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3 Tips for Navigating the World of Foreign Language Data

3 Tips for Navigating the World of Foreign Language Data

Leveraging Technology to Energize eDiscovery

This blog post was created by John Del Piero, Vice President of Global e-Discovery Solutions at Discovia, and it is presented with the permission of Relativity. We thank them for allowing us to share this content with you.


Rarely does a review project shape up exactly the way we predict. Litigation support teams need agility and flexibility to be prepared for everything eDiscovery can and will throw their way.

Growing data volumes are an obvious contributor to this reality, but so is today’s international landscape. Globalization means more foreign language documents are finding their way into company data stores, and that results in added complications during eDiscovery for both litigation and investigations.

If you’re starting to see that foreign language data is becoming a bigger part of everyday eDiscovery, here’s how to get ahead of the complexity.

1) Think multilingually.

It is important to always be prepared for foreign language data that may appear in your collections. Odds are good that your business—or your client’s business—involves some dealings in another country, whether via product sales, outsourced services, or recruiting efforts. Modern business means foreign language documents are always a possibility, if not likely.

For example, our team recently kicked off a relatively small internal investigation involving five custodians. After initial strategizing with the client, we knew we might need to handle foreign language data. Even though we didn’t know what languages or volumes to expect, we were fortunate to have prepared the right technological workflows, including tapping a specialized translation plugin for our review workspace, in advance. It turned out that this small investigation became a big one, and more than 10 million documents involving English, Russian, and several Middle Eastern languages were collected when all was said and done.

Bonus Tip: You can also use early case assessment workflows to perform analytics on your case and identify which foreign languages are used in which documents.

2) Hone in on foreign language insights with the right technology.

The days of setting aside individual documents with foreign language content during a manual, linear review so they can be attended to separately by native speakers are more or less behind us. Case teams can now take advantage of text analytics to identify those documents at the very start of the review.

The benefit here is that, while still requiring a separate workflow, these documents can undergo a first-pass review simultaneously alongside the English documents—instead of being flagged and funneled into a separate process as reviewers churn through the entire data set manually.

Working with foreign languages in your e-discovery software also means identifying the right stop words—common terms that the system will ignore, such as “the” or “it”—for searching and analytics, so be sure to have a proper understanding of those dictionaries from the start.

You can also get creative during searching by looking into slang or other regional terms that could be present in your data set.

Creating a unique analytics index for each language is a good way to ensure you’re making the most of your system’s conceptual analysis of the data. Additionally, work closely with foreign language experts to identify any foreign names or terms that could but should not be translated, such as “Deutsche Telekom,” and dig into foreign keyword search criteria that may uncover the most important files by helping to create clusters—conceptually related groups of documents that can be automatically organized by the system.

Bonus Tip: Taking note of some special considerations for use on foreign languages, leverage email threading and other analytics features on this data for better organization with minimal human input.

3) Know you have options for translation.

All of those technology options mean that a slow linear review by native speakers is no longer necessary—at least not to the full extent it once was.

However, once you’ve identified potentially relevant materials via these workflows, you still need to get the data into the hands of the experts on your project. You can’t build a convincing case strategy based on second-hand reports of the stories the documents are telling—at some point you’ll need accurate document translation to provide evidence.

Fortunately, even translation is a different animal when you have the right technology and workflows in place. Machine translation is a very low cost option, but you must be careful. It can provide a gist meaning, but is unreliable for the true meaning of any sentence.

While convenient and fast, machine translation may produce misleading information—and some of it may be simply incomprehensible. For reliable accuracy, consider human revision of the machine’s results.

“In the end, it cost 65 percent less than we anticipated for a manual translation — and we gathered all the insight we needed, easily within the time allowed.”

For instance, on that same case of 10 million documents, our team ended up with more than 70,000 files that required translation—and the task seemed daunting.

Working closely with Linguistic Systems, a Relativity developer partner, we were able to identify a collaborative, hybrid workflow that utilized post-editing of the machine translation to split the difference between the cost-effectiveness of machine translation and the refined accuracy of human translation.

In the end, it cost 65 percent less than we anticipated for a manual translation—and we gathered all the insight we needed, easily within the time allowed.

Bonus Tip: Specialized tools that can be added directly to your review workspace support translation workflows in real time, so you don’t have to move data around. Discovia worked with the Relativity Developer Partner, Linguistic Systems, Inc., who does this translation work through their proprietary LSI Translation Plug-in, an application in the Relativity Ecosystem.

When it comes down to it, tackling foreign language data is yet another example of how modern e-discovery requires a healthy balance of technology, expertise, and collaboration. How do you ensure you’re sticking the landing on feats like these? Let us know in the comments.

John Del Piero is Vice President of Global eDiscovery solutions at Discovia, where he helps foster effective partnerships with law firms and corporations tackling complex litigation and investigations. He joined Discovia in 2010.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For 50 years, Linguistic Systems has served Fortune 100 corporate legal departments and AmLaw 100 firms. Trust us with your next translation project.

