Throughout July and August 2019, I was an intern at Chinese
Translation Service, a section within the Department for General Assembly and
Conference Management, U.N. Secretariat. The Service is responsible for
translating all kinds of U.N. documents including General Assembly and Security
Council resolutions. I provided draft Chinese translations of summary records
of meetings and provisional agenda items for the 74th session (the upcoming
one) of the U.N. General Assembly.
This internship was a great experience in many ways. I
received feedback from top-notch translators, learned the workflow of U.N.
translation teams, gained first-hand knowledge about what it takes to be a
staff translator at the organization. In addition, I had the exciting opportunities
to observe ECOSOC and Security Council meetings. But perhaps the greatest
experience to me was working in an internal translation team. The importance of
maintaining consistency across the agency and meeting productivity requirements
was complementary to my school training.
What did the application process entail?
I filled in an application form at U.N. career website
Inspira. The form consisted of multiple pages, with detailed inquiries about an
applicant. I carefully examined my answers on every page, with extra attention
to the initial, screening questions. At the end of the form, a cover letter was
required. I wrote a draft and asked my Career Advisor, Winnie Heh, for
suggestions. It took time for the recruiters to process applications. In some
cases, there may be an interview or even a test for applicants.
Now that you have experienced working in an international organization as a translator, what part of your T&I training do you think helped you the most for that role?
Having attended two U.N. MoU schools, I was trained by
professors who used to be staff translators at the organization. I believe my
previous exposure to the language of U.N. documents gave me a head start in my
internship. Also, the great attention to details and the pursuit of utmost
accuracy I inherited from my professors mirror what is expected of a U.N.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing an internship with the UN?
First of all, do not give up! Before this internship, I had
applied three times only to be turned down. In fact, I hesitated for a long
time before I finally applied for this one on the very last day. Now I am glad
that I made the right decision. In addition, what I have learned through
subsequent talks with senior translators at U.N. is that your cover letter
matters. Prove to the recruiters your commitment to the type of work in the
internship; show the qualities they are seeking; write more about what you can
offer, less about what you wish to gain; stick to the business – it is
irrelevant to mention how much you like the city where the internship is. And
if you are to attend an interview, try to illustrate how you possess the core
competencies that U.N. seeks. (see https://careers.un.org/lbw/home.aspx?viewtype=WWLF)
Alexander Alyakrinskiy (MATLM 2017) is a Localization Program Manager at Fitbit. Before attending MIIS he worked as a Foreign Language Instructor, Linguist and Localization Analyst. I was intrigued by his observations on the crucial role that one’s temperament plays in their success. Here is our conversation.
In our recent conversation, you brought up the topic of how to align one’s skills and temperament with specific roles in the localization industry. Can you talk about how you arrived at this idea?
As a program manager I interact with a variety of stakeholders on a daily basis including language specialists and l10n engineers. I noticed how certain temperaments help people to succeed in a specific role (ex. vendor management and engineering) and align with their type of communication.
Could you please give us some examples of skills/temperament types and the types of roles that are good fits for them?
came across many project/program managers who do not have a strong linguistic
background, but possess well developed interpersonal communication
skills. Being able to adjust and staying flexible in difficult and sometimes
frustrating situations is more important in this area of l10n.
The rare and well desired mix is a localization engineer. They
tend to be on the introverted side but have difficulty using soft skills and
can’t handle multitasking.
It came as a surprise to me that many language specialists within tech are introverts and enjoy focusing on the language as opposed to communication with stakeholders and project management.
How did you figure out your skills/temperament and how did you find the right role to match your skills/temperament?
For me it came with experience and wasn’t a straightforward path. I got to work on the vendor side and have experience as a language specialist. I really enjoy puzzles and I am stimulated by complex projects. I got my job as program manager at Fitbit right after graduation from MIIS and I realized that I enjoy the amount of responsibility and interactions with stakeholders. Brining people and ideas together and translating them into a localized product is something I really enjoy. I face daily challenges on a bigger scale and have to make decisions independently using sound judgement and direct the resources to make things happen.
What advice would you give to TLM students in terms of how they can approach this exploration process?
My advice to the students is to apply for internships and learn about different roles and their daily responsibilities within the company. Also, self-assessment and understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses is crucial in defining the right role in the future workplace. I’ve seen many students so desperately trying to apply for project/program management role to only realize that it requires way too much interaction and ambiguity they didn’t expect and can’t handle. There should be a clear understanding that program/project management isn’t about language and creative side of it per se. It’s about bringing people and resources together, analyzing risks and forecasting the budget which requires marketing and analytical skills.
After building Eezy’s localization program from the ground up, Hilary Normanha is taking a new position as a Localization Program Manager at ASICS Digital in Boston, MA. She sat down with me recently to reflect on her career as a language professional and the learnings she would like to share.
