Making communication between languages seamless

Language Fusion introduces unique software to manage its translation and interpretation services

In many ways, technology has made the world smaller. People and cargo can be easily and quickly transported across the globe, and information is transmitted worldwide in the blink of an eye. But the ability to be in any place at any time has not made it easier to communicate with others there. A Vancouver company saw a need to better integrate advances in technology and the ongoing need to communicate between languages and cultures.

Olga Lafayette founded Language Fusion in 2004. Until this year, the company has been focused on developing the software to support its translation and interpretation services in more than 150 languages.

"The software is what will differentiate us from anyone in the industry," she said. "Our technology is the heart of Language Fusion." The company began marketing its services this spring.

Lafayette is originally from Siberia, where she studied four languages. In 1992, she met her husband, David Lafayette, while working in the tourism industry. She came to Portland in 1993 with her husband and began attending Portland State University, where she earned a degree in international business and marketing.

She began working right out of school in international sales for a Portland-based tea company. Later, while raising her children, she worked as a freelance interpreter. Aside from English, Lafayette speaks Russian, French, Japanese and Chinese.

In 2004, Lafayette realized the time was finally right to start her own business.

Translating through technology
David Lafayette owned a stock transfer company, Transfer Online, in Portland. His innovative Web-based strategy made his company an overnight success, said Lafayette.

The couple started brainstorming what software capabilities would be necessary.

The result is a Web-based system that allows Language Fusion to manage incoming jobs and have them quickly assigned and completed. Clients can compile reports of services used, pay invoices and provide feedback online.

Portland dentist Inna Shimanovsky recently used the company’s online system to arrange for an onsite interpreter to accommodate a Vietnamese patient at her clinic, AAdvanced Dental.

"It was easy and convenient," said Shimanovsky.

The alternative, she said, is having the patient arrange for a friend or relative to come along. Shimanovsky said the clinic may go months without needing an interpreter, but the service "is important to my clinic for the convenience of my patients," she said.

The technology is also beneficial to Language Fusion’s network of interpreters, who can log in and quickly find jobs available according to their languages, specialties and certifications. Trying to match interpreters and translators to clients without the automated system is inefficient, said Lafayette.

The need for fewer employees and less space to handle incoming jobs cuts the company’s overhead, and the savings are passed on to the client, she said.

A worldwide Web
According to Lafayette, Language Fusion has close to 4,000 linguists around the world, who are paid per job. Linguists can become eligible for jobs by registering on Language Fusion’s Web site and submitting their qualifications. Language Fusion has verified qualifications and completed background checks with about 500 linguists that represent the most qualified and valued members of the pool of candidates. The others are less likely to be needed on a regular basis and are available on demand.

Clark County District Court has taken advantage of Language Fusion’s extensive network of linguists. The court had struggled with finding a Ponapean interpreter, which is spoken in Micronesia, an island group in the north Pacific Ocean.

"(Language Fusion) had available a couple of different dialects, which was great, because we didn’t know which one we needed," said Alicia Hensley, senior court assistant with Clark County District Court.

Language Fusion offers onsite and telephonic interpretation, document and e-mail translation and localization and internationalization of Web sites and software.

The interpretation and translation services use Language Fusion’s unique software management system. Aside from making the process more efficient for all parties involved, the goal of the system is to create seamless communication. Lafayette likens Language Fusion’s role to that of a phone company. Few phone users think of the behind-the-scenes connections being made to make a simple phone call possible, she said. Language Fusion wants to be an invisible middle man making communication between languages seamless. Its e-mail translation service is a good example of how this is achievable.

Most translation companies would treat an e-mail that needs to be translated as a standard document, said Lafayette. An English-speaking person sending an e-mail to a Chinese-speaking person would first have to send the e-mail to have it translated, receive it back in the translated form and then send it off to the intended party. Language Fusion’s technology eliminates that disjointed process. A Language Fusion client could send an e-mail in his or her native language. Language Fusion’s system would intercept the e-mail, have it translated by a human and forward it to the intended party as if it had come from the original sender. Any replies would follow the same course, and it would seem to each party that they were speaking the same language.

The company’s localization and internationalization services are not unique to Language Fusion, but as opportunities for businesses to tap into non-English-speaking communities and other countries grow, these services are becoming more important.

Localization of a Web site goes beyond simply translating the text to another language. It takes into account cultural and logistical differences between locals. While 04/05/06 reads April 5, 2006 in the United States, It would be interpreted as May 4, 2006 in many European countries. Times, currency, symbols, icons and colors also may not translate correctly across languages and cultures. Furthermore, misinterpretation may create insensitive or offensive translations.

"Localization of Web sites is going to be huge," said Lafayette. "It has already grown and will continue to. We use the Internet for just about everything in our lives these days."

Internationalization refers to designing a product, such as software, in a way that allows for ease of localization.

Going local
Government agencies and service companies are the largest users of translation and interpretation services, said Lafayette. Language Fusion has begun to establish itself with local clients. The company’s goal is to be working with about 50 clients by the end of this year. It includes government agencies, clinics, attorneys, retailers, school districts and manufacturers as its current clients.

Bi-O-Kleen, a Vancouver manufac­turer of environmentally friendly cleaning products and detergents, began using Language Fusion to include Spanish uses and directions for its products sold in retailers across the country. Before, general manager Barry Firth relied on his own basic skills and the help of family members or coworkers. But the sometimes highly technical translations required greater expertise.

"It’s becoming more important," said Firth of accommodating non-English-speaking customers. "We are considering creating marketing materials in Spanish."

Locally, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese and Ukrainian are the most spoken foreign languages, said Lafayette. And document translation and onsite interpretation are the most requested services.

Lafayette has seen a greater emphasis on bilingualism in the U.S. And a more culturally aware population could lead to more communication across cultures.

"The business is always going to be there," she said.

Lafayette said the business is not yet profitable, mainly due to the initial costs of developing and implementing its software. Lafayette expects Language Fusion could be in the black by the end of this year.

The company has four full time and two part time employees in its approxi­mately 1,000-square-foot office in downtown Vancouver’s Academy building. Eventual plans call for marketing its services nationwide.

"Our services are not limited by area," said Lafayette. The company also would like to open a Shanghai, China, office within the next couple of years.

Lost in translation

With Language Fusion’s human translation, companies are spared the confusion of a poorly translated document, demonstrated below. In this machine translation between English and Russian, the cultural sensitivity is lost, as well as the meanings. Times, proper names and instructions become misconstrued if not translated correctly.

Hello Mr. Pak!
I’ll be arriving this coming Friday on Virgin Airlines, flight #123 at 8:25 p.m. Please arrange a pick-up at the International Arrivals gates. I’m looking forward to our discussion regarding the production of our new line of items. I’ll send you an e-mail confirmation regarding my partner’s arrival time.
My Best,

Hi Mr. Pak!
I’ll be arriving it’s arriving on Friday on Unadulterated Airlines, flight *123 at 8:25. Please organize gathering at the side of international doors Achievement. I’m look forward to our discussing regarding our new line of numbers. I’ll send you an arrangement of e-mail regarding the time of my partner’s achievement.
He’s my best,