Laura Blijleven-Bergmans, Googled

By Anna Schlegel

Born in Amsterdam and a resident of the U.S. since 1997, Laura Blijleven-Bergmans is currently a Localization Lead at Google. She is an ATA-accredited translator, living and working in San Francisco since obtaining her M.A. in English Language and Literature in 1997. Laura worked as a freelance Dutch translator for five years, and then switched to project management for Crimson Translations. In December 2004 she was hired by Google where she runs the Linguist Program and language quality initiatives.

How did you get involved in localization?
LAURA BLIJLEVEN-BERGMANS: My major was English, with an emphasis on translation training. I was therefore considered a licensed translator in the Netherlands upon graduation. I initially worked at a PR agency when I came to the U.S., but writing the occasional press release didn’t satisfy my love for language. Plus, I had a hard time adjusting to two weeks vacation per year. I landed a large translation project in 1998 that allowed me to make it my day job, and I then worked as a freelance translator for five years.

Describe your ideal translator.
When I work with translators as a project manager, I like people who try to think from my perspective. For instance, I encourage people to raise questions rather than try to guess something they just can’t know (like an acronym made up by the client). But please do some research first to make sure the answer isn’t out there on the web (there are several … ahem … useful search engines out there). And when you do send your list of questions, always try to formulate questions/options in such a way that the project manager can make an informed decision (this is especially nice at 8 PM when you are frantically trying to make a deadline and can’t get ahold of your translator). I also like it when people pick up the phone every once in a while and get to know each other. In my current job I am in the lucky position that I get all my linguists in a room together once a month for a meeting. Face-to-face contact really works wonders, and I would have enjoyed this when I was a freelance translator dealing with two-dimensional project managers all day.

What is a typical localization day like at Google?
Hard question. Not a lot of days tend to be typical. A few things that are likely to keep me busy on any given day are: lots of Dutch review; working with our translation vendor to improve processes and quality; running projects with my linguists to clean up legacy content, especially in some of the smaller languages (I recently hired people for Slovak, Greek, and Hebrew); delicious free gourmet lunch; preparing and tracking weekly/quarterly goals; training other groups in the company (reviewers, writers, product managers) about what our team does and how to work with us; and working on our internal website and other tools.

What is Google’s mandate on localization?
Google places a lot of emphasis on internationalization. As you may know, the site exists in 120+ languages. Many of these, like Quechua, Scots Gaelic, and Swahili have been translated by volunteers. And this is how localization really started at Google: people all over the world started using the search engine because the logarithmic search was pretty much language-independent (aside from issues like stemming in languages such as Russian or Czech). The company, a small startup at the time, decided to just let people sign up and create a translated interface if they wanted to, and this took off pretty quickly. Of course this is a solution that works well only for small, easily updated content like the main site. The rest is done by various vendors, and we are currently expanding the number of languages that we translate our core products into. AdWords was just launched in Thai, and Gmail is up to 38 languages. It all comes down to our mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

What localization processes do you think could be improved in corporations?
I have found that companies don’t think ahead and don’t create easily localizable English content. This includes issues like string concatenation, interface sizing, and general lack of customizability. Our localization and international team are making progress—the Japanese version of Google Local has more features than the U.S. one— but we are definitely not done educating every last engineer and UI designer.

Song White, White Song

By Steve Goldstein

Newly elected NCTA board member Song White is the cofounder of White Song, a translation firm that focuses on multilingual and multicultural communications, particularly in Chinese language and culture. The company currently offers translations in Korean, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Italian.

What is the story of the name: both yours, and your company’s?
SONG WHITE: My parents gave my first name when I was born. Song is one of the volumes of the book, The Book of Odes. The Book of Odes is a famous ancient Chinese poetry book from around 700 B.C. My parents named their children after the names of the volumes in the book. The volume “Song” is the collection of songs sung in the religious ceremonies in the temples. My last name is my husband’s last name which I adopted when we married. When the company was started, we thought of several names. When we reversed my name to White Song, we found it had a strong sound in the market and decided on it.

How do you keep up with the terminology issues in emerging and constantly evolving industries such as biotechnology, computers, and others?
Between our contacts in many different industries and the niche expertise of our translators, we’ve been able to keep current on the latest terminology of our clients. When a better term is developed and should replace the term we currently use, we go through a change control process to apply the new term.

