SDL helps Greenland Tame a Harsh Translation Environment

Greenland, the autonomous country within the Danish Kingdom is one of the most unusual places on earth. It is the largest island, the third largest country by land mass and the least densely populated nation in the world. Greenland is three quarters covered by the largest permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica. With not enough population, the northeastern part of Greenland is not part of any municipality, but has the world’s largest national park – Northeast Greenland National Park. Also, a little known fact – The US Government tried to purchase Greenland in 1946 for $100M because of its geographical importance but Denmark refused to sell.

The People

All towns and settlements of Greenland are situated along the coast, with the majority along the west coast, but many are scattered around the perimeter of the island. Greenland has a population of about 56,000, of whom 88% are Greenlandic Inuit. The remaining 12% are of European descent, mostly Greenland Danes. The Capital city Nuuk has just 16,000 citizens.

With such a small population and 88% being the same ethnicity you would think the language situation to be fairly simple. That is definitely not the case. Both Greenlandic and Danish are used in public affairs and the majority of the population can speak both languages. However about 12% of the population speaks Danish as a first or sole language and they fill many of the important positions such as government administrators, professionals, academics, or skilled tradesmen.

Greenlandic has 3 distinct dialects. A majority of the population speak Kalaallisut (West Greenlandic), most of them being bilingually. It is spoken by about 50,000 people, making it the most populous of the Eskimo–Aleut language family. It is the de facto official “Greenlandic" language. The northern dialect Inuktun is spoken by 1,000 or so people and the eastern dialect Tunumiusut by around 3,000. Each of these dialects is almost unintelligible to the speakers of the other, and are considered by some linguists to be separate languages.  A UNESCO report has labelled the latter two dialects as endangered and measures are now being considered to protect the East Greenlandic dialects.

Translation Challenge

The government is officially bilingual with all government documents required to be written in both Greenlandic and Danish. This includes all internal communication including budgets, legislative notes and general communications. Many documents that deal with municipalities are required to be translated into the two less spoken Greenlandic dialects as well. With almost 5 million words requiring translation each year you can see this is a large challenge to the government’s official team of 11 translators.

The Solution – SDL TMS

To assist with the language translation challenge, in 2011, the government purchased a license for SDL TMS, a translation management system. The system is flexible enough to handle the unique language requirements of the government of Greenland. Several of the features of SDL TMS enable The Greenland government to deal with their harsh translation environment:

  • Flexible workflows – SDL TMS allows users to design translation workflows exactly as they need them. You can easily build a workflow with specific translators, designate reviewers that are familiar with the subject matter and language, legal reviews if required – in fact any unique process or set of participants. Once designed they can be used repeatedly to standardize translation flows. Communication across the translation process is automated and executed instantly so there is no administrative overhead in the translation process.
  • Translation Memory (TM) – SDL TMS creates a central repository of all previously translated content that can be used in two ways: First all new requests for translation are compared to the translation memory to see if previous translations can be used. Only new content is requested for translation, although the entire document is sent to preserve context and meaning. This ensures that customers never pay for translating the same content twice. And second – a central archive is created so that any questions about document changes can be investigated across its multiple versions. This is especially important then dealing with sensitive information.
  • SaaS Deployment – SDL TMS is primarily supported as a SaaS solution. This ensures that deployment is quick and there were very minimal support requirements for the government of Greenland. To add users an administrator simply grants access rights to the individual with no IT resources required. Access has been granted to three of Greenland’s four municipalities where regional dialects are spoken so all can benefit from the language services offered.
  • Intuitive Interface – SDL TMS has a simple web-based interface that allows users, without training, to initiate, manage and receive translation projects. Departments can be given their own account to manage their translation needs with no oversight from corporate or country headquarters. Translation spending can be tracked per user, department, product group or any other entity required to maintain financial control.

The Government of Greenland was able to greatly reduce the cost of their translation program and improve the speed of translation processes. Today each translator has almost doubled their average translation output from 4 pages to 6-10 pages a day (depending on complexity). What’s more, the team has less reliance on external translators and has reduced expenditure on freelancers by 75% since 2015.

Nowhere in the world is exactly like anywhere else and that applies to language translation requirements as well. Greenland was able to benefit from the flexibility offered by SDL TMS and that allowed them to tame a challenging translation environment.

For more information on this customer case study please read the press release.