12 November 2012

Is it Worth the Investment to Develop in Your Native Language if it isn’t English?

Guest post from Kwaga, member of the LT-Innovate Network.

Creating your own online start-up is a fascinating, challenging and certainly risky path. While there are a number of “invigorating challenges” along the way, there is one that is a particular thorn in the foot of many of non-native English speakers.

Launching your venture in English AND your native language.

Our Paris start-up, Kwaga, felt compelled to develop our applications for the larger international market in English, but has also done so in French, the language of the majority of our team. It makes sense, right?  Yes, but does that mean it’s worth doubling the workload at every step?

It depends.

Our expertise at Kwaga is in natural language processing and after a few initial “pivots” we developed something that’s really caught on; our flagship product, WriteThat.name, analyses email signatures and updates our clients’ address books automatically. The complex processing chains we developed must cover at least two languages, as experience has taught us that multilingualism cannot be improvised: it is the overall architecture of a processing chain that is multilingual or not and recoding a monolingual prototype is not the sort of nightmare our developers would want to relive! 

Packaging the product or service in multiple languages can be very time-consuming.

Designing and implementing multi-lingual user interfaces takes twice as much time and can be costly, so here are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. Do you outsource the English?  Translating documentation isn’t that expensive, but the cost of continually changing your website can be significant, make you less agile and of course take more time.
  2. Translating unique terminology and product names can be really tough and certainly takes a few back-and-forths before settling on what feels “just right. So outsourcing this can become quite expensive and time-consuming.
  3. Testing new interfaces, correcting bugs etc. are of course twice as time-consuming
  4. At some point, we should mention that coding in multiple languages means coding accents, yet not all APIs and development environments are even set up for this.  This means finding “hacks” or workarounds that are – again - time-consuming and can result in bugs as products evolve.
  5. Two different texts might not fit into the same image on a website, not to mention the issue of encoding and fonts: most European languages are much richer than English in diacritics and can be another headache (as mentioned in point 4).
  6. It’s always good to do some A/B testing to really get your site and communications fine-tuned which of course means not writing twice as much... but four times (and that’s if you’re only working with 2 languages)!    
  7. Do you develop two separate social media streams as well?  If you choose to do only one, yet reply in many, some clients can become annoyed at reading a foreign language.
Our Solution and Current Tough Decision
Once we had a good product fit and enough traction, we decided to hire Native English speakers for customer support, communications and marketing as the international English-speaking market quickly became our dominant user base.

At this point, we sometimes wonder if continuing to market in French is a good business decision.
Should we hang onto bilingualism at the expense perhaps of our agility to develop new products? Our ability to process messages in many languages is certainly a competitive advantage in a global market, but maybe the interfaces and communications in French are a luxury that a start-up cannot afford?

We wonder how these kinds of decisions are impacting your language technology or start-up ventures and would love to hear how you’ve approached the subject.

Author: Gaëlle Recourcé, Chief Scientist at Kwaga.
(PS This was translated from French by Brad Patterson, hence it took twice as long as well ;-) 

No comments:

Post a Comment