How did you enter the localization industry?
As a teenager, I had the incredible opportunity to move to Brazil where I ended up living for many years. After high school, one of my first jobs there was teaching English at a language school. The owner of the school got me started on the road to translation, I was hooked from day one and the rest is history! Over the years, I’ve always kept one foot in the localization industry (even when it didn’t pay the bills) because I am passionate about languages and I enjoy the constant evolution of this industry. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychological Sciences with a minor in Women’s studies.
What do you think are the most important skills, knowledge and mindset aspiring localizers need?
The localization industry is moving fast, and is accelerating along with the rapid growth we are seeing in the tech industry as a whole. This means that if you enter this industry now, the landscape will change (and continue to change) quickly. If you want a long and prosperous career, you must be open to continuous learning and professional development from day one! This is no longer an option in our industry – it is a requirement. Another thing I love about our industry is that it overlaps with so many others; marketing, sales, SEO, product, design, engineering…the list is endless. This means that localization doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is cross-functional. Localization professionals today need to be willing to grow broader skill sets in order to provide the best solutions for their companies and end users. As an example, at Eezy I partner regularly with our SEO team, marketing team, development team, and product/design teams. In addition, I regularly present to our executive team and growth teams. This has given me the opportunity to grow additional skill sets so that our localization program fits within the broader scope of the company as a whole and works toward our goals. This role has challenged my assumptions about what localization looks like, and what it could look like in the future.
What are the things that you think educational institutions can do to help prepare students for success in the localization industry?
Many times localization professionals work within small teams, or even on their own. While their work overlaps with many other teams, there is an expectation that they run their department and be their end user’s biggest advocates. In order to succeed, localization professionals need a foundation in data analysis, presentation skills, project and program management, risk analysis, scrum and agile (if they plan to partner with development teams) and reporting (especially financial reporting). These skills are useful even if the student’s professional goals don’t involve working for a large company. Let’s say they want to run their own translation company. If they can look at their client’s core customer, or a Google Analytics report of their client’s traffic and click through rates on the website and turn that data into a report showing how their translation services are the best fit for their client…it will put them a step ahead. They should be able to put together end of the year financial reports and projections for their clients, or convince their client why they would benefit from a service they can provide.
You have worked on both the vendor and client sides. How would you compare your experience in both? Do you think one needs to have different skill sets on either side?
The skills sets are definitely different but there is a lot of overlap as well. Customizing your process/workflow for your end user is something that I experienced on both the client and vendor side. As a vendor, I was accustomed to customizing TMs, terms bases, projects and workflows for both the clients and LSPs that I worked with. Now as a client, I use those same skills when thinking about the end user of Eezy’s products, and partnering with cross functional teams to customize our process. Project management is a skill that overlaps as well.
With that said, there are unique skill sets on each side. Sales and prospecting is a huge part of a vendor’s work flow. I remember spending hours researching how to write cold emails or pitch services early in my career. Thankfully sales has evolved since then, there are a lot more tools available and it is a much more empathetic business focused on solutions. Learning how to identify pain points and offer solutions is key for vendors, as is partnership. Now that I am on the client side I am learning how to leverage my vendors and partner more heavily with them. Vendors have a lot of experience with a variety of clients and projects, so as a client I have to be willing to open up and share the problems I am trying to solve with my vendors. Seeing vendors as partners (and not as a third party service) opens doors. On the client side, I would say partnering both with your vendors and cross functionally within your organization is the best way to grow. On the client’s side being the end user’s advocate is the key to succeeding. This means looking at data, building partnerships with other teams, and finding creative solutions.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Back when I was still in school, struggling to build up a client base as a translator and pushing myself to develop my project management skills I had to supplement my income with bartending. I absolutely hated it, but it was necessary because it payed the bills and didn’t interfere with my daytime schedule. One night at the end of my shift I opened up to my manager at the bar where I worked. She encouraged me find a new vantage point and to “see everything as an opportunity.” Once I flipped that switch in my mind, I began to see bartending as an opportunity for growth alongside school and translating. Working as a bartender helped me develop my sales skills, taught me to prioritize and multitask in a high stress environment, and pushed me to find common ground with any stranger who walked in the door. Her advice stuck with me, it has not only helped me overcome obstacles but has also pushed me to grow both personally and professionally. Every step you take can elicit growth and contribute towards your goals, it just requires the right mindset.
You are a native speaker of English. When did you realize you wanted to further immerse yourself in the Japanese language and culture?
I grew up in a mostly monolingual English-speaking environment, but as a fourth generation Japanese American growing up in Hawai’i, I was surrounded by Japanese culture from a young age, despite having minimal exposure to the language. When I first visited Japan, I was 13 years old and met a lot of Japanese people who spoke English. I remember feeling both embarrassed and amazed, and decided to learn Japanese as soon as I got back from that trip. I wanted to enroll in Japanese classes, but this didn’t happen until I was 15 because we didn’t have many opportunities on my island for young people to learn a second language. My first two years of studying were mainly self-taught.
The next few years were interesting because I was simultaneously studying Japanese through beginner-level classes at my high school, Japanese classes at a local college, and an experimental Japanese conversation class at a local Buddhist temple. Thanks to these initial opportunities, I had a well-rounded fundamental knowledge of Japanese by the time I entered university, where I majored in Japanese language and literature.
How much time did you spend in Japan and what did you do there?
I studied abroad in Osaka for two semesters during university. After working as a bilingual tour briefer in the tourism industry in Hawaii for a year I worked in Tottori prefecture as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), teaching English to elementary and middle school children for about five and a half years.
What most people don’t know about me is that I actually wasn’t a part of the JET program — I was working for a small private company that provided English and French conversation lessons, and this company also worked directly with its local Board of Education to dispatch ALTs in the area.
Not being in the JET program meant I was given more freedom in teaching and with my vacation time. Thus, I made a habit of traveling all over Japan on my time off. I studied extensively in my free time, and used tests like the Kanji Proficiency exam and the National Tour Guide Interpreter Exam as a measure for keeping track of my progress and motiving myself to learn new things.
When I had free time at work, I would sit in on my students’ classes that weren’t the English classes, especially the History and Science classes, to learn about these concepts in Japanese. This turned out to be one of the best things I did that prepared me for MIIS, as I was essentially getting a second education in certain subjects in my B language. I also picked up Japanese calligraphy and boxing as hobbies.
How did you hear about MIIS and what did you study at MIIS?
My aunt used to tell me stories of my grandmother’s brother who went to Monterey (school unclear) to study language and ended up working for a government agency as a linguist. Thus, I was aware for a while that Monterey is a place you go “to study language.”
I visited Monterey to take a campus tour in my last year of university back in 2010 when I was considering job options, and it opened my eyes to the world of translation and interpretation. As I didn’t have much in-country experience at the time, I felt I wasn’t anywhere ready to apply, so I made working in Japan my biggest priority, and attending MIIS became a long-term goal. I took an intensive interpretation program at the University of Hawaii the summer I graduated to get a little bit of training in interpretation, but with only a year of study abroad, that was very challenging for me at the time, and I was scared off of interpreting until I tried again at MIIS.
In the years coming up to MIIS, there were a series of game translation contests hosted by LOCJAM in the years I was in Japan, and this introduced me to the fascinating world of localization. Because I was so fascinated by this new and upcoming industry, I entered MIIS as a TLM-Translation track student, and eventually made the switch to Translation (with a Localization Management specialization) so that I could take more T&I classes and build up my translation and interpretation skills.
At MIIS, I’ve taken classes in just about everything that the TILM programs at MIIS have to offer. (I even audited a class in NPTS about science and technology, which referenced Japan quite a bit!). After experiencing everything, and considering my skill set, working directly with language as a translator or interpreter won out as my ideal career path in the end.
Tell us about the key immersive learning opportunities (such as internship and practicum) and other key insights gained that have informed your future career direction.
I was given the opportunity to do two internships during my time as a student at MIIS, one during winter break in project management and the other in the summer, where I did interpretation with Honda R&D Americas. The combination of these two internships helped me realize that I was more interested in working directly with language than managing projects.
Although I ultimately decided project management is not for me, interning as a project manager was a good experience in that I was able to gain insights in the process that LSPs use when recruiting and working with translators and interpreters. I also learned how to take care of interpretation equipment and how events that need interpreters are planned.
You are about to graduate. What are you going to do after graduation?
I will be working as an in-house interpreter at Daikin, an HVAC manufacturing company that is expanding its language services department. They are located in Texas.
Any words of wisdom for language students who want to incorporate Japanese into their future careers?
If you are interested in translation and interpretation, expand your knowledge of everything, be curious and read extensively, learn to love kanji, and don’t forget to work on maintaining and elevating both your B and A languages. Don’t settle for your current language level, always aim higher. Live in Japan, and for as long as you can. Immerse yourself and absorb the language and culture.
If you have the means to study now, having a specialty in a field other than Japanese is a huge asset that will help set you apart from others in the field and open yourself up to opportunity.
Learning Japanese when you are a native English speaker takes many years of dedicated studying and can be a painful task at times, but it will pay off in the end if you persevere.
– You are a native speaker of English. When did you realize you wanted to further immerse yourself in the Japanese language and culture?
Growing up in a multilingual household, I always enjoyed learning languages. As I was researching and applying to colleges, I made my decision partially because I wanted to study Japanese, a language that was attractive to me for being so different from anything I had studied before. I soon fell in love with it, especially after studying at Waseda University in Tokyo for a year, and in the end, graduated with a major in Japanese Studies. I did not know what I wanted to do as a career at the time, but I knew I wanted to use Japanese in some way. I decided to apply for the JET Programme to immerse myself in the language and hopefully figure out my future path, and thankfully, I was accepted.