As your company’s specialization is in Chinese, do you have trouble attracting work in your other language pairs? Why should a client with a Finnish-English job come to White Song?
Lowering the translation cost is the first reason a client would come to us. Regardless of the language, translation processes are similar. Asking questions and educating the prospect with information on how to cut translation costs helps clients evaluate their decision, revise their source language material, and be confident in their investment in translation. This process itself, costing the client no service fee, already has saved the client a large portion of upfront cost.

Our process is another reason clients come to us. We adhere to our processes in translations for software, for websites, and for marketing material. Those processes, again, regardless of language, allow us to provide quality work for our clients.

Technical know-how is another reason clients come to us. With the growth of the Internet, our expertise in search engine optimization helps us win clients who need their foreign language website to be optimized for these engines. We also consistently educate ourselves to keep up with the most current technology.

What is the most satisfying part of owning an agency? The most difficult?
I mostly enjoy the teamwork. Completing a job with the team members’ professionalism and initiative is the most rewarding part. Balancing my business responsibilities and my translation responsibilities is sometimes challenging.

How has new technology changed or affected the way translators or interpreters do their jobs?
New technologies improve the productivity and quality of translation. Online dictionaries, delivery over the Internet, translation memory, and search engines have become indispensable due to recenttechnology advancements.

New technologies also provide more options for translators conducting business worldwide, from invoicing to getting paid, from checking the reputation of a client to marketing a translation service.

Finally, new technologies cut the cost of doing international business. Agencies can submit a bid request online and receive many responses promptly. Translators can upload the translation to a client’s site without using an expensive express delivery service. And interpreters can use VOIP (an Internet telephone service) to perform a phone conference interpretation without running up a large phone bill on international calls.

Our ever-more “globalizing” world encompasses multinational, multicultural, and multilingual environments. At the same time, English seems to be moving inexorably towards becoming the world’s lingua franca. If this is the case, would a futuristic scenario require a) more and more translators, or b) simply that everyone on the planet know English?
The need for more translators will grow, as globalization requires more and more interfaces among different languages and cultural groups. I believe the growth of the need for multinational, multicultural, and multilingual interfaces will outpace the speed of people mastering English.

It will be a long time before everyone knows English. The ability of a language to prevail as a global language depends on a variety of factors, among them political, economical, and technological forces. English has gained its momentum due to these forces, and many people will try to learn English as long as these forces support that. Any factors that change those forces, however, may change the course of the language—although they will not change the need for interfacing with other languages and cultural groups.

How will the world of translation be different 10 years from now?
The Internet has improved the world of translation in the past ten years. I believe the next thing is wireless technology. In upcoming years, you will be able to use translation services through your cell phone, or network with associates or locate a translator with any number of different types of handheld devices.

Chuanyun Bao, Dean of Monterey’s GSTI

By Steve Goldstein

Chuanyun Bao is the Dean of the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation (GSTI) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He has taught at the United Nations Translators and Interpreters Program at Beijing Foreign Studies University and for the Department of Foreign Languages of Xuzhou Normal University. An active member of AIIC, Dean Bao was a staff interpreter at the United Nations Office in Geneva before he joined the T&I faculty at MIIS. 

This year marked the 50th anniversary of MIIS. Can you talk a bit about the origins of the school, its history, and the significance of this important milestone?
MIIS was founded by a group of professionals 50 years ago who had a strong belief in training professionals for international careers. The school was first called the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies, then changed to the present name in the 1960s. The 50th anniversary marks the end of our first period of success in international education and the beginning of a new era represented by our affiliation with Middlebury College. GSTI was founded in 1968, and is unique because it is not a school that focuses on language development; students are required to already have language proficiency as they enter our programs. GSTI provides training in translation and interpretation by the highest professional standards and it is a premier school in the field of translation and interpretation in the US. It has a comprehensive curriculum that covers almost every aspect of training in translation and interpretation, including theories, techniques, professional ethics, public speaking and communicative skills, etc. 95% of our faculty are practicing translators and interpreters with training or experience in teaching.

Describe a typical student in your program.
GSTI enrolls about 95 students a year on average, for our seven language programs. We currently have 190 students, of which more than 60% are from abroad. All have a strong interest in translation and interpretation, an interest in world knowledge, and a strong curiosity in learning new things and meeting new challenges.

