“It’s always been a pleasure for me”

Rebecka was born and raised on the west coast of Finland, in a small municipality called Larsmo (Luoto). Situated in the middle of a large archipelago consisting of about 360 islands and skerries, Larsmo is one of the larger islands, home to tall pine forests, a number of small towns and Finland’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Larsmo. 

“It’s the kind of place where almost everyone knows everyone,” Rebecka recalls: a small place with lots of forests and water.”

Traditionally, the Customer Support function has been the unsung hero of business, for a very simple reason: the customer neither sees nor envisages a problem at the point they hand over their money. 

When you get a mortgage, buy a dress or book a flight, you don’t exhaustively assess a business for its quality of service. At this stage, we are still much more likely to think about price, product quality and features as our main points of comparison.

But anyone who has worked in a call centre or on a helpdesk knows how important the support function is; often the last opportunity to rescue a negative situation and lock down a customer for life.

However, the role of Customer Support as a hidden asset has been changing for much of the last decade. 

“Born to be bilingual”  Ray Kwan, like most others on the Unbabel platform, is not your typical translator: “translators are supposed to be more concerned with the liberal arts, but I am more of a geeky guy. I like chasing all the new techie stuff, and following the latest trends in the tech industry.” For Ray, Unbabel is changing up the role of the modern translator, and he’s excited about the way bilingual editors work in partnership with predictive technology. Unbabel’s ability to unite the speed of computational translation and the subtlety of human translation make it unique: I think combining technology and the liberal arts can bring greater inspiration, just as Unbabel seeks to do – using AI technology to deal with language. Ray has now worked for more than a year as a translator for Unbabel, following a position at the Chinese version of Fascinated by...

In part 1 of this series, we saw how history and luck put English at the top of the world’s linguistic tree. It might not have been the most spoken language in the world, but if English had a GDP, it would dwarf any other language on the planet.

In part 2, we found out that, particularly online, the strength of the English language is dwindling. Just 23 languages (out of more than 7000) are the native tongue of over 4 billion people that’s more than half the world. 

This gentle decline in the use of English should be discussed in terms of the economically-driven success of other countries. Whilst China for its sheer size has hogged the headlines, large parts of Asia and Africa are starting to assert themselves on the world stage. This has consequences for business.

In the first piece of this series, we discovered that English had got lucky. Of the 7000+ languages spoken in the world today an ever-changing list as dialects flex, grow and die out English became dominant. 

It’s historical good fortune and the practicalities of trade that gave English its position by the late 20th Century, and it’s no surprise that circumstance and practicality are equally responsible for the new world of language we find ourselves in today.

In this three-part series, we’re going to look at how the balance of language especially online is changing, and what that means for business. 

If you’re reading this in the original English it was written (rather than our translations in Chinese, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish or Italian), perhaps it’s not your first language, but here we are.

How did that happen? 

Iraq, Hiroshima and Vietnam have more in common than the tragedies of war; in fact, they might have turned out rather differently if the world had paid attention to one minor detail… 

Mistranslation is often amusing. Badly translated menus snapshotted on holiday spread across social media in minutes. But what happens when context is more important than what you’ll eat for the main course? 

In politics, that’s even more significant. A simple mistake can lead into an act of war.