– How much time did you spend in Japan and what did you do there?
After getting my BA, I moved to the southern prefecture of Kumamoto, where I worked with the JET Programme for five years. I spent three years of that time as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) teaching English to elementary and middle school students in the beautiful island town of Amakusa. I then transferred to Minamata City, where I worked as a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) for two years. My position included everything from administrative duties for the local International Association and organizing a sister city exchange program, to organizing cultural events and writing a column in the city newsletter. My work also included some translation and interpretation, which I loved and which inspired me to apply to MIIS.
– How did you hear about MIIS and what did you study at MIIS?
I first heard about MIIS early on in my JET career from a fellow ALT (who also told me about the scholarship offered to all returning JETs!). She came to MIIS a couple years later, and I followed in her footsteps a couple years after that. I originally applied for the Translation and Localization Management program, but after my first semester decided that what I really wanted to focus on was the practical, language side of translation and interpretation, so I switched programs to MAT. In addition to my translation coursework, I have taken two years of interpretation classes and earned the Localization Management specialization, so I like to think I’ve gotten a well-rounded education here.
– Tell us about the key immersive learning opportunities (such as internship and practicum) and other key insights gained that have informed your future career direction.
After my first year, I interned for a summer at Daikin North America, a Japanese-owned manufacturer of HVAC systems outside of Houston, Texas. This was a really great learning experience for me. I was still leaning towards working in written translation until my internship, but my work at Daikin was primarily related to interpretation. I found there that there was a lot about interpretation that I loved, and I know now that I want a career that allows me to do both.
I also participated in an immersive learning opportunity this semester while auditing the Seminar in Foreign Policy, Trade, and Development in East Asia course. This course involved a field research practicum during spring break, wherein students visit Tokyo and Beijing to listen to lectures and interview experts in a variety of topics. Two students each from the Japanese and Chinese T&I programs attended to serve as interpreters, myself included. I learned a lot about the major issues facing East Asia in terms of security, trade, and foreign relations—information that is very transferrable to my general knowledge as an interpreter. During the practicum portion, we visited government ministries, research centers, and even the Diet. This was a great opportunity to get a taste of life as a freelance interpreter, and being able to help my fellow students in their research was a wonderful bonus.
– You are about to graduate. What are you going to do after graduation?
I am heading to Europe! I will be a Translation Fellow at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, where I will spend an intensive six months learning about intellectual property and being trained in the field of patent translation from Japanese to English. I’m very excited about this opportunity!
– Any words of wisdom for language students who want to incorporate Japanese into their future careers?
There are so many opportunities out there that require language skills. Bilingualism is a great benefit to both you and to employers, and fewer and fewer people in the US have the advanced skills required in languages like Japanese or Chinese. If you have language skills, I would encourage you to look into the different careers that require them because there’s something for everyone. If you want to work in translation/interpretation specifically, be very critical about yourself and don’t rush into it. It can be a very demanding field, so make sure you have a really solid foundation. Take the time to live in-country and intensively study the language, culture, modern history, and current events of Japan. But don’t be scared off—it’s also a very rewarding field!
How Artificial Intelligence Changes Your Decision-Making Process
The success of the Georgetown-IBM collaboration in the 1950s lead researchers to think that machine translation will replace human translation in only a few years (Kelly, 2014). Among the first things that I learned after I started immersing myself into the translation and localization industry was that this statement is not true and that machine translation will not pose a threat to the future generations of translators (Nimdzi, n.d.). A major reason for this is the fact that this technology and one of its subsets, artificial intelligence (AI), are still developing and therefore a fully automated, high quality and unrestricted translation is currently not feasible without human intervention. How can businesses and other stakeholders in the language industry then prepare themselves for this evolution to maximize their returns and simultaneously offer the best possible service within a short period of time?
Machine Translation and the Business Model Canvas
I would like to use the business model canvas developed by Alexander Osterwalder (see appendix) to illustrate my thoughts on these processes. The reason I opted for this strategic model is because it organizes the decision-making process of a project manager (PM) in a logical and organized way and depicts all relevant areas of a business.
First, the decision-maker, who may be a freelance translator or a PM in a company, needs to consider his or her value proposition. In other words, how will machine translation change the company output that will be used by the end-consumer? There is tremendous potential and rapid growth that PMs need to be aware of, which can overall be described as a continuous exposure to AI in the next years to come (O’Dowd, 2019). What will change for the client? While companies become more agile by using new technologies, customers benefit from a more interactive, customized and high-quality product or service (Nimdzi, n.d.).
