NCTA, Perspective

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.