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4 structural flaws that compromise everything in localization

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Translation is a simple task that evolved into a monstrous process. Why did it get so complicated?

Get a text. Write the same thing in a different language. Done. If only... Translation is a simple task that evolved into a monstrous process - dozens of roles, hundreds of steps and workflows, thousands and thousands of people. Why does it get so complicated? Simply put - four main structural flaws compromise everything.

  1. The fragmentation of knowledge and abilities is a common denominator. While translation is a particular skill, and many people can get around in several languages, few are translators to the fullest extent of the word. Translators know two or more languages but not necessarily how to project manage. Project managers know about timing, risks, resources, and stakeholders, but not necessarily about communicating with clients. Account directors know what clients need, but often litte about what it means to translate. Localization engineers know about file types, tags, and workflows but do not necessarily feel the pressure that project managers and account managers are under. While these are gross generalizations, they allude to a scenario in which a disproportionately small number of people have any grasp of the full picture. With so many parties involved seeing all but a slither of the entire pie, it is difficult, if not impossible to agree on anything. The industry needs more generalists who can bring it all together, promoting understanding and a solid common ground on which everyone can work in. Also, this fragmentation of skills contributes to problem-solving through force rather than understanding. Throwing people at a problem can often actually increase the size of the problem rather than contribute to its eradication. Rather than looking to carve out roles that are specific to the industry, we have built the localization industry out of a patchwork of pre-existing positions in IT, Advertising and other more traditional predecessors making it harder to zero in on the exact necessities of its niche.
  2. People try to make themselves necessary rather than obliterate their own roles. State of the art level work makes insurmountably complex jobs seem trivial. Illustrating this, a network engineer that truly solves a network's problems is barely needed at all, while a mismanaged network will soon require dozens of technicians to solve to what is fundamentally flawed. As the translation industry in general provides stifled room for growth and does not aggressively reward professionals with a change-minded approach, we find ourselves in an environment where it makes more sense to superficially remedy that which is flawed rather than frontally address its root cause. A large job to translator ratio, for example, will transform a Project Manager status into Company Magician. On a similar note, translations delivered below quality will turn in-house quality assurance staff into fully fledged heroes. Mismanaged processes will make it seem like more and more people are necessary to cover the gaps left by those responsible for the previous link in the translation supply chain. Project Managers that can develop deep relationships with translators will minimize the importance of a Vendor Manager and so on. Not that these roles are not important because they are all crucial and contribute in their way. But they could be far more efficient in a world where people are actively working towards becoming extinct in their companies and truly accountable for a deeper understanding of what how their work fits within the organization. Like in other niche fields, translation and localization specialists revel in the complexity of their domains rather than trying to attack the root of that complexity and focus on transformation.

  3. Our relationship with technology is ambivalent at best. Machine Translation, automation, integration are all concepts that are threatening just as much as they are liberating. The advance of machine translation challenges the role and importance of the translator, just as automation does the same with Project Managers and integrations do the same to engineers necessary to manage different systems. I embrace and drive head into technology and at the same time wonder what kind of landscape our business will look like in 10 years or so. Focus on ROI makes players try to reap the most out of legacy systems rather than dump them and go for more advanced architecture. We use technology on a daily basis, translating using CAT tools, managing projects with industry or custom built TMSs along with countless other tools that hold our business together. However, how many of our users, are adopters of this technology, in the sense of understanding its architecture, implicit reasons for its dos and do not's and know what we want to get out of future technology available? In my opinion, our community as a whole understands itself as a technology user rather than a technology stakeholder, thus reducing the positive tension and dialogue between people able to develop and drive technology and the user community.

  4. It does not take much to realize that "Translators" are the most important of the "Translation Industry". However, a disproportionately large amount translators have passively accepted relegation to mere suppliers of labor. Those making decisions and leading the industry seldom come from a translation background and the way we have shaped the industry, borrowing from IT and advertising agencies, Client Account Directors, for instance, are seen as far more important revenue drivers than translators. I do not think a translator or anyone as a matter of fact, is a superstar, but translating is what we do, and awesome translators should be able to reach similar levels of importance as other professionals and executives in the field. Translators have become cogs in wheels, supplying human input where necessary, rather than people participating in the complex decision-making patchwork that this industry has become. 

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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