A second area that illustrates the supply side of the business model canvas includes the key partners (who am I working with), the key activities (what do I need to do) and the key resources (what do I need) that define how a company intends to offer the value proposition. While AI offers many new opportunities to grow, it also requires PMs to be on the constant lookout for new technologies and train their work force accordingly to finally create competitive advantage. The introduction of neural machine translation in the late 2000s has already been a major breakthrough in the industry that will allow PMs to allocate company resources more efficiently. Time spent on simple or cumbersome translation processes can instead be used in areas where problem-solving skills, creativity or innovation is needed (Nimdzi, n.d.).
To become more efficient, companies need a reliable labor force and trustworthy language service providers as partners who produce or contribute to the desired output. PMs need to make decisions on which tools and features they require and what kind of staff is used for each and every step in the translation and localization process. These changes, if implemented correctly, can not only reduce production time and costs but also increase the translation output. However, with the rise of modern technology, data security has become an even bigger issue. In other words, using machine translation can also harm a client when confidential data in a translation memory is disclosed or deleted. Hence, a part of all key activities and resources are the methods and tools (i.e. blockchain) used to protect sensitive data.
A third area that the business model canvas is concerned with is the demand side and therefore, the end-consumer. How do I maintain the relationship to my customers (customer relationship), who is my customer (customer segments) and finally, how do I sell my product or service (channels)? While machine learning does not directly affect these areas, it is still very important to consider these factors because bad machine translation technologies are the reason why companies choose to consult professionals to complete a job. Customers are the ones who are directly affected and the reason why translations are completed in the first place. Using modern technologies to complete a task and to store data with translation memories or term bases is ultimately beneficial to the end-consumer. Post-edited translations and / or layouts are saved and can be reused for future jobs, for which less time and money will have to be invested.
Finally, the business model canvas discusses the cost structure (how much do I need to invest) and the revenue streams (how much do I need to earn to break-even). The combination of the two result in a minimum viable product that we are able to bring onto the market. Machine translation, especially AI technology and neural machine translation are better technologies than any of their predecessors. However, the initial investment is also much higher, considering the fact that it is new technology still in the development stage (Nimdzi, n.d.). Currently, such an investment makes only sense if the amount of translations to be completed is big enough to sustain such an expense (i.e. user manuals as opposed to websites). However, is the company operating in multiple countries and translating documentation into numerous languages, it might make sense to invest in AI and the required training to operate these machines.
All of these points and the totality of the business model canvas show which decisions and processes a PM has to go through when considering machine translation in his or her business. It starts with defining how AI will enhance the end product, followed by identifying which part of the business is concerned and choosing whether these new technologies can in fact maximize the company turnover. In the case of a positive inclination for AI, a company scan needs to be completed to conclude whether a minimum viable product can be produced after having addressed all issues around the value proposition that are essentially the various areas of the business model canvas.
What Does This Mean for the Future of the Industry?
The production of the first machine translation in the 1950s was merely a start to what might become fully automated translation. It is evident that computer-assisted technology is required in a globalized world, where a vast amount of data and information crosses borders within milliseconds and the need for translated text has become more important than ever to reach the largest possible audience. However, even though technology is ubiquitous, it is clear that human translators are indispensable. Though the role of the translator is slowly shifting towards one of an editor (especially with neural machine translation), the complexity of a language cannot be mastered by a machine (Kelly, 2014). The primary reason for this is the context of a document and therefore, the translation quality. English words such as “get” or “run” have a myriad of meanings that cannot all be understood by machines, which is mostly the case with idiomatic sentences or similar texts for different industries. Therefore, the translation and localization landscape continues to become more technical, however, it won’t exist without human involvement. Translation and technical priorities will finally, allow for a different resource allocation that will increase the final output.
This is my interview of Zilin Cui who graciously shared her interesting career moves since graduation.
Tell us about what you have been doing since graduating in May 2018.
I moved to New York in June to pursue an internship with the United Nations. I started in July with the Chinese Verbatim Reporting Section (CVRS), and then moved on to Chinese Translation Service (CTS) in September 2018, finishing in January 2019. A little back story: I applied to the CVRS internship in March of my second year and was accepted in April; I had applied to a different internship with the Chinese Text Processing Unit (part of CTS) in the winter of 2017-2018 and was pleasantly surprised when I heard back in April asking if I was still interested. I said yes and the rest fell into place over time.