GSTI recently announced the new MATLM (Masters of Arts in Translation and Localization Management) program. Can you talk about the program a bit, and how it came about?
As more and more of our students have been hired as project managers for localization projects, we recognized the need for more professionals who have language and translation skills as well as knowhow in localization technologies. The MATLM program is unique in that it has three essential components: Tranlsation, Business Management, and Localization Technologies. This combination is made possible by the strong interdisciplinary nature of the programs at MIIS.

You’ve referred to T&I as being an art and a science. In your view, what is the art, and what is the science?
First of all, T&I are a science because they have their rules and norms. Professional training is a scientific and systematic process in which students learn these rules and norms and thus acquire the skills as well as the theoretical knowledge base of translation and interpretation. But it is not enough to know these rules and norms: they must be internalized to become part of your subconscious behavior so that when you use them, they would come out naturally, without much thinking. When one can use these skills as naturally as one’s subconscious self, T&I would become an art. In general, you learn T&I as a science and you practice them as an art—of course after much practice.

With the return of the Winter Olympics this month, can you speak about MIIS’s close association with the Olympic Games?
Dr. Bill Weber, a former dean of the Department of Translation and Interpretation at MIIS, has been actively involved in interpretation for the Olympics. Thanks to his efforts, faculty and students from MIIS were involved in the Los Angeles Games, the Atlanta Centennial Games, the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and a few other winter Olympic Games. In the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, as many as 40% of the professional interpreters had either worked or studied at MIIS or were then-faculty members; in addition, a number of students worked as volunteers at the game.

Did you see the movie “The Interpreter”? What did you think of it?
I think it is a good movie, although some of the scenes of interpretation are not how interpreters work in real life. I like the movie because it helps the public know what an interpreter is. As a matter of fact, the original title of the movie was “The Translator.” Thanks to our interpreter colleagues at the United Nations Headquarters in New York who explained to the crew the differences between a translator and an interpreter, we now have a movie that is not only entertaining, but also an education to the public about interpretation.

Jorden Woods: New Paradigms

By Anna Schlegel

Jorden Woods is the founder and principal of Paradigms Consulting Group. He is recognized in the industry as a pioneer and leading authority on enterprise-class globalization strategy, content and application globalization technology, and multilingual issues. Jorden is also a successful Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur who has founded three IT-focused companies in the last decade, including GlobalSight Corporation, a company that pioneered the development of globalization management systems (GMS) for the Fortune 500. Jorden has consulted with companies including Apple, Cisco, GE/Global Exchange Services, HP, Mercury Interactive, Palm, PeopleSoft, Redback Networks, Samsung, VeriSign, and the World Bank.

How did you become involved in the globalization industry?
Interestingly, I became involved in the world of globalization when I moved overseas in 1993. It was at that time that I joined a British consulting company in Hong Kong. As Hong Kong was a bridge between the East and the West, the consulting staff was quite international, and in addition to various forms of English I also spoke a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese with my co-workers.

While at the company it became commonplace for me to collaborate on projects simultaneously with people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, the UK, the U.S., Germany, and Scandinavia. Working with these cross-cultural teams across many time zones was amazingly exciting!

As the firm entered the China market, we began to actively localize our marketing materials, both for printed collateral as well as for the website we put up in 1995.

What was the vision that led you to found GlobalSight? What did people know about Global Content Management Systems?
My experiences in Hong Kong provided me in part with the inspiration to found GlobalSight. Being both entrepreneurial and international, Hong Kong was a perfect environment for nurturing a desire to start an internationally focused business.

When I returned to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1996, my wife and I saw the web as a great opportunity for starting our own business. My vision for GlobalSight was to create a company that would provide the world with the best solutions to minimize costs and maximize the benefits of web globalization. Initially we were more service oriented, but over time we became focused wholly on core infrastructure and processes and less on the actual websites and web applications themselves.

In the early days, 1996-97, companies did not really understand the concept of purchasing software for websites. They tended to believe that they could do everything themselves using scripts and inhouse tools coded by their own IT people. The idea of global content management, let alone content management, was considered very sophisticated by all but the most advanced sites.

In 1997-98 there were raging debates about the ultimate importance of the web, the need for multiple languages in international web sites, and the benefits of centralized versus decentralized development. It was not until 1999 and afterward that content management began to penetrate the corporate world.

Today, most companies are familiar with content management, and so now when they hear about global content management they tend to see it as the next evolution of a system they already have.

