This year’s Monterey Forum focused on the changing landscape of the language services industry. The authors discuss the overarching themes, giving examples from a variety of presentations and keynote speeches.
Many of the presenters urged us not to limit ourselves to the antiquated idea that “language professional” always refers to a translator or interpreter.
The 2019 Monterey Forum was held at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) in May. The forum focuses specifically on trends in translation, interpreting, and localization (TIL) education; this year’s theme was “Translation, Interpretation, and Localization: Mitigating Risks in a Rapidly Changing World.” The forum is generally held every two years; 2019 marks the seventh forum since the event was created in 2007. The event brought together 157 TIL practitioners, educators, and students from around the world, including representatives from international organizations, TIL training programs, and technology companies.
The forum combined keynote speeches, breakout sessions, and panel discussions. MIIS students provided simultaneous interpreting for a number of the sessions, including a keynote speech in Chinese by Dr. Huashu Wang (School of Interpreting and Translation Studies, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies), a breakout presentation in Russian by Irina Alexeeva (St. Petersburg School of Conference Interpreting and Translation, Herzen University), and a breakout presentation in Chinese by Changshuan Li (Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, Beijing Foreign Studies University); all were interpreted into English. Barry S. Olsen (MIIS) and Monica D. Reynoso (Asociación de Traductores e Intérpretes del Ecuador) presented remotely via Zoom, typifying the way that new technology is shaping not only our profession, but also the ways that we as a society interact.
There were so many interesting sessions at the forum that we are unable to summarize all of them. However, we found that a few overarching themes were repeated throughout the event.
Adaptation is the name of the game
Many of the speakers at the forum discussed the way our industry has been changing. Obviously, the growth of machine translation (MT) has been a major change. However, another important change (at least in the US) has been the growth of community interpreting and a decreasing focus on diplomatic interpreting. Moreover, in an increasingly globalized context, language combinations that might not have received as much attention in previous years are now playing a bigger role: more language professionals who work with languages of limited diffusion are needed, and training programs need to find ways to reach them.
However, as the panel discussion between all current and former deans of the TIL program at MIIS made clear, this is not the first time that the industry has “navigated shifting landscapes.” Diane de Terra described making cold calls to Apple, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft to raise money for scholarships and obtain new technology for MIIS during her tenure as dean, laying the foundation for collaboration between MIIS and Silicon Valley that has continued to this day. Chuanyun Bao discussed how MIIS responded to geopolitical and economic shifts during his time as dean by expanding its translator and interpreter training programs beyond Western European languages to include Pacific Rim languages. The challenge, according to current dean Laura Burian, has always been to find a balance between incorporating new technology and training students in fundamental translation and interpreting skills.
Perhaps as a result, many presenters discussed the importance of developing non-linguistic soft and hard skills to prepare students to adapt to an ever-changing market. For example, Susan Xu (Singapore University of Social Sciences) argued that successful translators and interpreters need to be able to think creatively, solve problems quickly, and make good decisions. Similarly, Dr. Wang described the importance of expanding essential translation skills to include not only language and culture but also information technology literacy and industry and management know-how.
In a panel discussion entitled “Employability for Future Language Professionals,” Johanna Parker (Stanford Health Care) described this idea as “training holistic interpreters” (or other language professionals) to be adaptable team players ready to work in a variety of settings. In particular, she urged TIL training programs to develop students’ management skills so that they are prepared to work as administrators of language access programs. She also suggested that TIL program graduates become more involved in the research focused on our industry, noting that currently “most medical papers on language access are done by MDs about interpreters, not with interpreters” and therefore can lack nuance.
Responding to the forum’s theme of “Mitigating Risks in a Rapidly Changing World,” Chris Durban (Fellow, Institute of Translation and Interpreting [FITI] and member of the Société française des traducteurs [SFT]) urged attendees to “embrace risk.” Translators should “dare” to produce a translation that flows naturally in the target language, communicating the message the author intends to convey. She mentioned that she mitigates risks for her clients when she provides expert translations. In fact, professionals interested in building a serious career should seek out risky areas, especially because MT will increasingly be used for low-risk projects. Higher risks equal higher reward!
Durban showed a number of real-life examples from technical texts to compare the output of machine translation, bulk human translation,1  and premium human translation. Technical texts are unlike poetry or marketing texts, genres in which it is widely assumed that MT is less likely to produce quality translations. But even in the technical genre, the contrast was clear: you can see how a “premium” human translator handles the text in comparison with a bulk human translator who is extremely attached to the source text, producing an almost word-by-word output. Needless to say, machine translation will also produce more word-by-word output.
Durban closed the presentation with important pieces of advice: beware your comfort zone, pursue deep specialization, seek out risk, and keep up with technology. She invited us to reach out to her to get more insights into what she called “TranslatorLand,” “ClientLand,” and “TranslationTrainingLand.”
New developments in TIL training
As might be expected from the forum’s focus on TIL training, there were a number of sessions related to what Durban called “TranslatorTrainingLand” that described innovative ways that TIL training programs are experimenting with new teaching methods.
For example, Yinying Wang and Harry P. Dai from the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation (GIIT) at Shanghai International Studies University described the way their program has been teaching interpreting from Chinese into English. In the past, Chinese to English interpreting was taught by a professor who had Chinese as a “B” language and English as an “A” language. However, the program has now successfully implemented a model in which highly experienced English “A” interpreters without Chinese in their language combination teach the Chinese to English interpreting classes.
