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The Changing Role of Translators

“Translators are cultural ambassadors,” said Po-king Chan, Director of The Translation Business. “It is their mission to help achieve the purpose of successful communication.”

In fact, cultural exchange has always been a part of translation, going right back to ancient times. It remains as important as ever today in the context of business translation.

Translators are commissioned by clients not just to translate the language, but also to help them communicate with their target audience by fine-tuning and adjusting their tone and style.

“Commercial translation is like making clothes – we tailor-make the translation to every client depending on their needs,” Chan added.

Established in 1994, The Translation Business is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. It is a boutique language service provider, with clients including global banks, asset managers, and financial institutions with specializations in areas such as investment, wealth management, law and public relations.

Chan majored in Chinese Studies in university, and later earned a Master’s in Women’s Studies in Britain. After graduation, she took up a language-related job at The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong, preparing sex education resources by translating and editing materials for teachers, social workers and students. But she changed focus in 1991, when she moved to Australia and did an MBA. 

A few years later, after returning to Hong Kong, Chan did some translation work for a human resource training company from the United States. Her success at this project led to referrals to other companies, including large multinationals.

“This growing client base proved to me that I was capable of setting up my own business,” Chan said, and The Translation Business was born.

It turned out to be a good time to set up a translation operation. In the late 1990s, there was an influx of British, American and European fund management companies to Hong Kong. The Translation Business was able to build up a broad and deep expertise with the banking and asset management industries, along with general commercial translation.

Chan remarked that the past two decades have seen many changes in the financial sector, including a growing interest in “impact investment” which generates social or environmental benefits. She explained that these range from technical funds in water resources or sustainable energy to broad-based funds focusing on ESG – environmental, social and governance.

“I am so grateful to see that investors now no longer only talk about profit maximization,” she added. And as a Women’s Studies graduate, Chan said that she is also heartened to see a growing emphasis on equality in the workplace in recent years.

Quality is key

To succeed in the translation business, quality must come first, Chan said.

“What makes us exceptional in this competitive marketplace is our consistently high-quality performance – that’s why our clients keep coming back.”

Another core value of the company – and its biggest asset – is talent. Even as artificial intelligence (AI) makes great strides, including its translation capabilities, Chan is not concerned.

“AI will not replace human translators,” she said. “Translators are informed communicators with analytical thinking and sound judgement.”

Nuance is essential, and professional translators do not just understand the meaning of the words, but also the context and purpose of every document they review.

“The translation approach for marketing materials is definitely different from the approach for legal documents,” Chan explained.

“As language is always evolving, at the end of the day, it is still human translators who judge and decide the most appropriate diction. They have the knowledge and judgment in that particular field to transform the meaning of the source text to the target text in the most natural and colloquial way.”

Since The Translation Business focuses on the financial sector, the role of human translators is particularly vital as they need to have specialized knowledge in their field as well as a broader understanding of the context.

“Fund management is closely related to macroeconomics, and nowadays geopolitics cannot be ignored,” she said.

For example, translators working on texts concerning Brexit would need to understand the various viewpoints and complex reasons behind Britain’s exit from the European Union. They may even need to come up with a new solution if there is not already an established translation of a word or phrase.

“Therefore, you cannot just know about the rise and fall of markets. Translators’ vision and knowledge plays a crucial role – and that’s why we always train and encourage our translators to learn from every commissioned task to perfect themselves.”

Working with technology

Though Chan does not see AI posing any danger to the need for human translators, she does agree that this technology is advancing by leaps and bound.

“We have seen how fast computer-aided translation and machine translation have developed, and how much attention people in the industry are paying to these developments,” she said.

In an ideal situation, translators can use this technology to help them produce initial translations, then they can do “post-editing” which includes the revision and refinement of content, to check for accuracy, meaning and nuance, and to provide enhancement in tone and style. In fact, technology can help by speeding up the whole process.

“Computer-aided tools are enhancing our efficiency, and at the same time we are also improving the translation quality, as the time we save can be channeled into the quality part,” Chan added.

Over the past 25 years, Hong Kong has endured a few turbulent periods. Chan recalled how the 2003 SARS outbreak impacted the company: “The market was gloomy. The economy of Hong Kong was in the doldrums.”

Another difficult time Chan recalled was the financial tsunami triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States in 2007 to 2008. The turmoil dealt a heavy blow to the U.S. financial sector, resulting in layoffs and budget cuts that directly impacted The Translation Business.

“When business slowed, we realized that some companies had fired the employees we had been in regular contact with,” Chan explained.

But having proved its mettle by riding out these two major storms for Hong Kong, the company is flourishing once again.

Looking to the future, The Translation Business is investing in the latest software and equipment, and training staff in the new systems, to keep ahead of technological development.

This nurturing of staff is also important, Chan said. Besides training employees and ensuring they are up-to-date with all the political and financial news, the company also encourages them to share their thoughts and opinions on a regular basis. 

“After all,” Chan said, “as I always remind my team members, your horizons and vision are everything.”


Company: The Translation Business Ltd

HKGCC Membership No.: HKT0764

Established: 1994

Website: http://www.translationbusiness.com.hk/

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