What do corporations not understand about globalization?
Unfortunately, though corporations understand that globalization is important, they do not understand that globalization is very complex and demands strategic initiatives that involve the entire company in order to be successful. Too often, globalization is seen as either a tactical initiative or something that can be delegated to a group to perform.

Successful globalization requires a finely tuned plan that simultaneously integrates the entire organization, its technological infrastructure, and its processes. Globalization by its very nature must touch and penetrate every aspect of the corporation in order for it to reach its true potential.

As corporations rarely provide their employees with education and training in globalization best practices, most globalization initiatives do not meet their stated goals.

What is your advice for freelance translators?
My advice for freelance translators would be twofold. First, stay abreast of the latest technology and second, find an area of specialization that can create a differentiator. In short, develop an edge that can increase both your chance of gaining quality opportunities as well as guaranteeing higher pay.

What are you reading these days?
I tend to read quite a mix of books, but I love history, cross-cultural relations, and science, and so gravitate towards books that incorporate these elements. Recently I have read Robinson Crusoe, The Da Vinci Code, Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers, and The Commanding Heights.

Go Global: Silvia Campos Manages Global Services

By Anna Schlegel

Silvia Campos is an International Web Manager at VeriSign, a company that delivers intelligent infrastructure services. A native of Brazil who has been living in the Bay Area for the past eight years, she has more than five years of experience in the localization industry: as a translator, as a project manager for a translation agency, and now on the client side with VeriSign. Silvia is fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, and she is now learning French. She has a master’s degree in business from San Francisco State University.

What are the responsibilities of an “International Web Manager”?
SILVIA CAMPOS: My job is to manage the ongoing maintenance and production of content for our international websites as well as translations, vendor and stakeholder relationships, and in-house reviews. I work with cross-functional teams (content partners, design, legal, developers, engineers, and QA) to implement site changes across our websites. When working with the different teams I need to ensure that the site gets built according to specification, on time, and on budget. I am also responsible for analyzing site traffic and data, evaluating user surveys, and participating in user testing. Finally, I need to make sure that we integrate the corporate brand strategy on the international sites through both visual and messaging.

Where does your passion for languages come from?
I always liked languages, but I guess it really started when I moved to the U.S. in 1997. I was living in a hotel for international students, a type of residence common in San Francisco. There, I met people from all over the world and thus was exposed to numerous languages and cultures. I was fascinated by them: all the differences and the common ways of life of my fellow international friends. Learning languages, visiting countries, and experiencing the different cultures became my passion.

How did you get your start in the translation business?
I started teaching Portuguese to Americans and doing occasional translations. These became more frequent and more complex, and because of my medical background I began doing a lot of medical translations. I was also doing voiceover work and interpretation. I landed a job at a dotcom company as a full-time translator, but later my responsibilities increased and I became the localization project manager.

Please describe your ideal translator and localization manager.
My ideal translator is reliable, available, flexible, and up to date on current issues. He or she is passionate about languages and cultures and is a native speaker of the target language. The ideal project manager is always on top of things, is detail oriented, has great interpersonal skills, and is pleasant to work with. Additionally, he or she is fluent in at least two languages.

Do you find that language – and language professionals – are becoming more important and visible in U.S. Companies?
Absolutely. As the Internet became popular over the past decade, local companies in many countries started to create their own sites offering products and services in the local language. This gave them an edge over U.S. companies; they had broken the language barrier. But as American companies began to see the need for localized sites, the importance of language professionals in this country grew drastically. Today, we know that a U.S. company wishing to succeed in other cultures must offer its products and services – as well as its website – in the target country’s language.

How does English influence other language localization?
The high-technology industry and the Internet are relatively new, so many of the terms pertaining to these fields were created in the U.S. and never translated, making the English language pretty common in a lot of the localized materials. In addition, a lot of times companies don’t translate product and service names because of corporate branding policies that dictate that names must remain the same; sometimes they even keep acronyms that don’t mean anything in a foreign language.

What are the major challenges facing corporations today?
Companies face challenges at all levels: from the day-to-day management of localization requests to the coordination of strategic localization initiatives. These days, it is no longer acceptable to offer older versions of products in foreign markets; the Internet-connected buyer is well informed and wants the latest version of products that are being sold in the company’s home market. Because of that, companies now must keep up with the demand for accurate and up-to-date information in all the markets in which they offer products – a huge and expensive effort. Conversely, in order to be competitive in foreign markets, companies need to reduce their globalization costs, but without affecting the quality of their localized content. It is a delicate balancing act.

