have always fascinated me because they reveal something about the speakers that we never encounter in our own language, society and culture.
In your experience, what's the hardest language to learn?
From a complexity point of view I would have to say Sanskrit. It’s a rigorously constructed language based on 3,959 rules of grammar. It's a totally precise system, but it's incredibly complex. Verb roots have 90 inflections, nouns roots have 21, and the fact that roots can be combined indefinitely means word generation can be incredible – the longest word in Sanskrit literature is some 400 characters long. If this wasn't enough, there are combination rules – the spelling of a word can change depending on the word that follows it! That was definitely the most difficult from a grammatical point of view. [Ross also has knowledge of Farsi, French, Spanish, Thai and Tibetan]
What's the best way to learn a language?
I think the primary requirement for learning a language is to have the desire to learn it – you really have to want to learn that language. The best way depends on how you're going to use the language. For example, when I was in graduate school I was taught how to read French as a research language at PhD level simply by learning the very basics of the grammar and then memorizing word roots. I couldn't write, speak or understand a word of French. Now is that learning a language? In a sense it is, but if you want to use a language in your daily life the best way is to immerse yourself in it, preferably in a place where everyone speaks that language.
Which Asian languages do you see undergoing a boom?
The growth in Asian languages is being driven by increasing business activity in the region. To the extent that a country is or is becoming economically strong, involved in international trade and involved in regional expansion, its language is going to be important. If you're almost anywhere in Asia there's a lot of Chinese investment, so Chinese is an important language. With the ASEAN Economic Community coming up, they've decided that English will be their common language, but those countries that are involved in exporting regionally will have a higher demand for their language, and as certain countries increase their buying power, there's going to be a growing need to translate into these languages. For example, Indonesian is an enormous market with some 250 million people. I would say the Asian languages that will boom will directly map with the Asian economies that boom, both in terms of increasing their exports of goods and services and becoming a market for
imported goods and services. And both generate a need for localization.
What are the main challenges associated with running a localization agency?
If I can focus on the challenges of working with Asian languages in particular, what we have is a real difficulty in terms of resources. Unlike the US, Europe and most Western countries, you can't find graduates of universities that offer degrees in translation or localization, they are very few and far between. People don't even consider translation as a career, it's so unknown. Finding a subject matter expert, for example, who can translate from English into Indonesian for clinical trial protocols, there aren't hundreds or thousands of them, we're counting in the tens. In a country like Laos with a population of seven million, if we need someone to translate a clinical trial, we're not going to find a translator who can do that, we have to find a physician who is willing to work as a translator. And then we need an editor who probably also needs to be a physician, which means resources are a major issue in terms of finding qualified linguists with the subject
What does the future hold for the localization industry?
It's certainly going to grow. This is not a dead-end business [Common Sense Advisory puts its annual value at about US$37 billion and growing continuously], but it's kind of a hidden business, very few people know about it and don't even know what localization is. But the amount of material that needs to be translated isn't growing linearly, it's growing almost exponentially, and far outstrips the ability and availability of human beings to keep up, which is where machine translation comes in. It's definitely going to be one of the major drivers in this industry.
Do you think Asia has an important role to play?
If you look at the numbers that come out of the World Bank or any international economic forecasters, it’s pretty obvious that Asia is the high growth region of the world. We see the Asian economies growing continuously, and so the demand for Asian language services is growing year by year. In terms of Asian language providers becoming increasingly important in the industry – absolutely so. There are some great localization providers located in Asia [Since 2010, EQHO has been growing at a rate of almost 30% per year] and perhaps that's indicative of what's going on in the localization industry.