Localization, Machine Translation

Tiziana Perinotti Takes a Global Perspective

By Anna Schlegel

Tiziana Perinotti is the founder of TGP Consulting and creator of the award-winning Silicon Valley Localization Forum website and services. She has over 15 years of successful software development and product marketing experience with companies such as Olivetti, Microsoft, PowerUp! (acquired by The Learning Company), Radius, Verity, and Palm Computing, to name a few.

In 1996, she founded TGP Consulting and helped the original founders of Palm Computing (also founders of Handspring) develop what it is now the very successful Palm handheld. Tina has developed and offered training and courseware material for end enterprises as well as freelance translators and translation companies.

Where did you grow up, and when did you come to the U.S.?
I was born and raised in Turin, northwest of Milan, near the Italian Alps. I developed a desire to move to the U.S.—Silicon Valley, in particular—when I was in college. So, as a student in Turin, I decided to travel and take communication and other computer summer courses in the U.S. during my visits to an old uncle who used to live in Pittsburgh.

How did you start in the localization field?
Right after my Computer Science degree and Masters in Linguistics, I was recruited by Olivetti, the large computer conglomerate located in Ivrea, near Turin, Italy. At the time, Olivetti was very active in the research field of software office automation, not just for the stylish typewriters the company was manufacturing, but also for the first PC lines.
There was a need to localize Olivetti Italian hardware and software products into English-ready products for all English-speaking markets around the world. In 1997—when the joint venture/OEM project between Olivetti and Microsoft was established—I was sent to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to work on Windows 2.0 and the Windows version for the first 386 machines. We developed all the device drivers for Olivetti that were included in Windows and completed the first localized versions (Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish).

What localization challenges do corporations face today?
The mantra “fast and cheap” localization has reached new levels, and the challenge is how to add “quality” to that equation in a process that has outsourced all skills, including engineering, testing, management, and customer support. Cultural and communication barriers among the product team members located in very different locales are another big challenge as well as a lack of training for IT, engineering, customer support, marketing/sales, and project management staff to be able to operate at the best of their abilities in a stressful, multi-cultural environment under strict deadlines.

What are the new trends you see in localization?
Because of the new challenge of introducing products less expensively, more and more localizers are relying on machine translation tools, online terminology tools, and project management tools to expedite the localization process and achieve consistency. Localization has also expanded beyond the traditional computer and electronics industry; for example, biotech, pharmaceutical, medical device companies, and the government are in need of more localization.

How does English influence other language localization?
In the U.S., in general, my experience has been that corporations tend to be biased towards the English language. Products still tend to be first architected and developed in an English context, before they go through some internationalization process. Part of the problem is that we ask engineering to make certain product development decisions that would be better made by professionals who have the training and experience of designing for a global audience. The outcome of this approach may be a poorly localized product and unsatisfied customers who are forced to use an English-based product with a translated user interface that is less than optimal for them. This is an obvious cost to the company in terms of missed sales revenues and market opportunities.

Have you experimented with machine translation?
Yes, since the very beginning of my career I have used and tested many tools and systems, from the most sophisticated to the very basic ones. I am very pleased with the progress and advancement in this field, and other areas such as voice recognition and search and retrieval engines; all the signs are there that these tools will become better and better and employed in more aspects of our life.

What would you like to see changed in localization?
The mentality, meaning that when corporations need to cut their budgets, one of the first things they drop off their priority list is internationalization and localization. That’s a symptom of not understanding the investment opportunity and added value of the internationalization and localization product cycles.