ChiJi/Zher4zi4 Communicating with the Pacific Rim

The Pacific Rim encompasses some of the most dynamic and fastest growing economies in the world. For U.S. businesses, the Pacific Rim represents tremendous opportunities for business development and market expansion.

Of the barriers to increased export trade to the Pacific rim countries, possibly the most daunting is the lack of in depth understanding of that region's markets, culture, and business practices.

Language is the Key to Understanding Culture

This ignorance of Asian culture is largely responsible for the unsatisfactory pattern of business and government negotiations between the U.S. and countries of the Pacific Rim. Though baffled by the lack of efficacy wrought by previous agreements, U.S. negotiators continue to negotiate essentially the same agreements time and time again.

Although the use of English as a universal business language has proved successful with European trading partners, similar interactions with the Pacific rim countries have failed to achieve satisfactory results. The problem inherent in the use of English is the lack of cultural awareness on the part of English speakers, which leads to misunderstandings or claims of misunderstanding between the parties involved.

Unfortunately, Asian languages are so difficult for English speakers that it is essentially impossible for ordinary business persons to develop an indepth understanding of Asian cultures.

Business and Language

Conversely, Asian business persons and government officials have diligently pursued an understanding of both English and the American culture. Most Japanese and Chinese students spend years learning English.

Currently, the overwhelming majority of business interpreters are Asians working for Asian organizations who have varying degrees of proficiency in English. They use that proficiency to advance the objectives of their organizations, one of which is domination of the U.S. markets. It is well understood that the pursuit of this objective requires mastery of English as key to understanding and acting within the English speaking cultures.

Americans are far less exposed to foreign languages, as foreign language proficiency is not considered essential to career success. American students typically learn the language closest to their family or community roots, typically the European languages Spanish, French, German, and Italian. However, the influx of Japanese capital, managers, and tourists has sparked interest in Asia to the point that Japanese is the second fastest growing language in colleges and universities (behind Spanish) in number of language students taking language courses. The enrollment of Japanese language students increased 94% from 1986 to 1990. Chinese appears to be at the head of a similar boom.

Translation Technologies

First and foremost, communication with the Pacific Rim, and with other foreign countries, relies on the skills of human interpreters. However the computer is swiftly making inroads into the translation arena. The goal is comprehensive and accurate automatic computer translation, bypassing the need for human intervention. While this is not yet feasible in any language, the facility for automatic machine translation of Asian languages to and from English lags behind that of European languages.

Automatic Machine Translation

Automatic machine translation of European languages has achieved substantial success, spurring development of products to translate to and from English, Chinese, and Japanese. However, Chinese and Japanese are much harder to translate than European languages, and their quality ranges from poor on straight factual texts to erroneous on more complex texts.

Although 95% accuracy sounds like a good score (an "A" in high school), consider the worst piece of writing you have ever read from a nonnative English speaker. Chances are, the writing was 95% accurate. It's was the 5% wrong component that caused the trouble.

English written in a simple, consistent style in which actors, objects, conditions, prerequisites, etc., are clearly enunciated and tailored to the needs of machine translation can be successfully translated into a similarly clear Asian style. This technology is useful for export businesses desirous of documenting maintenance procedures, etc., when a business can constrain its authors to write documentation in the required structured English.

For Asian languages, the state of the art is not suitable for even noncritical translation work, much less translation for subtle understanding. A further complication is that much Asian text is not readily available in electronic form, requiring Asian OCR input which itself is just becoming feasible. For the next few years, anyway, high quality translations will continue to require substantial human interaction. Additionally, beyond simple translation, it is unlikely that deeper understandings of the nuances of language and culture will can be communicated through machine translation, and without human participation.

Using Limited Quality Translations

The translations of poor quality generated by automatic machine translation can be used as a steppingstone to high quality translation - with human intervention. Given a reader with extensive language experience and the original source text, poor output of automatic machine translation can be converted to acceptable language.

However, a poor quality translation sent directly to a native speaker generally causes an unfavorable reaction (recall some of the poor quality human generated translations you have encountered). Receipt of such a translation makes the obvious negative point that the reader is not important enough to deserve a highquality translation. Automatic machine translation to and from Asian languages presents the opportunity to get a message completely wrong, while at the same time insulting the reader!

Machine Aided Translation

Machineaided translation packages provide a practical way to enhance productivity by speeding up the process of annotating existing documents and preparing them for translation.

The user loads the annotated text into a window, further annotates and analyzes for comprehension, then types the translation in another window.

Midlevel professional translators achieve a roughly threefold increase in productivity and a substantial improvement of quality over using traditional methods. The less proficient translator can expect a much greater time savings and quality improvement. Smart Characters can be used in this manner.

Machine Aided Composition

Products designed to aid translation have accompanied the development of word processors. Yet they fail for the most part to effectively integrate into word processing environments. For examples, various electronic Japanese dictionaries are available for the PC and Macintosh, but they do not allow queries from existing text, are limited in capability, etc. Again, Smart Characters has overcome these limitations, allowing queries of words from the text, and pasting of dictionary queries directly into the document.

Translation by Template

One way to achieve a highquality document without knowing the reader's language is to use a template program, wherein you select from one of hundreds of English letter templates, and fill in the blanks.

This is fine if you want to send a letter to Mr. Tanaka saying that you are going to Tokyo on June 15 and will be staying at the Imperial Hotel. However, if your communications needs cannot be accommodated by one template, you will need assistance from someone who knows the language to cut and paste appropriate sections from different templates into a final document.

Asian Language Mastery Required

Humans are still required for high quality translation and the accompanying task of analyzing foreign cultures. Since the traditional methods of relying on a limited number of interpreters have failed in the Pacific Rim, Asian language mastery has become an increasing priority for business and government, as evidenced by the increasing enrollment of Asian language students.

This background information is provided to help those unfamiliar with the Chinese or Japanese languages understand the terms and concepts discussed in the Apropos Smart Characters product literature.

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Last Modified: August 28, 1996

Copyright © 1996 Apropos, Inc.