The business of language

Published Feb 2, 2017

Viclink is working with Victoria’s School of Languages and Cultures to help them turn their skills into a translation business that could generate jobs for students and add real value for the University. 

The idea first came about four years ago when a New Zealand-made Western, Good for Nothing, was brought into the University for subtitling. “We created subtitles for the movie in 18 different languages in just one month,” says Dr Marco Sonzogni, Reader in Translation Studies in the School of Languages and Cultures (pictured, left). “The exercise proved that the amazing capability we have in the School has real commercial potential—and the vision for a business was born!” After talking with Geoff Todd, Viclink’s Managing Director, Dr Sonzogni says that Geoff completely understood and was supportive of that vision, but: “We needed the right person to make it happen. Happily, we have now found that person in Rory McKenzie.” 

Rory (pictured, right) is a Master’s student in Literary Translation Studies, whose linguistic background is in Italian, having studied it up to Honours level at Victoria. He is also the recipient of the inaugural Sovereign Gold Award at Victoria’s Gold & Supreme Club Awards in 2016, which recognised his cultural achievements while pursuing academic studies. With his research centred on subtitling and audio-visual translation, Rory was the perfect person to help Dr Sonzogni test the potential of a real and sustainable translation service—currently known as the Victoria University of Wellington Applied Translation Service (VUWATS). Since mid-last year, he has been exploring demand for translation services within the University and further afield. 

“Our goals are three-fold,” says Rory, who project manages the jobs that come into VUWATS. “First, we want to help Victoria promote the University to international audiences that might otherwise be inaccessible—we think it’s a sustainable option for the University to invest in an internal translation service, rather than an external one. Second, we want to provide Victoria’s students with an opportunity to gain practical translation experience that could help them get work as translators when they finish their studies. Third, we’d like to offer our services outside the University, so that we can be completely self-sustaining—and be able to fund our pro-bono projects as well.” 

After Viclink invested in the purchase of professional subtitling software for VUWATS, Rory says the first job they completed was for Julia Innocente-Jones from Victoria International, translating three University promotional videos into Chinese. “If families who are thinking about sending their children overseas to study can understand, in their own language, the messages we are conveying, it could quite likely be a determining factor in where they ultimately send them,” he says. 

Since then, VUWATS has translated a variety of different media, including books, films, brochures, PowerPoint presentations and even automatic prompts for voicemail, for a variety of different clients, including Viclink.
“It’s great to be able to support one of our own,” says Geoff, who often uses the service to translate documents from English to Chinese, and Chinese to English, as part of his work with the Robinson Research Institute in China. “We’ve got this fantastic resource, right on our doorstep, so it makes sense to use it.” 

Dr Sonzogni says they appreciate the support. “Geoff really believed in us from the start, so we owe a lot to Viclink. I think there’s a common misconception that they only support science-based research with commercial potential, but we are living proof that’s not the case!” 

While the business is off to a great start already, Dr Sonzogni says that he and Rory see so much more potential. “Victoria has close to 3,000 international students from around 80 countries—that’s a lot of people who could need help with the translation of transcripts and documents for Immigration New Zealand or other New Zealand agencies. Plus, we are making approaches to the New Zealand Film Commission, to make it known that they don’t have to look overseas to get top-quality subtitles for films shot or post-produced in New Zealand—we can do it here! Even if the required language isn’t one that we teach at Victoria, we have a wide network of translators we can rely on.” 

If demand continues to grow, it is likely that a spin-out company could be formed with Viclink’s assistance and Rory heading up the operation. “It’s exciting to be creating a career out of doing what I love, but what I’d really like to see is VUWATS become the preferred supplier for all of the University’s translation needs—in the same way the University has preferred printers or stationers!” 

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