The possibilities are immense in the world of languages: Interview with Biraj Rath

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In December 2017, Smartcat began partnering with Braahmam, a language solutions company that provides end-to-end service to customers in 100+ languages. We reached out to Braahmam’s CEO Biraj Rath for answers to some questions we had about the Indian translation market.

As we continue to partner with companies worldwide, we’re always excited to learn more about the countries and regions they operate in. Originally founded as a learning solutions company, Braahmam now covers all language-related job types including software/mobile localization, website localization, document and manuals translation, marketing and sales collateral, training & e-learning localization, and testing. Biraj kindly shared with us an in-depth look into both globally- and locally-inspired trends and future directions Braahmam is exploring to stay at the forefront of the language industry in one of the world’s most multilingual countries. Also, read on to learn some interesting facts about the many languages spoken in India and how Braahmam’s partnership with Smartcat will play a role in the company’s development and success.

Biraj Rath
CEO at Braahmam

— Hi Biraj! The first question is, how long have you been in the language industry?

We started Braahmam in the year 2000, almost 18 years back. Initially, we were doing small projects for our customers who required multilingual training packages or sales presentations in several languages. At that time, we were not aware that a separate industry existed for localization of content/software specifically for language related work. However, from 2004 onward, we made a conscious decision to delve further into the language industry with several languages. So, our association with the language industry is fairly long.

— What motivates you to work in it?

India is a country of languages. Officially, there are 23 languages in India but also several dialects for each of these languages exist. I personally know how to read, write and speak in three languages and can partially understand another couple of Indian languages. What fascinates me in the world of languages is how Sanskrit is the base for so many languages across the globe, including Indian languages.

There are many amazing facts about languages which make them even more interesting.

For example, the Devanagari script is used to write in multiple languages, such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, and Konkani. Another example would be that Sanskrit can be written in at least 10 different scripts, including the Devanagari, Odia, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Brahmi scripts, and so on. The possibilities are immense in the world of languages. It can be applied to sales situations, education and training, spreading awareness and even solving difficult problems in inaccessible areas.

— How many languages does Braahmam cover? Would you say it is worth it to expand to new language pairs?

Braahmam works with more than 100 languages. Among these are Indian, Asian, South-East Asian, Middle-Eastern, European and rare languages. We keep adding not just new languages but language pairs. For example, recently, we added some difficult language pairs from German to Thai and Indonesian. For every language pair that we add, the potential to grow our business multiplies many times. It is definitely worth the effort.

— Can you tell a bit about India’s translation industry and the participation of Braahmam in it?

The translation industry in India is extremely fragmented. We do not have an established association of companies for freelancers. For a country like India, with a population of more than 1.2 billion people and with 23 official languages, it is surprising that we do not have established institutions, colleges or universities that teach translation or localisation, or related activities that we do within our industry. I don’t mean that there are no courses that teach languages or literature or basic translation skills but what is greatly lacking is the industry-academia link. Due to this, the students are totally disconnected from the real-world, practical application of translation and localisation in business. Therefore, people don’t seem to consider translation as a natural career path option. There are some government or government-aided institutions that do language related research, but I consider their impact to be limited for a country like India. This also means that there are huge opportunities here for the few established companies. You will find that large international LSPs have branch offices or back end ops offices, and then you have the indigenously grown localisation companies. Many of the home grown localisation companies work for local Indian companies and some work for the international LSPs, while others work directly with international enterprise customers.

In the last 3–4 years, startups and entrepreneurs have started experimenting with Indian languages in their products and services.

This is a welcome change, and I can tell you that some have tasted success with these experiments. These are some really good signs for the future of the translation industry in India.

— Which fields of expertise would you say are the most requested for translation in India?

Basically, any product or service that addresses a need of the masses will create demand for local languages. So, in India you will have demand for government related citizen services from various government ministries and departments, banking and financial institutions, legal, household appliances or devices, automobile, manufacturing. There is another large segment — exporters — that includes both goods and services. Indian companies venturing out to sell their products or services are keen to communicate to their prospects in their language of choice by way of website, sales collateral, etc.

— What do you believe the future holds for the translation industry in India?

Looking at current trends, I foresee massive amounts of digital data being translated into Indian languages by various large software, online, and social media companies by way of crowdsourcing and machine translation. Additionally, businesses that sell directly to the consumer are also realising the large market potential of non-English speaking consumers in India and they are keen to tap into this market. Several years back, most investing companies in India were under the impression that English is good enough for the Indian consumer.

They soon realized that English-speaking consumers made up fewer than 10% of the 1.2+ billion people and they were missing out on the remaining 90%.

In the last 5–6 years, this impression has changed; there are more professionals available to service customers. I also foresee a lot of work in the spiritual and non-profit domains from India. Apart from that, India is also becoming a back-office or project management hub for some large LSPs. This is also a good indication that project management talent in India will be useful to our industry.

— Do you think it makes sense for agencies to offer their services in countries and markets outside their local ones?

Yes, absolutely. The very nature of the globalized economy means that it makes a lot of sense to sell translation services to international markets. And this works well for the international markets because a lot of customers prefer to use in-country resources and feel comfortable with a partner who knows the local culture and can provide valuable advice when needed.

— Would you bet on in-house translators or freelancers in the long run?

For most of our work I would say freelancers. But in some specific cases, in-house resources are better and provide more flexibility as well. — What are the biggest challenges a project manager faces when starting a new project? In my opinion, a great challenge for project managers today is to commit to customers in terms of turnaround times, both for small and large projects. This is followed naturally by resourcing challenges to deliver within short turnaround times. Smartcat is able to effectively address some of these challenges.

— Do you have any thoughts on the education for translators and other language specialists in India?

This is a very critical point for the Indian market. Like I said before, there is a big industry-academia gap, due to which education and training for translators or language professionals here is very limited. Braahmam has been at the forefront of providing free training to several translators on CAT tools and technologies specific to our customer needs. Apart from that, we have provided training and education on several quality and translation standards followed in our industry. But that is not enough. We really need this on a much bigger and better scale where the various players in the Indian ecosystem are part of the education movement.

The Smartcat and Braahmam partnership will also aim to have a positive influence on the Indian ecosystem in this aspect.

— And the final one. What are your thoughts on the partnership with Smartcat?

I am really happy to partner with Smartcat on several fronts. One of our aims was to bring professional translators to the market from India and South East Asia (SEA). We have been able to provide some high quality certified translators to the marketplace on Smartcat. Also, we wanted to make it simple for Indian and SEA translators to use a CAT tool that does not cost them a single penny and yet gives them a world class enterprise system without any limitations. We would like to grow this relationship in India in such a way that it becomes a de-facto tool for both enterprise customers and translators in India and that the ecosystem brings benefit to all stakeholders. So far we are making steady progress and in the near future we hope to become more prominent in the market.