The Almost Right Word

The Almost Right Word

The Necessity of Native Language Know-How

As Mark Twain so wisely states, choosing the right word is important. That’s why, in the translation business, it is considered good practice to always translate into your native language.

Even if one is completely fluent in a second language, ideas and concepts may be phrased slightly differently by native speakers, making sentences sound stilted, awkward, or just plain wrong if a non-native speaker writes them. Some mistakes may cause native speakers a great deal of amusement. Take these examples below (source: linguagreca.com): 

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.” –Mark Twain

In a Norwegian cocktail lounge:  “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” It doesn’t make sense to English speakers, because “to have children” has the connotation of giving birth to children, which is most likely not what the Norwegians meant.

In a Nairobi restaurant:  “Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.” Again, we know what the translator is trying to say. But in this case, the sentence sounds like the manager is even ruder than the waitresses.

At a Budapest zoo: “Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.” While this sentence is grammatically correct, the way it is written causes native speakers to think the guard wants to be fed.

Although most translators would not make such amusing mistakes, these examples highlight the importance of linguists working in their native language. Almost right isn’t right at all.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Linguistic Systems has 7,500 skilled, certified translators who are fluent in the language and native culture of your target audience. Trust us with your next translation project.

Vocabulary versus Meaning

Vocabulary versus Meaning

Culture Trumps [ Machine ] Translation

While having a vast vocabulary is important for any translator or interpreter, simply knowing the dictionary meanings of words in a foreign language is not enough. In fact, in any language, there are many cultural layers behind certain words and phrases that linguists need to know.

I learned this the hard way when living in German-speaking Austria. As English speakers, we often say “how are you?” as a continuation of our “hello” greeting. We then expect the person to answer with an automatic “Good, how are you?”

German speakers, however, don’t do this. Not knowing this cultural norm, I simply translated our common English greeting of “Hello, how are you?” to the German “Hallo, wie geht’s?”when talking to people abroad.

“These subtle differences in meaning can make all the difference in translating and interpreting.”

After receiving slightly strange looks from German speakers, I would then be provided with twenty-minute long answers involving that person’s stomach issues, skin rashes, fights with estranged siblings, you name it. I quickly learned that the German version of “how are you” is a little different from the English.

Another example is the phrase “Bis spӓter,” which translates to the English phrase “See you later.” But not exactly.

In Austria, after meeting up with a German-speaking friend and getting ready to leave, I cheerfully told him “Bis spӓter!” He gave me a very strange look and said in German, “No, I won’t see you later.”

After being a little confused about why he didn’t want to see me ever again, I realized that the German “See you later” can only apply to later that day, and not to the general, anytime-in-the-future way we mean it in English.

These subtle differences in meaning can make all the difference in translating and interpreting. While the above examples are very basic and low-level, they represent the fact that cultural norms play a role in how one should translate or interpret certain words and phrases. It is therefore very important to be aware of the culture of the language.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Linguistic Systems has 7,500 skilled, certified translators who are fluent in the language and native culture of your target audience. Trust us with your next translation project.

Back Translations, Their Rationale and Value

Back Translations, Their Rationale and Value

Medical and Pharma Clients: Are You Using the Right Translation Tool?

For medical and pharmaceutical clients, back translations are necessary facts of life; they are absolute requirements for most clinical research documents that must be translated into other languages.

But for experienced professional translators and editors who work in this area, back translations seem a wrongheaded way to approach accuracy and faithfulness to the source document.

Why would governmental agencies require a back translation of all clinical trial documents as a matter of course? In a cogently argued article in ICT (International Clinical Trials, summer, 2008, pp.16 ff.), Simon Andriesen points out that,

  1. everyone involved needs to be informed about all aspects of the trial,
  2. the results of the research will need to be published,
  3. documents must be written in clear, unambiguous language,
  4. many trials are performed across national boundaries, and
  5. consequently, the research must be multilingual in design for accurate comparative cross-country evaluation.

To accomplish this, factors that need to be considered include evaluation of the source questions as well as the target translation.

For example, when a patient in India or China is asked to evaluate the level of discomfort (from 1-10) of a procedure and rates it a 2 (slight discomfort) because they are accustomed to living with a certain level of pain, is that really comparable to a 2 given by a patient in France or Germany, someone who is not accustomed to living with pain?

The people engaged in design of the research need to ensure that answers are comparable across national and linguistic boundaries. How can the source language and translations of a question help accomplish this?

Translators and linguistic editors are not concerned with evaluating research design nor for comparability of results across linguistic boundaries. They are concerned with linguistic accuracy, naturalness, and proper form, which are really very different from the concerns of a medical researcher or government agency.