What was the most difficult translation challenge you’ve faced in your own work?
It was probably when I first started as a translator. I had to localize a collection of children’s books to Brazilian Portuguese, and I was given a very tight deadline. There were a lot of words not found in the dictionaries, words that only children and parents know about. For a starter, it was a tough one.

What you are reading now about the localization field?
I’m reading Business Without Borders by Donald A. DePalma.

Mariam Nayiny: Faithful to Translation

By Michael Schubert

Mariam Nayiny holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Geneva. She began her career as a journalist and was on assignment in New York at the time of the 1979 revolution in her native Iran. Her decision to remain in the U.S. prompted her career change. Mariam worked initially for the United Nations Development Program while freelancing as a translator of French and Farsi into English, then later as a translator, interpreter, and project manager for Berlitz Translations and other companies in New York and San Francisco before founding IDEM Translations, Inc. ( in 1983.

Explain the meaning of your company’s name.
MARIAM NAYINY: Idem is Latin and means “the same.” It is used routinely in French and I assumed it was common here as well, like the equivalent terms ditto or ibidem. Actually, the name creates curiosity about our company, so it’s not a bad thing. It signifies our striving to create translations that are replicas of the originals.

What motivations led to your company’s founding? Who were the founders and how large was your team?
My language combinations were not ideal to sustain me in the freelance world. The Farsi business died after the Iranian hostage crisis, and in French I was competing against so many others and did not have the technical language skills. Translation was what I knew best, and I did not want to be employed by others, so starting my own company was the logical conclusion. At the time, I was freelancing for Berlitz in San Francisco. I notified the director of my intentions so there would be no conflict of interest. She not only encouraged me but actually joined my new company and remained my partner for 17 years. We started with just the two of us, a typewriter and a home office – no outside financing.

How large is your staff today and how many freelancers do you work with?
We are still small, with an in-house staff of seven. We regularly work with 160 translators and have a database of 500 who are pre-qualified (resume, three references, and a test translation) and ready to be called upon if the volume exceeds our present capacity. Generally, we try to use our established team and introduce new, screened candidates gradually.

Were there strategic considerations for choosing the Bay Area?
No, quite honestly. San Francisco is where I was, so that’s where the company began. When I moved to Palo Alto in 1988, the company moved with me.

What was the business character of the region before the high-tech boom?
In San Francisco, we had both traditional and established clients, mostly in the financial sector. When we moved to Palo Alto, we shifted much more into high technology; even the legal and litigation work we did had a high-tech basis. Software localization already dominated the local industry by 1988.

In addition to your Palo Alto headquarters, IDEM has an office in Madrid. How is your European office distinguished from your U.S. headquarters?
We had a highly valued project manager in Palo Alto who returned to Madrid after two years here. We continued working with her there, eventually opening a production center. The Madrid office is beneficial for us not only for the human connections it gives us in Europe, but also for the time zone advantage as we work transatlantically, across two continents. However, all of our operations are still centralized in Palo Alto.

Tell us about the fields and language combinations that make up your core business.
We have accounts in the health care industry (biotech, pharmaceutical, medical devices) and the IT sector, and we have recently become the preferred vendor for some major retailers. 80 percent of our work is conducted in the EU languages, in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese for Latin America, and in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

And Farsi?
Farsi has become an “exotic language.”The volume of work we have in exotic languages is small and non-technical.

Which CAT tools do you use in-house?
Trados is our main tool. We have no problem with translators using other tools, as long as they are compatible.

Have clients responded favorably to the “My Account” section of your website?
Yes, and our regular clients are all on it. Some of them use it not only for up- and downloading, but as a repository for previous work. We keep the documentation online for at least two years. It is also a great place for our translators and editors. We can define scaled access levels for the various roles: clients see only the final documents, which they can approve; editors see only the files they need for their work. Automatic notifications are sent to us whenever there is activity. It behaves like an FTP site but is more intelligent. It maintains all the documentation with the proper references in the existing format, manages revisions, and protects the original versions against changes.

What is the most satisfying part of IDEM?
The thing that we are most proud of is that we give the same weight to both translators and clients. Our philosophy does not say that the client is the boss – the translator is equally important and gets the same respect. If one of the two has to give, it is not the translator. Most of us come from that background, so we have a respect for our colleagues.