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Article : Going Global: Best Practices In Human Factors For International Telephony Applications

When it comes to telephone applications, international definitely doesn't mean universal. Human factors we all take for granted in English, such as voice type and tonality, don't necessarily translate into other languages. Getting your scripts properly translated, recorded and digitized in another language can be a real challenge for the harried project manager.

What's worse, if your application is not culturally specific, you inadvertently risk alienating or offending callers, compromising usage as a result.To avoid problems in any global application, three key areas must be addressed: translation, talent selection and speech recording and digitizing.



Susan Berkley
The Great Voice Company

A successful global application starts with a good translation. Here are some tips to help you get it done as accurately as possible.

1. Your script must be translated by a human, not a computer
Computer translation programs may be fine for translating emails, but they are not yet sophisticated enough to properly translate telephony scripts with any degree of accuracy.
Some real-life examples of really embarrassing translation mistakes computers have made: in Japanese, the phrase "Falling short of expectations" became "The shorts you expect to wear in the fall." In Russian "The President of the United States visited Moscow" came out as "The US President is a monkey."

2. Use experienced professional translators
Companies will often try to save money by having their scripts translated in-house by someone who speaks the language. But this can cause unexpected problems. If the translator is a non-native speaker, he or she may have learned colloquial speech that is appropriate for conversation but not for business. They may also be unfamiliar with technical terms or with the nuances of gender and syntax. Even in the same language, telephony terms can differ from country to country. In Great Britain, the pound sign is referred to as the "hash" sign. In Canada, the pound sign is a "carré," and in France it's a "diése." In Latin America the star sign is an "estrella," and in Spain it's an "asterisco" or an "almohadilla."

Another decision that needs to be made is whether to use formal or informal speech. In romance languages, such as Spanish, French and Portuguese, there is both a formal and informal form of "you" (tu/usted, tu/vous). In Spanish or French applications, the informal "tu" is inappropriate. But in Brazilian Portuguese the informal "you" (vôce) is acceptable and preferred.

3. The finished script needs approval before recording begins
Making changes after the initial recording is complete gets expensive. Talent and set up fees must be paid for every recording session, even if it's only to change one or two words. To avoid this headache, make sure the script is finalized and the translation checked and approved by the client before going into the studio.

4. Allow enough time for translation
While rush service is often available, don't expect the voice talent to be able to translate from English into the target language on the spot. Good translation takes time. Allow at least a week for the average sized job of 300 prompts or less.

5. Work with your translator during the design phase
In many languages other than English, nouns can be masculine, feminine and even neutral. This must be accounted for when designing the system architecture and call flow.


Voice Talent
Choosing the right speaker, or voice talent, is perhaps the most important decision you will make when it comes to recording your application. Here are some important factors to take into consideration:

1. Use an experienced professional
As with translation, some companies try to save money by using an in-house speaker. If the speaker is not a trained professional, this can be an expensive and time-consuming mistake. There is a big difference between colloquial and broadcast quality speech. Trained professionals have a neutral accent, good diction and clear articulation. Their speech is universally accepted and free of regionalisms or accents that can cause pre-conceptions in the mind of the listener. Professional speakers are consistent in their delivery and the prompts they record concatenate smoothly. Non-professionals lack this type of voice control, especially on large jobs with hundreds of prompts. Experienced voice talent is completely comfortable in the studio. Nerves are not an issue. They are familiar with microphone technique, less prone to error, easy to direct and readily available—all of which saves you valuable time. Make sure you select a foreign speaker who is a permanent local resident so he or she is easily available for the inevitable changes and additions to the script.

2. Choose the proper dialect
For voice prompts in Spanish, the Castillian dialect is preferred in Spain, while neutral Spanish is preferred everywhere else. French is also tricky. European and Canadian French are not interchangeable. While the language is basically the same, the accent is not. To avoid offending callers, a French Canadian speaker should be used for Canada, and a Euro French speaker for France. There are also distinct differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese, not to mention the obvious differences between British and American English.

3. Other cultural considerations
I strongly suggest having a liaison in the target country who can participate in the selection of the voice talent and verify any questions regarding cultural issues. For example, just as female speakers are generally preferred in the United States, they are also preferred abroad, except in certain Arabic countries. In Japan, when a female voice is chosen, a higher pitched voice is preferred.


Speech Recording and Digitizing

1. Choose the right studio
Not all recording studios are suitable for telephony recording. Avoid studios that specialize in music or production for commercials, film and video. They will not have the proper technology necessary to digitize the speech so that it is compatible with your telephony platform. Make sure the studio has a broadband internet connection so that large sound files can be quickly transferred electronically. Phone patch capability is also helpful in case you or the client wishes to monitor the recording session by phone.

2. Use a domestic studio with foreign language experience
Working with an overseas studio presents unique challenges, including dealing with different time zones, and a possible language barrier that makes it difficult to communicate with studio personnel. Also, there is often a technology lag in foreign countries. All of these factors add up to an unacceptable loss of control.

3. Request a monitor
Ask the translation company if it can furnish a native speaking monitor to be present at the recording session and playback. It's worth the extra investment for quality control. If a monitor is not available and if the engineer does not speak the language being recorded, errors should be corrected on the spot and the voice talent should review the recording for accuracy after the job is recorded.

Multi-language recording definitely presents a challenge. However, if you address all of these issues, it needn't be overwhelming. In fact, what might otherwise be a project management nightmare can actually turn out to be a fascinating learning experience.

About The Author
Susan Berkley is CEO of The Great Voice Company providing voice prompts for phone systems in all languages. A top voiceover artist, she is one of the voices who says "Thank you for using AT&T" and best-selling author of "Speak To Influence: How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Your Voice."

About The Great Voice Company
The Great Voice Company is a full service recording and digitizing facility specializing in voice prompts in any language for all types of telephone applications. It has recorded over 2 million voice prompts in hundreds of languages since 1987. Additionally, Great Voice offers a training program to improve voice skills.

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More Editorial From The Great Voice Company

Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2002

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Co-Browsing is the practice of web-browsing where two or more people are navigating through a website on the internet. Software designed to allow Co-Browsing focuses on providing a smooth experience as two or more users use their devices to browse your website. In other words, your customer can permit the agent to have partial access to his/ her screen in real-time.

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