While working in New York, I have also been freelancing as an interpreter and translator first part-time and then full-time after my internship. I worked on some interesting assignments, including a training course at Georgetown University, two assignments at the UNHQ, and one with the Inter-American Development Bank in Costa Rica. The assignments at the UN were unexpected. I received an email one day from one of the chief interpreters asking if I’d be available for the United Nations Alliance of Civilization Group of Friends Ministerial Meeting during the last week of General Assembly. Turns out I had been recommended by a Spanish interpreter with whom I had previously worked at a conference. The conference itself was poorly organized and what was supposed to be Chinese < > English simultaneous interpretation ended up involving a lot of Spanish > Chinese on the fly and there was no time to set up relay with the Spanish booth. Having worked as a Chinese < > Spanish conference interpreter before in Chile and trained in three languages at MIIS, I was fortunate to have no problem handling the situation. When we finished, one of the Spanish interpreters commented that she had never heard anyone work from Spanish straight into Chinese. I thanked her and thought nothing more of it until I discovered a few weeks later that she had recommended me to a colleague of hers who happened to be looking for a Chinese < > English interpreter with Spanish in their combination!
I’ve also been doing translations into Chinese and English. I am currently working on three short stories by an Argentine writer, and I translate less exciting things like contracts and investment pitches. I passed the freelance translation test for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Chinese < > English, and yesterday I received news that I was awarded the second prize in the 14th UN’s St. Jerome Translation Contest for into Chinese.
As the freelancing workload comes with a lot of ebb and flow (more ebb than flow since I’m new to the market here), I’ve also been volunteering as a humanitarian translator, attending lectures and conferences, reading and exploring New York City – one of my favorite cities!
Why did you choose to take the internship at the UN given that it is unpaid? How do you think it has or will benefit your career?
I chose the internship because it would help me prepare for the UN Chinese interpretation exam at that time, as one of my long-term dreams is to become a UN interpreter (the reason why I came to MIIS). Even though I did not pass and I’ve realized during my time at MIIS that it may take years before I achieve that dream (hence the importance of diversification and flexibility), I was thankful for the opportunity to learn about the UN and the challenges involved in doing T&I work there. During my internship, I translated speeches given at the Security Council and General Assembly, Main Committee meeting summary records, and worked on bi-text realignment (to improve translation memory), terminology management and proofreading. All my translations were reviewed by senior translators and there were one-on-one opportunities to discuss certain challenges, techniques and solutions, which was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience. It had always struck me how unusual “UNese” was, but it wasn’t until my time there that I learned about the multitude of challenges involved, and how a seemingly unnatural choice was usually the result of difficult negotiations where linguistic and political concerns all come into play. I learned a tiny bit about translating in a concise, precise and politically sensitive manner. It was a humbling experience, and it has given me a new appreciation for our profession.
I took this opportunity knowing that it would not come again (only available to students and recent graduates). I was lucky to have very understanding supervisors who allowed me to take on freelance assignments as long as I turned in my work on time, and former professors and fellow MIIS alums who kindly recommended me for assignments, without which I would not have been able to survive financially. A big thank-you to the MIIS Mafia!
Knowing what you know now from a career management perspective, what words of wisdom would you share with those MIIS students who are graduating in May 2019?
Speaking from personal experience: you may not get what you strive for on your first try, but do not lose heart. Be patient, positive and persistent. Make sure to always deliver top-quality work; this is the best marketing trick out there. Keep on learning and growing through every experience that comes your way. Once I was at an assignment when a concept came up that was not in the reference materials. I would not have been able to understand it and express it on the fly had I not read it in a book on my hour-long commute to my internship! Keep your eyes peeled, ears pricked and mind open. You will get from your career what you put into it. If you are intellectually insatiable and love helping people understand each other, you will love this profession!
What are your next steps career-wise?
I am moving back to Beijing in the summer to freelance full-time as an interpreter, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Having lived abroad for 12 years now, this is exciting and scary, but I’m ready to embrace the challenge and join forces with the MIIS Mafia in China.
The future of the language industry is bright. In a world where globalization brings us closer together, advances in technology make it easier than ever to communicate and conduct our work efficiently. The primary purpose of a machine is to facilitate a specific task; so, the question remains, why do so many of us fear the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)? Admittedly, the notion of a machine learning to navigate an area so intimately human as language is disquieting. Where do humans fit in an industry that is so eager to introduce machine learning technologies? It is human to be concerned. However, we do have a role to play in the age of AI; in fact, it will require effort on the part of humans if machine learning technologies are to assist us effectively. This essay seeks to address three essential steps that language industry professionals must take to maximize the efficiency of AI within our industry. First, we must accept the presence of AI – in its current state. Second, we must examine areas of our work from the perspective of automation; where can AI be implemented to make us more efficient? Third, we must actively invest in machine learning and contribute to its development. Acknowledging these needs, understanding the potential, and, most importantly, taking these steps will lay the foundation for a prosperous future for our profession.
