Author Archives: Yung-Chung Heh

How Two Degrees in Japanese Literature Translated Into a Localization Career – A Conversation With Jamie Cox

Jamie Cox
Jamie Cox is a Localization Producer at Blizzard Entertainment with years of experience on both the vendor and client sides of the localization industry. His October 2020 post on LinkedIn was on an issue near and dear to my heart – with two degrees in Japanese literature, how he “stumbled” into localization and how liberal arts and foreign language skills can translate into a successful career outside the classroom. I am always on the lookout for role models for language students, hence this conversation on lessons learned in navigating his career path.

Q: Please tell us about what sparked your interest in Japanese literature.

In high school, my family hosted an exchange student from Japan for a couple of weeks. This student taught me about Japanese culture and sparked my interest. I then was able to visit him in Japan a year later and I fell more in love with Japanese culture and the language. Japanese literature was the available major at my undergrad university (University of Montana), and so that’s where my passion for Japanese literature began.

Q: You used the word “stumble” in describing how you got into localization. How did it happen?

After graduating with my MA in Japanese Literature from Portland State University and moving to California, I didn’t know what to do next. A friend suggested I do some freelance translating for a company called Gengo. I noticed Gengo had an office close to where I was living at the time, and I reached out to see if they had any internships available. As luck would have it, they were looking for a project management intern at the time. That was over seven years ago, and I’ve been a localization project manager ever since!

Q: Have your two degrees in Japanese literature helped you in your career in localization? In what ways?

In the localization industry, it’s definitely a plus to know an additional language, even if you don’t actually use it for your own work. In my case, my knowledge of the Japanese language helped me secure the internship at Gengo, because Gengo is a Japanese company with its main office in Tokyo. In a practical sense at work, I don’t often use Japanese, but in the past I have occasionally done a quick check to make sure characters are appearing correctly in a delivery, or line breaks are accurate, those small types of things that every project manager will do from time to time.

Q: In addition to one’s language skills and cultural knowledge, are there any additional skills that can help one’s career in the localization industry?

I think soft skills that one tends to learn from education around language  (like foreign language learning or other liberal arts degrees) help tremendously in being able to accurately and easily convey information, either written or verbal. Additionally – at least for project managers – organization and documentation is paramount, so learning how to stay organized in your personal life will help you in your professional one as well.

Q: Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of managing your career?

The more you can offer to a company in terms of the skills you bring to the table, the better. There have been times I’ve wanted to streamline or modify a workflow but haven’t had the technical knowledge to do so, whether through Excel macros, database queries with SQL, or something similar. If I could do things differently, I would try to focus on cultivating some of those more technical skills to be a more well-rounded project manager.

Q: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

The most important thing to know about the localization industry is that it is a small one – you never know when the person you worked with (and hopefully made a great impression on) will pop back up later on in your career. Networking is very important, and so is making sure you’re always putting your best foot forward at work. We work in a great industry with amazing people from all over the world, so be sure to enjoy the connections you make.

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

This Is What Worked For Me – How XingChen Hu Approached Job Search Amid A Pandemic

There is no way to sugarcoat this – the job market is challenging for 2020 graduates. According to a USA Today report on August 8th, 2020, “the unemployment rate in the United States stood at 11.1% as of June. While this is a marked improvement from the 14.7% jobless rate in April, it is still higher than at any time in at least the last 70 years. In some U.S. cities – many of which are major economic hubs – the unemployment crisis is far worse than it is nationwide.”

As we shine a spotlight on the language industry, however, we are seeing some promising signs. Slator reported on August  6th, 2020, “the language industry job market is stabilizing after plunging in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Slator Language Industry Job Index (LIJI).” Slator further indicated that “prior to Covid-19, the LIJI started off slow in January 2020, but quickly bounced back with a record high in February 2020. August 2020 is the first month that the LIJI recorded an increase since March 2020, likely due to the ripple effects of Covid-related lockdowns around the world during the five months prior.”

In March, April and May, MIIS students and alumni reported hiring freezes, cancellations of internships and layoffs. The number of interviews I heard about slowed to a trickle. I started to hear more about interviews in late June and July although far from the level I saw in previous years during the same months. In late July and now in August, I have heard good news of May 2020 graduates receiving more than one offers. The main point here is: job search, no doubt, is difficult this year, but the job market is not completely dry.

This is why I decided to interview Xingchen Hu (MATLM 2020) for the first episode of my “This Is What Worked For Me” podcast. I hope how she managed the challenges and her subsequent success in her job search can help those who are still going through the process. Thank you, Xingchen, for sharing your learnings to lift others up.

How To Navigate Job Search Amid Uncertainty – A Conversation With Jon Ritzdorf

This podcast is my conversation with Jon Ritzdorf.  

Jon is a fellow graduate from MIIS who is a Senior Solutions Architect at RWS Moravia and an Adjunct Professor at MIIS, NYU and University of Maryland. I have always been very impressed by his industry insights, generosity towards students and his overall positivity. After he shared his career ups and downs with me, including the difficult timing of moving to New York City 2 months after the 911 attacks in 2001, I thought to myself: “Boy! Those were hard knocks. How did he recover from those setbacks and how does he maintain his positive outlook?” Hence this podcast.

The Fourth Time Is The Charm – How Sam Wukui Bao Became A Translation Intern At The U.N.

Sam WuKui Bao (MAT 2019, MIIS)

  • Tell us about your internship at the UN.

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. translator.  

  • 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)

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

Aligning Your Temperament With The Role You Aspire To Play

Alexander Alyakrinskiy (MATLM 2017)

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?

I 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. 

Winnie Heh, Career Advisor

Middlebury Institute of International Studies

See Everything as an Opportunity – A Conversation with Hilary Normanha

Hilary Normanha

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. 

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

THIS is What it Takes to Master a Second Language – a Conversation With MIIS Alum Chelsea Inaba

Chelsea Inaba (MAT 2019)
  • 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.

 

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

 

 

Wisconsin, Tokyo, Kumamoto, California and Geneva Next – Erika Egner’s Fascinating and Rewarding Journey

Erika Egner (MAT 2019, MIIS)

–          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!

Winnie Heh

Career Advisor

MIIS

The Role of Humans in the Language Industry While Machine Learning Evolves

Chetna Aggarwal (MATLM 2020)
Chetna Aggarwal (MATLM 2020)

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.

Bibliography

Kelly, N. (01/09/2014). Why Machines Alone Cannot Solve the World’s Translation Problem. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/nataly-kelly/why-machines-alone-cannot-translation_b_4570018.html

Nimdzi. (n.d.). AI Meets Localization. Nimdzi. Retrieved from https://www.nimdzi.com/ai-meets-localization/

O’Dowd, T. (01/01/2019). Localization tech predictions for 2019. MultiLingual. Retrieved from https://multilingual.com/localization-tech-predictions-for-2019/

Osterwalder, A. (2019). The Business Model Canvas. Strategyzer. Retrieved from https://strategyzer.com/canvas

 

Journey of a Recent Graduate

Zilin Cui (MACI, 2018)

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.