The Roles They are A-Changin – Good News is on the Way for Translators

When I started in L10n in 1990 the term L10n did not exist. That came later, after people got tired typing out the full word localisation (or localization). That’s the thing about L10n, time is always of the essence and ways to speed things up are always on the agenda. Over its history, L10n has always been driven by the imperative of dealing with projects quicker, cheaper and while still guaranteeing a high quality standard. In recent years, it is the challenge of dealing with huge volumes of data that has driven the latest technological revolution that is helping to reshape the L10n world. But more of that anon.

In earlier years projects consisted of three basic inter-related elements: documentation (user guides etc), translation (text from software, help-files and documents) and engineering (at that time more problematic and cumbersome, so often restricted in scope). In early years, engineers had nowhere near the plethora of tools they now have at their disposal. Some larger software companies developed proprietary internal tools to help software L10n, but these were restricted to internal staff and they did the heavy lifting on the engineering front.

Only when Catalyst came along (courtesy of the owner of KantanMT!) did engineering within L10n companies throw of its shackles (so to speak) and was able to blossom and grow as a discipline. Almost in parallel with that product we had the release of Trados. At first scorned by purist translators, in an almost Luddite-like fashion, it soon became an integral part of the L10n process. Slowly, translators saw the roles evolving to include the creation of glossaries and translation memories, and the management and coordination of these valuable translation memory assets.

In desk top publishing the PC market-share was pretty much dominated by Ventura, later bought from its original owners and shipped globally as Xerox Ventura. It was an effective workhorse and it dominated the market for the early part of the 1990s. Then came competitors like FrameMaker, which was Ventura on steroids, and then PageMaker and Quarkxpress for PC and the online publishing world took off, with a boost in its ability to handle and integrate complex graphics into documents and marry graphics, text and sound in to one product. The role of the desktop publisher went from someone churning out flat, grey pages to one where the skills of graphical engineering was required for that expanded role.

The history of localisation is marked with key technology milestones such as the introduction of Trados and Catalyst, and the expansion of documentation to become complex and online. Every milestone has also seen the evolution of the roles of the L10n practitioners, all the way from sales (selling new product offers), to engineering (will we build or deliver translated strings only), to DTP (will we go with the bells and whistles, or flat text?), to Project Management (how many more plates to the expect me to spin – cue workflow systems?), to finance (what to heck do we charge for translating strings? The same as text?), to the IT guys (more hardware please!), to the CEO (how do I finance and control this speed of expansion?). One truism is the L10n industry is always in a state of evolution and that is still the case.

Today, the technology driving things is machine translation (and the different flavours of it). MT is a technology that lay dormant because of the inability of companies to deal with its technical complexity and to fund the sophisticated machinery needed to make it mainstream. Then came a thing called the ‘Cloud’ (and now, its cousin the ‘Edge’) mixed with two other potent ingredients – powerful, economical hardware, and huge swathes of data for translation. Added to that already heady potion is the reality that global companies now want to speak to their customers in their own language, and almost at real-time, and you have an industry that has just been loaded with rocket fuel and is pointed on an upward trajectory.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This technology milestone is also in the process of moulding and driving new roles, and interestingly – a new earning paradigm for translators. The latest MT drive is something that is causing translators in particular (and maybe quite a few CEOs) to fret about the viability of their profession. The good news is that any rumours of the pending extinction of human translators is just that – rumours without substance. I doubt in my lifetime (admittedly not as long as it used to be) will we see translation happening without supremely qualified translators somewhere in the mix. Indeed, and I make this prediction, translation and the role of translators is about to become more lucrative – if they choose to make it so.

And there won’t be long to wait for my prediction to become a reality. The days of translators having non-earning, down-time while they await the delivery (maybe next week, or maybe the week after or …) of the next major project, the one that will pay the mortgage, is over. I’ll go as far as to predict that translators will soon be in a position to earn money 24x7x365, should they choose. I believe because of MT and the Cloud their halcyon earning days await them.

And I can assure you this; my grey head is not in the clouds on this one.

Watch this space for further developments!

Aidan Collins, Marketing Manager at KantanMT.

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