By The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A slogan like “knock it out of the park” could denote a baseball image to Americans, but could fall flat in other cultures.

And that’s where the Annapolis-based Compass Languages steps in.

Its staff finds ways to help individuals speak the same language, whether it means helping American parents communicate with their adopted Haitian child, rebuilding an American company’s website so it can reach a Mexican audience or translating legal documents.

Around the world, more remote villages are accessing technology and now being identified as consumer markets for the first time. That will make for a busy 2012 and beyond, president and founder Leo Brenninkmeyer said.

“We want to make (the language) as polished as possible,” said Brenninkmeyer, who is Dutch. “The power of communication is huge, if you use it right.”

Some Maryland firms are trying to make an international effort.

Earlier this year, about a dozen businesses came to Anne Arundel Community College to learn how to reach a foreign client base. U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore County, coordinated the event as a way to encourage manufacturing companies to export now that President Barack Obama signed free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Currently, 1 percent of U.S. companies export their goods and they go largely to Canada and Mexico. Canada was Maryland’s largest international market last year, followed by the Netherlands and China. There are state and federal programs available where companies can be reimbursed for overseas trips geared toward exporting and another where foreign companies can be investigated for legitimacy.

Compass Languages has three components: interpreting, translation and localization. Interpreting refers to a conversation, where an individual acts as an interpreter for another, whereas translation refers to written documents. But much of the company’s services go toward localization, which calls for recreating materials so they would reach audiences in different cultures. For example, certain colors mean different things in other countries. The color red is used when Dow Jones Industrial Average is doing poorly, but the color means good fortune in China.

The prices for service are based on the depth of the project, the availability of the language and the deadline. It could cost as little as $200 to translate a small document from Spanish. But the translation of a 2 million-word document could cost up to $70,000, especially if it is dealing with a rarer language like Lingala, which is spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The company works with 2,000 specialized linguists around the world. In the past year, the company’s client based increased by 32 percent to more than 200 firms and organizations.

Last year, Annapolis-based Weems & Plath needed to deliver a shipment of weather instruments to Canada and Latin America. Their shipping material and instruction manuals had to be available in English, French and Spanish. The weather instruments needed to be set and calibrated correctly for long life care. Company president Peter Trogdon had previously met Brenninkmeyer and contacted him for service.

“We’ve got more weather instruments and all of our new products will be trilingual, and Compass will be doing all of the translation,” Trogdon said, adding that the company’s overseas business is growing especially in Europe. “We’re glad to see a local company that we could work with. Often, we’d have to go out of state or out of the country for help. It was just really nice that they just happened to be local and did a good job.”

Brenninkmeyer grew up in England and lived in different countries around Europe, along with the Middle East and Mexico. He studied cross-cultural communication and speaks English, Spanish, Dutch, German and some French. He launched the former Hispanic Compass in 2002 and operated from an office in Arnold. From there they moved to Crofton and the 12-member staff moved into its Annapolis office earlier this year.

“I realized the one thing I could do, the only thing I had an edge on was language and cultural insight and I tried to combine the two,” Brenninkmeyer said. “I need to solve language problems if I can.”

The company’s latest venture is reaching out to the eBook market. Traditionally, publishers would tell their authors when they would launch their book internationally, and that was usually about a year after it had been published. But with eBooks, the authors can self-publish and make more decisions on their own. The Kindle Fire is just being launched in some European countries and that will serve as a greater opportunity for them.

“It’s a complete flux, and that’s what makes it a fertile ground for entrepreneurship,” said Gary Schulties, who is in charge of the company’s eBook effort. “The feeling was that U.S. publishers were naive about the international market and it was easier to hand it over the international market. We’re trying to say to international (authors) there that you don’t have to just hand this off to somebody who knows the market.”

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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