Almut Wolf takes Localization Global

By Anna Schlegel

Almut Wolf is a Localization Manager at Lucent Technologies for Unified Messaging products, where her group manages the release of ten languages per software release cycle, supporting a portfolio of voice messaging, speech messaging, text-to-speech, Voice-XML, and video messaging services. Almut started at Lucent in 1997 as product localization lead and was quickly promoted to localization manager. Following reorganizations, she transitioned into the role of project management and spearheaded the language development effort in speech technology. Prior to joining Lucent, Almut was a college lecturer for French and German at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Santa Clara University, and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, as well as a freelance translator and tutor.

Where did you grow up and what brought you to the States?
ALMUT WOLF: I grew up in a small town close to the city of Köln in Germany. Throughout high school and university studies, I pursued two disciplines: the study of foreign languages—French literature in particular—and business administration. After a year of studies in literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, I returned to Germany to study business administration. Through a well-regarded exchange program between the university in Würzburg, Germany, and SUNY/Albany, I started my life in the United States. What was originally intended to be a one-year exchange grew into a permanent relocation, allowing me to earn my MBA and consequently PhD degree in French studies. It was only after I started working for Lucent in the Bay Area as localization specialist did I feel that the two fields of my studies were solidified into one career.

Were you always interested in localization? How did you start?
I was always interested in both foreign languages and international business, long before I knew about the concept of localization. Working within a large team at Lucent—composed of language specialists, QA engineers, software developers, and audio engineers—made me understand how an English-based product and software model needs to be modified to fit the structure of a foreign language. The initial product introduction at a customer site happens through the language interface, which implies a high quality mandate for our group.

Should the localization function be centralized under engineering or marketing?
Localization groups are often associated with only one of these disciplines, although I consider the ideal fit as being closely affiliated with both. At Lucent, our team is part of R&D and applications development, and thus closely tied into the software release cycles. While having the advantage of working with architects to incorporate language and localization needs into the conceptual stages of product development, it is also desirable to work closely with the marketing division, to ensure that customer preferences are addressed in technical solutions. We currently strive to leverage both groups through well-defined processes as well as through an emphasis on product management as a key mediator. Service providers worldwide are technically savvy and demanding, and in the development stages, the language team works directly with the customer representative to discuss terminology, concepts, idioms, and linguistic demands of the locale.

What localization challenges do U.S. corporations face today?
I think there is still a huge misconception within industry of the work that localization specialists do: managing content, maintaining glossaries and style sheets, creating linguistic specs, implementing a versioning system, striving for accuracy and consistency, and implementing a rigid quality assurance process are only a few essentials of a localization process. One of the challenges that corporations face is thus continuing to better understand the process.

Another challenge is combating the skepticism voiced by international customers as to whether a U.S. corporation is able to understand the language needs of a particular country or region. We have heard this concern many times and it is helpful to work with the customer directly on some language-related issues to dispel their doubts (with a review of terminology, for example, or a demo of a prototype).

Most U.S. corporations build and develop products that are envisioned through the demands and needs of the U.S. market. “Going global” consequently implies taking the base English product and localizing it for foreign markets. Global companies may, however, decide not to begin with an English-based development, but design products directly for an international market by incorporating the demands and idiosyncrasies of that locale into the very design of the product. Early collaboration with a localization expert offers turnkey localization, higher quality, and easier customer acceptance.

How do you stay current with the latest trends in globalization?
I use mostly two sources to stay current: online literature and talking to other professionals. Fortunately, there are a great number of organizations and associations that allow people to network and stay informed on new technologies and trends.

What is the coolest localization project you have worked on?
Lately I have been in charge of an innovative messaging application using speech recognition technology. The foreign language user is expected to interact with the system through spoken commands, enunciated in natural speech. It is fascinating to research the underlying rules of grammar, structure, and phonetics to achieve an optimal recognition rate despite speaker variation due to accent and profile.

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