AI-its’s here to stay
The hype surrounding AI is justified. We have been teaching (programming) machines since the 1930s, but even then, futurists could not anticipate where we would be less than a century later. The power and influence of modern AI is so impressive, that it evokes fear in the minds of many modern workers. As Priya Mohanty elucidates in her article, Do You Fear Artificial Intelligence Will Take Your Job? “There is valid concern that even as AI saves lives and helps businesses thrive, it will destroy livelihoods.” (Mohanty). Even as we fear the evolution of machine learning, we recognize that AI is certainly advantageous across various domains. Mohanty enumerates on the many unique uses of AI, but the fact remains that people still live in fear that their roles will become automated. Despite this valid state of unease, we must remember that AI helps to relieve us of some of our more tedious responsibilities. We can train machines to sift through data, extract strings, internationalize code, and oversee other traditionally time-intensive tasks. Moreover, AI already exists; it is not a looming threat in the distance. Instead of ignoring its growing use in our industry (as well as countless others), we would do well to accept it as an aid to our current processes. The remaining skeptics can seek solace in the few areas where AI may still be inept at automating human skill. For example, let us imagine a scenario in which a company is collecting vendor feedback on a new translation management system (TMS). The company wants to improve their tool, but ideally in a way that also helps the company achieve quarterly goals for company growth and performance. Even a sophisticated AI tool will not necessarily know which vendor feedback to prioritize over the rest. In this case, a skilled vendor manager who thoroughly understands the goals of their company will, most likely, outperform an AI tool. Nonetheless, AI is here, and it’s not going anywhere. Rising Star Scholarship 2019 Essay Daniel Rairigh
The Superhero you didn’t know you needed
Here we reach our second step: where can we implement AI within our current professional processes? As already mentioned, AI exists to make our work easier. It has its uses in some areas, while in others it remains frustratingly limited. Ideally implemented, human and machine can coexist and help one another to create new, more efficient processes. Indeed, with the adoption of AI, existing processes may require some re imagination. If we approach this step with an open mind, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we provide our services. So, where do we automate? This goes beyond the previously mentioned “tedious tasks” replacement. Consider a service that is genuinely difficult to provide within the language industry. Translating from Estonian to Mandarin Chinese, perhaps? For project managers, finding a human translator to work between rare language pairs is a painful quest – and even more painful when they pay for it. What if we could train a translation system to achieve the long-desired zero-shot translation (ZST)? Arle Lommel, localization guru and expert on the subject of machine translation, recently discussed Google’s recent strides toward ZST in his article, Zero- Shot Translation Is Both More and Less Important Than You Think. In his article, Arle emphasizes two significant achievements of Google’s trained engine: 1) It does not pivot, meaning that it does not first require translation to a more common language before providing the output translation, and 2) It is able to leverage data from multiple languages at a time, meaning that it can pull relevant data from any language that shares context with the subject matter and provide a more accurate output than MTs that use a single intermediary language (Lommel). Developments such as this demonstrate the enormous potential of machine learning and prove that it truly is an exciting time to work in our industry.
Humans: The future of AI
If we are to move forward as language industry professionals, we must all actively participate in the development of machine learning technologies. Machines will continue to learn as long as we continue to teach them; in this way, the role of humans is pivotal. This will require enormous amounts of data, especially when we are building translation systems. It is within our own interests to see AI technologies succeed, notably when they are built specifically with our industry in mind. Companies like Lilt are already doing this; in their case, they are matching the power of human translators with an interactive and adaptive tool that greatly improves the efficiency of their translators. As a result of embracing the machine learning evolution that so many still fear, Lilt is, “able to translate at nearly five times their normal speed while maintaining the same level of quality and accuracy” (Hinchliffe), while its, “carefully vetted translators contribute to the system’s continuous improvement and are chosen for their domain expertise and ability to localize with sensitivity to cultural nuance.” (Hinchliffe). In essence, they achieve two goals at once; they design their work around the coexistence of human translators and trained machines while simultaneously selecting translators who can, over time, improve the accuracy of their tool. Lilt is the perfect example of a company within our industry that is endeavoring to pair their human workforce with modern AI technologies. In order for our industry to grow, provide better services, and become more efficient, more companies must reassess their current association with machine learning technology and contribute to its development. Rising Star Scholarship 2019 Essay Daniel Rairigh
Meet your new friend
If there is one thing that is certain, it is that machine learning will have a lasting impact on the language industry. AI will not be leaving any time soon, and it is in our interest to bolster its development. By following the three steps outlined above, stakeholders in the industry will better appreciate the potential of machine learning within our profession and adequately prepare themselves and others to reap the numerous benefits that AI can offer. Revisit the first paragraph of this essay; specifically, the sentence which reads: “It is human to be concerned”. Humans may be concerned, but the computers we train are not. They are expertly trained to assist us with the tasks that we are incapable of performing, or otherwise too time-constrained to perform alone. Moving forward, we must view AI as our friend. Not to do so would negatively affect not only our immediate future, but our projected future as an industry. The concern will pass, and when it does, the machines will be waiting for us … to help them, help us.
