The Skřivánek linguistic agency has been on the market for more than 25 years and operates in 15 countries around the world. Their clients come from all over Europe as well as Asia or America. It employs people with experience in languages that many have not even heard of. Despite all of that, Bronislava Chudobová, the CEO, says that there is still room for growth.
Your webpage states that you provide translation services in more than 80 languages. Which of those would be the most exotic or curious to a Czech person?
Not too long ago, it would have been Chinese or Arabic. They are now considered fundamental due to business relations between different translation agencies – mainly when paired with German or English. The more curious sounding languages are those of the Baltic region, such as Latvian. Whereas Latvia has been one of our best-performing markets for a very long time. Although languages like Gujarati, Dari, or Yoruba may sound unusual to us, they are spoken by more people than Czech is. Rarely does it happen that a language pair takes us by surprise because, in a globalized world like ours, a worldwide operating translation agency seldom comes across a language or dialect that it has not encountered before.
Have you ever encountered a real head-scratcher such as having to translate to or from an Inuit language or that of some indigenous tribe?
Yes, we received a request at our US branch for a translation from English to the Kichwa, Ixil, and Tedim languages, for example. It fell through in the end, similar to another interesting order of translation from German to the Tagalog language. It is not as unusual a tongue, though, as it could be considered a dialect in the Philippines. Another interesting request came to our German branch, it was for the German-Turkish amalgamation spoken by Turkish immigrants. Locally, we had an urgent request for a Czech to Somali interpreter coming from a hospital where they had admitted a Somalian woman. Even Irish can be a real head-scratcher, though, as it is a language spoken by a waning minority of the Irish population. It is being gradually displaced by English, and there are very few translators with such narrow specialization.
You have also done translation work for UNICEF...
There was a job concerning leaflets that were later distributed to different African tribes. The majority of the work was translating a general informational text with slight medical overtones (information regarding vaccines, or the need to use certain medicinal or contraceptive products). The main hurdle was the time it took to get the source texts to the given translator, for some dialects it was roughly three days. In places we could not reach digitally, we had to employ other means of transportation. Some took a full-day hike to get to so we could hand the texts to a translator living in a hut. And all of this just to go back the way we came. You can imagine the wave of excitement that reverberated through the office when UNICEF told us they made a slight change in the source texts that needs to be implemented – two days after the deadline... Some of the other intriguing languages we work on are Setswana, Sesotho, Zulu, Xhosa, Chichewa, Shangaan, or Bemba.
You must come across many sensitive documents in your work. Do you have processes in place to ensure that there are no information leaks when these documents are handled by more people?
Many organizations and translation agencies work with a lot of sensitive data. Despite that fact, some of them still use open source translation software, which gives the service provider a worldwide license to use, edit, share, and save this data as they see fit. Naturally, this goes against GDPR principles as well as the interests of companies contracting their translation services. That is one of the many reasons why every translation agency should conduct their machine-assisted translations in a secure, controlled environment on their own dedicated servers that can be encrypted if needed. It is not something you can achieve with a publicly available system. Therefore, we here at Skřivánek have developed – and keep continuously improving upon – our own IT systems and machine translation software, which guarantee the safety of our clients' data.
Have you ever worked on top-secret documents? Maybe something government-related?
We do translation work for the UN and the European Union, which means that we are part of a very narrow selection of companies that can provide the necessary data security and fulfill the very strict safety restrictions. We also come into contact with sensitive documents during our work in the commercial sector, which can range from new businesses based on patent approval, to years worth of research data and the work of entire teams of specialists. Therefore, we would always rather go the extra mile. We are not afraid to go above and beyond in terms of data security.
How are sensitive documents handled during the translation process? Are they password-protected, encrypted, and so on?
We employ an internal security system that does not use any externally accessible data repositories, specifically to ensure data safety. Our machine translation software uses an internal encryption system. For specific projects, we are capable of creating complex security solutions for the entire workflow. We can also provide a dedicated server where the project can be run under special conditions – everything is processed in one place with secure access and no connection to the internet.
Are your customers cautious or do they not even realize the risks, such as sending an unencrypted file through email?
It varies from client to client. As the age of digitalization progresses, however, many of our partners are becoming increasingly more careful when it comes to sharing, receiving, and storing data. Increased safety requirements mainly stem from people being more informed about the issue. More and more companies are training their people on safety, and some of them are very diligent in protecting their data. On the other hand, many regular users do not even realize the risks they are taking when they mindlessly accept the terms and conditions of different publicly accessible cloud storage and translation solutions, where they give up the rights to their data completely. A professional agency has to be aware of the risks of data misuse at all times and keep its clients informed.
If I were looking for translation services, how would you convince me that you are the best?
One of our big advantages is a stable framework – we employ a team of specialized project managers, CAT tool and neural network translation experts as well as in-house developers. We keep a lid on our internal operations, so to speak. We work with data history, allowing our teams of specialists to create terminological maps of the given data content, based on which we build further mechanisms that check the correctness of translation as per each client's individual requirements. This not only helps us build a closer and more personal relationship with our clients but but also gives us a deeper knowledge of their needs and customs in the scope of the field they operate in.
You will soon be celebrating the company’s thirtieth anniversary. Was the boom your business experienced something you planned for or did it was
There was some planning, but nobody could have expected such a resounding success back in the mid-90s. Although, every company should keep pushing its limits and setting new goals. We also have room for improvement in many areas. We are currently very happy with what we have achieved throughout our company’s history, however.
Is there anything that might take you by surprise after so many years in the field of translations?
There is always something, and today’s digital age brings with it things that would have been thought impossible just a few short years ago. That is why I am sure that the field of translations will keep surprising me long into the future.
The first foreign market that the Skřivánek agency expanded into was Poland, which still remains one of its biggest partners to this day. The demand for their services has been on the rise in the Baltic region, especially in Latvia. “When we started the company in 1994, I don’t think anyone expected that a quarter of a century later Skřivánek would be among the 50 largest translation agencies in the world according to CSA Research. And the market leader in the regions of East and Central Europe on top of that,” says Bronislava Chudobová. “After establishing a foothold in the Czech Republic, we naturally moved on to other markets where we have gained a lot of authentic experience thanks to our business partners. Our entry into the American market, which is very specific, was a great success. There is always room to expand, and we use the experience gained in foreign markets to bolster the complex planning of our business strategy. Expanding beyond the borders of its home country is an absolute necessity for a company’s ability to compete in today’s highly globalized world.”
Not just translations
Translations are a significant part of the Skřivánek agency’s business, making up for 84 percent of it. “Interpreting services are also in high demand. We can interpret over 40 languages from all over the world in different pairs,” adds Skřivánek's CEO Chudobová. “We work on modern technologies as well – computer games, webpages, SEO optimalised translations. We have recently added the option of connecting our IT systems to our clients via APIs. We also provide linguistic services in the form of a variety of language courses. That is an area that was most affected by the pandemic restrictions, which forced us to move our classes online.”