In this model, the English “A” teacher focuses primarily on acceptable English production (something that can occasionally be challenging when the official preference for the translation of a certain Chinese term might not sound natural to a native English speaker’s ear). Chinese “A” doctoral students often work with the English “A” professor as fact checkers to help evaluate how closely the interpretation has adhered to the meaning of the source text. However, interpreting skills such as consecutive note taking are addressed more specifically in the courses taught by the Chinese “A” professors. This model has allowed GIIT to continue teaching Chinese to English interpreting successfully and could serve as a model for programs in other language combinations for which it is difficult to find qualified instructors.
Jan Grodecki (University of Washington) presented a hybrid online and onsite certificate program in localization designed for professionals with a variety of experiences and expectations to help prepare them to be successful in the industry. The certificate program was created in 2004 at the behest of several companies that identified a lack of qualified professionals in this area. The program’s goal is to prepare students for localization project manager and localization engineer roles, focusing on hard and soft skills.
The teachers in the program are industry professionals, and they have the freedom to teach and bring in experts as guest speakers as they see fit. The program is dynamic because the teachers are continuously updating the curriculum, which is delivered in an Agile teaching format. The teachers foster team-building through group activities, with realistic examples and mock localization projects. To illustrate, Grodecki shared one of the program activities with the audience: online and onsite students are mixed into groups, mirroring the setup of an actual localization company. Industry professionals are selected to serve as the “customers” of each “company,” and the students are asked to create and present a detailed proposal to meet each client’s project needs.
One of the authors of this article (Fernanda Brandão-Galea) recently completed this program, which takes approximately 9 months. There are three modules: Introduction to Localization, Localization Engineering, and Localization Project Management. The first module teaches broad concepts to help get students with different backgrounds on the same page. The second, in which students gain hard skills, is the most challenging. Finally, the third module allows students to put their hard and soft skills into practice. It was a great experience for Fernanda, and we highly recommend it.
Think beyond translation and interpreting
Many of the presenters urged us not to limit ourselves to the antiquated idea that “language professional” always refers to a translator or interpreter. For example, MIIS dean Laura Burian and Translation and Localization Management program chair Max Troyer referenced a chart that Winnie Heh, career advisor for the TIL programs, created to illustrate the wide array of potential job titles that language professionals with translation and interpreting skills can hold in the industry: these range from “vendor manager” to “quality assurance engineer” or “vice president of globalization.” The growth of localization and project management training programs in the last decade is one indication of this shift.
In the final session, Anna Schlegel, vice-president of globalization, product solutions, and information engineering at NetApp (who was also the featured speaker at the May 2018 NCTA General Meeting) gave the closing keynote and expanded on the idea of the many different roles language professionals can play within our industry. Her more than 26 years in the industry have taken her from owning translation companies to working within large corporations, helping companies like Cisco, VMware, Xerox, Levi Strauss, and NetApp go global.
NetApp, a data storage company, is a Fortune 500 high-end engineering company based in Silicon Valley with a presence in 143 countries. Schlegel started at the company as a senior manager, taking their websites global. When she took on localization, she became a director. When she took on content strategy, she rose to senior director, and when she took on the product lifecycle for the company, she was promoted to vice-president.
Initially, when she tried to explain the importance of localization and globalization to others in the business, nobody fully understood her point. She had to learn to adapt her language to the priorities and context of her peers in increasingly sophisticated ways as she rose in her career. Riffing on Durban’s words, Schlegel explained how localization and language professionals can make ourselves heard in “CorporateLand.”
Schlegel explained that even large companies don’t understand “globalization”; they just want their products to go global. She invited the audience to think beyond the borders of translation, localization, and internationalization: companies are all about competing globally and making money. If you want to succeed in “CorporateLand,” you need to demonstrate you understand and support the business in its global strategy.
The global mindset is needed in a variety of corporate roles. For instance, when working with chief strategy officers, most companies need professionals who can relate to the individual country managers and understand the goals at the country level. A global mindset is also helpful in the content strategy department, because the localization teams will eventually have to deal with all the content produced by the company. Product management is yet another area where international adaptations are required: a critical element of managing a product involves understanding the customer journey, which may be different depending on country context.
Schlegel mentioned that many US companies still think that all they must do to go global is to localize their website—this is a huge mistake. Among other things, they also need to provide client support in a way that feels local to the customer so that product returns or complaints can be handled effectively. In Schlegel’s current role, her team’s mandate is to embed globalization into every single phase of the product life cycle. Starting from the time a new product is conceived, it is important that everyone keep the country for which it is being created in mind. Any person who joins a corporation should try to understand its business and customers. Company executives value results above all else, and Schlegel encouraged us, the audience, to look for opportunities where our skills are valuable beyond the traditional interpreter and translator roles.
Beyond the forum
The material presented in these breakout sessions and keynote speeches launched many interesting conversations in person and online (you can see the latter on Twitter by searching for #MontereyForum2019). Following the event, the forum organizers also sent attendees a Google Drive folder with copies of participants’ business cards and slides for many of the presentations, which undoubtedly have led to many more conversations. We are looking forward to seeing what new ideas are presented at the next Monterey Forum, which will most likely be held in 2021.
Fernanda Brandão-Galea is a certified software localization specialist who has been working as a Brazilian-Portuguese language lead since 2011 after stints in diverse careers: first as a chemical engineer, then a law student, and a project manager in Latin America IT sales. She is experienced in localization of apps, websites and media/video, holding a post-graduate degree in audiovisual translation. She has lived in Brazil, Argentina, and San Francisco, California. She can be found at www.f2-global.com.
Erin Teske is an ATA-certified Spanish to English translator with an MA in translation and interpretation (Spanish <> English) from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). She is a contract seminar interpreter with the US Department of State and a freelance conference interpreter. She is also a staff interpreter at Stanford Health Care and a CCHI-Certified Healthcare Interpreter.