Going global: Neural translation means small companies can speak the language of international consumers

Neural machine translation, which translates entire sentences at a time with colloquialisms intact. will enabled SMBs to go global. (Systran)

Small businesses—companies with 500 or fewer employees—represent 99.7% (PDF) of America’s companies, but they are also typically restricted by limited operational and marketing budgets. As a result, they often don't sell to international markets, and especially not to foreign language economies. All of that is about to change, however, according to a recent report by Entrepreneur magazine.

Recent advances in neural machine translation have facilitated the adoption of international go-to-market strategies at a lower cost.

What exactly is NMT? It is a deep-learning technology that translates within context—not just one word at a time, according to coverage by ITProPortal. Recent advancements have made this approach nearly fluent—making previous versions of machine translation irrelevant all at once. And adoption of the new technology has also been rapid: Google has been working on a machine-learning translation technique for years, and introduced a version in September 2016.

Seoul, Korea-based Systran is another leader in the field. “The internet created a global economy, but there are still numerous friction points, chief among them a substantial language barrier,” Systran CEO Denis Gachot wrote on the company blog. “NMT is a scalable solution to the language barrier problem that can achieve numerous outcomes—allow businesses to rapidly transmit large volumes of documents in different languages, connect small businesses to the global economy that could not operate without professional translation, and even empower consumers to find products and services they couldn’t have before.”

He points out that, while large businesses can afford to hire multilingual professionals to run their remote operations and provide customer service in many languages; to date, most small businesses have been more limited. NMT allows these businesses to immediately translate their web pages and online communications into more than 100 languages.

“Neural machine translation is going to change the economy by giving more businesses a language capability they can use to communicate and understand in real time,” said Gachot.

That means that a U.S. business based in Shreveport, Louisiana, can sell to consumers in Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Brazil and dozens of other countries.

Like a human brain, NMT rapidly learns the nuances of slang and idioms and goes on to produce high-quality translations at a fraction of the time it takes a human team to do the same work. The program translates entire sentences at a time—discerning cultural, colloquial and technical inferences. The technology mirrors human intuition in its ability to pick up on subtleties, but because it is a machine, it can process these faster than we can.

As Harvard Business Review has reported, you have to speak the language of your customers—and 72.4% of consumers surveyed said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own native tongue. NMT makes this possible today and, with annual e-commerce revenue growth in double digits, small businesses now have a tremendous opportunity to accelerate revenue growth abroad with minimal investment.