“It is usually the case that the linguistic aspects of a clinical trial are given short shrift, and not enough time and effort are spent on how translations and back translations can aid the research process …”

And for translators, their arguments against back translations are perfectly valid: a good translation, along with good editing, is much to be preferred as valid linguistic procedures over back translation. This is especially true if both the translation and back translation are rushed to meet a tight deadline, and the people evaluating the back translation do not really know what they should be looking for.

For example, if a back translator uses the word “brave,” but the original English had “courageous,” the client should not be focused on this as an error in translation: it’s not, the meaning is exactly the same.

Another example would be judging it a mistranslation if a back translation uses “participates in” for “takes part in.” Minor variations like these do not indicate translation errors, they simply reveal the many correct, possible choices in a language.

Rather than criticizing a back translation for changed word order or slight, seeming differences in word choice from the source, which translators understand is the correct way to go about conversion from one language to another, Andriesen argues that people who evaluate forward and back translations should be looking at comprehensiveness (inclusion of all points in the source document) and comparability across languages.

True, this demands a great deal of time and trouble, but it is the true rationale behind requiring back translations. It is usually the case that the linguistic aspects of a clinical trial are given short shrift, and not enough time and effort are spent on how translations and back translations can aid the research process, provided they are performed correctly.

Andriesen concludes his excellent article with: “If back translations are merely done to be kept on file or to satisfy ISO auditors, the efforts and cost are a total waste. When taken seriously and done in a professional way, a back translation effectively can identify the shortcomings of a translation – although one may argue whether it is cost-effective. A final edit stage, with a detailed commentary or a double forward translation, will probably provide the same level of confidence.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Linguistic Systems has decades of experience serving life sciences, biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical firms. Trust us with your next translation project.

Interpreting: Ordering the Right Service

Interpreting: Ordering the Right Service

How to select between simultaneous, certified, consecutive, escort, whisper, and telephone interpreting

What do you ask for when you need someone who can speak another language for an individual client deposition or medical appointment? – for a conference? – for a patent lawsuit in court?

When they need language services like these, many people contact our office requesting a translator. Some even qualify that by asking for a “translator on site.”

But translations are written documents, and the people who do them are “translators.” And it is also possible to request that a translator be provided at a specific company site to do a written translation. All oral work, however, is called “interpretation.”

There are several different kinds of interpretation, depending on the mode and purpose, and most interpreters are qualified for only some of these types. The most demanding mode is simultaneous interpreting, usually reserved for large conferences that may require several different language pairs (e.g., English/French, English/Spanish, English/Portuguese) and use equipment (headphones, etc.) and booths to isolate each interpreter and avoid interference from other language pairs.

The interpreter speaks at the same time as the speaker in the source language does, but is usually a sentence behind the speaker. He/she must hear, register, and remember what the speaker is saying, while at the same time interpreting into the target language the content of the speech a few seconds earlier. The audience can listen to the interpreter via specific headphones geared to that language pair.

It helps to have the speech written out beforehand, but if there are rapid exchanges of information in two languages, the interpreter must think very quickly, assimilate the information in one language, and interpret it into another. This requires very specialized skills and training, and the number of interpreters who can do this is very limited. Most simultaneous interpreters work a full day or several days.

Also demanding is certified court interpreting, which often requires the simultaneous skill, although sometimes consecutive interpreting is sufficient. Consecutive interpreting is the most common mode and is used for depositions and medical appointments as well as for court. The attorney or doctor speaks first, and the interpreter listens carefully to what is said in the source language, and then interprets it immediately afterwards into the target language.

People do not speak at the same time, which makes it somewhat less stressful, but the interpreter must be familiar with the terminology of the subject to be interpreted, as well as both source and target languages. Most consecutive interpreters work by the hour, with a two or three-hour minimum.

Escort interpreting is yet another mode. Here the interpreter must walk around a facility or place with the people he/she is required to interpret for. Mobile equipment (microphones and speakers) are required, and the interpreter may have to function in either a consecutive or simultaneous way, depending on the situation.

In addition to these types of interpreting, sometimes clients require a whisper interpreter. This mode is often used at meetings where interpreting for only one or two guests is required. The interpreter sits next to them and whispers her/his interpretation into their ear. No equipment is needed.

Finally, many medical facilities (and others) use telephone interpreters. These are on-call interpreters, prepared to provide consecutive interpreting over the phone in their language pair for specific subjects. They normally work only a few minutes at a time, as long as the phone call or medical appointment takes, but can be available for somewhat longer periods if necessary.

The type of interpreting you need depends on the given purpose or event. It is always helpful, however, to provide written materials or background information to help the interpreter prepare for your event. No matter how competent and appropriate the language professional is, the written documents will enable the interpreter to prepare in advance of the event and ensure the most suitable interpretation for your needs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Linguistic Systems is an industry leader in multiple forms of interpreting. Trust us with your next interpreting project.