How to stay relevant in the translation industry
The purpose of water, when freed from all human perspectives, is to flow. Yes, it might also play a role in sustaining life, quenching someone’s thirst or being someone’s home, but it seems like it was designed to simply flow.
Using that train of thought, what do you think humans were meant to do? Some might say – ‘to achieve great things’, ‘to leave behind a legacy’, ‘to create value’ or perhaps simply ‘to multiply’. What humans have certainly managed to do well, is that they adapted. Whether it was the ability to start walking on two feet, or keeping up with the times and the relevant tools that come with it - we have always adapted. That’s how we survived and why we even made it this far.
So if you’re looking for ways to stay relevant in a dynamic industry such as ours, and if I have to put it down to one magical word, it is this - upskill. I even made a case for this at the Women In Localization India event earlier this year, when they invited me to be one of the mentors for their Pune event. As we end this year with reflections and resolutions, this thought certainly deserves some amount of pondering.
Why is upskilling important
In this day and age, it’s not enough to simply be a translator and then hope to be flooded with great work. Now more than ever, advances in Artificial Intelligence and automation are transforming the way we work, so no matter what industry you are from, upskilling is vital for everyone, employers and employees included. In fact, after the Covid-19, upskilling and reskilling has turned into a necessity because of the sudden rise in online platforms offering upskilling courses. You have to constantly be open to evolving and adapting to new technology, new trends, new requirements and quite possibly, a multi-faceted role. In a nutshell, upskilling is what will ensure that you always remain relevant to the industry.
How can I be a better translator?
Being a good translator begins with knowing how to do your research, trusting your instincts when it comes to picking context-relevant dictionary entries, truly understanding the various domains (and not just the language!), and most of all, knowing your niche. So to make yourself established, it is imperative to get certifications and courses in the fields that you claim to specialise in. You might choose to specialise in legal translations, literary translations or simply be a marketing specialist. Read up on the trends in the industry and see what independent translators are doing in other countries, how they market themselves, and how they present their skills. That is definitely a great starting point.
Add more skills along the way!
In bigger companies, businesses often incorporate a larger localisation strategy that includes studying the company’s overall branding and customer interaction methods, the targeted culture's attitudes, ethics and beliefs, and adapting all this into the website or product they are working on. Language is only one part of this complex puzzle, however, they are always looking for Culture trainers or Consultants for such projects.
That apart, language professionals are also offering allied services along with translation, such as multilingual voiceovers, subtitles for videos, transcriptions for audios, interpretation services for conferences, and project management. Companies often require Sales and Marketing professionals from the same industry, if that’s something that you would like to further explore. On the other hand, if you want to work with content creation or the publishing industry, that also opens up some great options like Copywriting, Editing, Reviewing, Content Strategy or a Brand Strategist.
Some other interesting roles in the translation and localization industry that you can explore:
- Proofreaders, Subject-matter experts
- Language Coordinators
- Technical QA
- Localisation Project Manager
- Localisation Engineer
- Internationalisation Engineer
- Tester/QA Professional
- Sales and Account Manager
- Executive C-Level positions (CSO, CEO, COO, CTO, CIO etc.)
- Operations manager, Production Manager or Group Manager
- Project Managers (client and vendor side)
- Business Development Managers
- Regional Sales Managers
- Localisation Strategist (client-side role)
- Procurement Manager (client-side role)
- Vendor Manager / Head of resources
A linguist’s role can develop into that of a Project Manager or Localisation QA. You could then also work as a freelancer and develop your own business.
Operations managers can move into Executive or Strategist roles.
Project Managers are known to typically move on to Senior PM or Operations Manager, Procurement Manager, Solutions Architect or Strategist.
Vendor Manager will progress to becoming an HR, look after Recruitment or even become the Supply Chain Director.
Localisation QA professionals can progress to becoming a Localisation Engineer or an Internationalisation Engineer.
Sales Executives can move on to Senior Sales Executive, Sales Manager or Executive.
But machines are the future! Should we even try?
The ‘Machines vs Translators’ debate has gone on for far too long, although the conclusion seems to be the same in most countries: Replacing any human-intensive work with AI requires a lot of investment, needs time to ramp up, and involves legal disclaimers for your end clients saying that, ‘they agree that X% of their content will be done by a machine and not a human expert’. While some companies are trying hard to overcome these challenges, some have gone ahead to offer MTPE to their clients. As they say, ‘when you can’t fight ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.’
For the uninitiated, Machine Translation is a complex and fast-evolving field, wherein Neural Machine Translation (NMT) uses neural networks, i.e. computer systems designed to mimic human brains to predict sentence outcomes. AI machine translations are able to judge the quality of its own output and work in conjunction with translation management systems (TMS), which largely help manage translation workflows. While a significant number of people argue that machine translations can never replace the human ability to tell certain emotions from the other and understand ‘context’ in a sentence, people across industries are increasingly warming up to the idea of cobotting i.e. collaborating with robots (a fitting term that I heard in a prominent tech conference in Bangalore, back in 2017). MTPE definitely seems like the way to go for many.
To sum it up…
In today’s fast paced economic growth scene, upskilling has become immensely important, whether it is picking up a few additional certifications from your own field, or learning enough to cross over to another. Language translators, too, are facing the threat of replacement by machines with the advent of the machines.
That said, a lot of language professionals are adopting some interesting roles, such as testing language-related software and Project Management tools, providing multilingual email/customer support using chatbots, creating e-learning courses for a global audience, working with gaming companies as consultants (helping with ways to localize their games and content), marketing-centric copywriting, industry research and data analysis, often for multinational corporations. The options are aplenty; make sure to learn and acquire skills that are relevant to your career trajectory as well as your professional growth.
Some upskilling courses to consider: