Speaking in (Many) Tongues

After earning his BA from the Université de Montréal, Serge Bélair founded TRSB in 1987 and now serves as its president. “I did not really grow up bilingual,” the native French speaker says, “but I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones.” At least in part because of his line of work, he has become quite the globetrotter, and in his off-hours, he’s an accomplished woodworker.

Since 1987, TRSB has helped companies connect with their stakeholders in different languages, and the company now has a staff of 125, whose wide-ranging skills have allowed the company to expand its client base

How are you growing?

“We feel strongly that to get the best from all of our team members, we need to create an environment that fosters work-life balance. We offer employees a wide variety of customized training that promotes professional growth and offer the opportunity to perform telework.”

Good communication—with both customers and employees—is crucial for any business, and when multiple languages are involved, such work only gets harder. So, in Canada, where English and French enjoy ostensibly equal recognition, companies often end up calling on the abilities of proven language-service providers such as Québec-based Traductions Serge Bélair Inc. (TRSB).

In 2014, the Common Sense Advisory ranked TRSB 13th on its list of Top Language Service Providers in North America, and that’s even more impressive when considering that the company began in 1987 with founder Serge Bélair as its sole employee. Today, the company has 125 full-time employees and uses multiple freelancers, and it has reached such numbers largely by expanding its offerings and ensuring proper training of its top talent.

Though translation of written materials makes up a large part of TRSB’s workload, the company’s capabilities extend far beyond the printed page. Its employees handle everything from websites to e-learning products to software applications, and they also provide consulting services to companies entering the French-Canadian market. “We contact companies coming to Québec to see if they need help getting established here,” Bélair says. “We do hand-holding.”

TRSB got its start doing French and English translation work, but it can now handle jobs in a variety of other European and key Asian languages as well. “Spanish is our most popular language besides French and English,” says Mary Kazamias, the company’s business development manager.

The company focuses mainly on corporate clients rather than government organizations because “we feel there’s a sense of usefulness in corporate work—companies hire us to translate information that customers or employees want to know,” Kazamias says. “There’s also a sense of continuity with corporate clients. We establish partnerships with our corporate clients. Many of our clients have been with us for years and years.”

Additionally, Bélair says, “Corporate work pays better than government work, but it’s also more demanding. A big client might ask us to do 100 jobs in a day. It could be something as simple as translating a paragraph or something very complex.”

“It’s ironic,” Kazamias adds. “A good translation is completely invisible. We go to great lengths to make sure our work goes unnoticed.”

125

Number of full-time TRSB employees today (1 in 1987)

100

Number of languages offered today (2 in 1987)

15–20%

The company’s rate of growth per year for the past several years

55 million

Approximate number of words TRSB has translated in the past year

35,000

Approximate number of projects TRSB has handled in the past year

Doing quality work requires top-notch translators. “Our translators need a university degree and mastery of their target language [the language they’re translating into],” Bélair says. “And they specialize. Someone translating in the financial area might have a degree in economics. Someone translating in healthcare might have a degree in biochemistry. We also want our translators to have OTTIAQ [Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec] certification, which is a demanding process.”

One might think TRSB’s translators would also need to know different dialects of a language, depending on where a client is located, but Bélair says this isn’t necessarily true. “Spoken French is different in different places, but that’s not as true for written French,” he says. “For really technical documents, the language is basically the same, though in Europe they tend to use English for technical terms while in Canada they tend to use French words. A translator working on a marketing piece really has to take cultural differences into account.”

Bélair says one of the most challenging aspects of his job is finding the right people to work for him. “We need a good fit in terms of qualifications and attitude; we want people who are enthusiastic and proactive,” he says. “When we find them, it’s like we’ve struck gold.”

He says one of the most rewarding parts of the job is getting positive feedback from clients. “They tell us things like, ‘You saved my life,’” he says. “It’s gratifying when a client thanks you for a job well done.”

Looking ahead, the company plans to continue incorporating new technologies into its business carefully. “Translation is very much a human activity,” Bélair says, “but it has an important technological component. We feel we’ve struck a good balance. Our technology doesn’t replace human judgment or critical analysis. Efficiency can’t come at the cost of quality.”

Such a considerate approach will help keep the company grounded as it works to expand responsibly. “We want to grow with our customers to meet their evolving needs,” Bélair says. “We want to be the best translation company in Canada, North America, and the world. And we want to help establish Québec and Canada as a key translation centre globally.”