This is my article that was published in January 2019 by China Bridge and Language Services China 40, two China-based think tanks focusing on the future of foreign language education and language services.
我在拿到会议口译硕士学位以后进入语言服务界，工作了25年以后于三年前回到位于加州蒙特雷的母校Middlebury Institute of International Studies担任职业生涯规划老师。我所著手的第一件工作就是和每位学生面谈，了解他们职业生涯的目标。我很快的就发现到80%以上的学生都说他们要到联合国做口译，而且这是不分语种、中外皆同。这让我既纳闷又担心。能够为联合国服务当然是值得推崇的目标，但是不应是唯一的选择。联合国不是每年都招人，即使招人，所需的人数也少，另外并不是每个学生都适合做口译，最重要的是外面的世界这么大，语言服务业的机会这么多，怎么这些学生口径一致的全要到联合国？更让我哭笑不得的是：就连自己语种并非联合国官方语言的学生也认为自己最好的出路就是进联合国。
我意识到外语学生对于自己职业生涯的定义似乎过度狭隘，凡是和理工或商业沾上边的工作不是认为自己力有未逮就是不屑一顾，过犹不及非常可惜。我于是开始去探究美国大学对语言教学及学生职业出路的过去、现在及未来。现代语言协会（Modern Language Association) 在2007年的一份报告中指出，美国大学外语教学多是透过语言教育建立学生进入核心课程的基础，核心课程则是偏重于文学和研究。语言能力是进入人文殿堂的工具。我接下来所反省的是：
人文教育对社会的贡献是无庸置疑的。正如朱振武教授所说的：「有技术不等于有知识，有知识不等于有文化，有文化不等于有思想。」我认为教育和技术训练在本质上是不同的。对于思想的提升是教育殿堂以内和以外都应该致力去推广的。现代语言协会指出，美国的外语学生之中只有6.1%继续深造取得博士学位，跟随着教授的典范继续开发新的知识领域和作育英才。我要问：其他93.9%的学生前途在那里？我们在辩论外语是否应保留其人文性或是市场化和工具化时，我们针对的是学生还是教授？如果是针对学生的话那么我们针对的是那6.1%的学生还是那93.9%的学生？我们是不是能够在教育（正如朱振武教授所说的）「有思想的人、有理论建树的人、解决人类重大基础问题的人」的同时也帮助热爱外语但选择其他职业生涯的年轻人为社会做出最大的贡献？我认为是可以的。 此外，我们希望大学毕业生能够成为独立的个体，独立性应是全方位的，应该包括思想、行为、及经济独立。如果我们接受这种思维方式的话，那么教育界对毕业生经济独立的能力责无旁贷。以美国为例，从1989年到2016年，平均的工资增长了10%，但是大学四年教育的费用却增长了98%，大学生很多是靠贷款完成学业的，平均负债额是USD$25,000。如果再念硕士学位，毕业时身上背负的是超过十万美元的债务，他们的就业和出路是十分迫切的问题。 根据Common Sense Advisory的报告，2017年全球语言服务外包的市场达四百五十亿美元（USD$45 Billion), 而且预测会继续增长，其中一半的市场会在美国。外语人才就业的机会是很丰富且多元的，但是有两个难点：
Amy Liu (MATLM 2019) is going to intern at Linguitronics in Shanghai this summer. She shares what she has learned from her job search process in this posting.
*How did you find your job/internship?
That is a long story, but I will try my best to keep it short. Last year, I went to LocWorld 35 in Santa Clara as a volunteer. I met the manager from Linguitronics, an LSP from Shanghai and Taiwan. When I started to look fora summer internship, I contacted them and asked for an internship opportunity. It turned out they would not only offer me this internship as Localization Project Manager, but also sponsor me for round-trip air tickets and accommodations in Shanghai.
*What experiences at MIIS helped?
I have to say that I have benefited so much from MIIS. For instances, MIIS’ good reputation, career advertising, professional training, and so on. My first year’s immersive learning experience has piqued my interests and my curiosity drives me to ask questions in each information session, both on and off campus. Those conferences that were recommended by our professors are well-worth going. As for career advising, I think the Career Map that I completed during the New Student Orientation has definitely helped to crystalize my goals and approaches. I had several coaching sessions with my Advisor, Winnie Heh, about how to become confident in interviews and how to negotiate with interviewers. And this eventually led me to taking the course, The Art of Negotiation. Thanks to the techniques and skills I learned from that class, I got such a good deal for my internship in Shanghai.
*What advice would you share with MIIS students?
My experience here is just that I announced out loud that I needed a summer internship when I started looking. I reached out to everyone that I knew and asked for any possible opportunity. Not many classmates get what they wanted in the beginning, but so many have landed an internship before this semester ended. Maybe the advice I want to share with my fellow students is: keep trying. After all, if you never try, you will never know.