10 Traits of Successful Language Industry Professionals - Rising Star Winner

As part of the 2017 GALA Rising Star Contest, students across the world were asked to answer this question: "It's not just about language anymore. What traits are needed to be a successful language industry professional?" Participants from more than 30 academic programs submitted responses. The winners received a free registration to the GALA Amsterdam conference and a travel stiped. 

The following essay by Marion Hernandez (University of Geneva) was one of two winners. You can read the other winning essay by Sijing Yu (MIIS) here.

10 Traits of Successful Language Industry Professionals

With the information and communication technologies (ICT) revolution that took place in the 1980’s, there has been an explosion of the need for language services, in terms of quantity but also of nature of content (paper, digital, static and dynamic webpages) and of number of language combinations (TAUS, 2013).

Indeed, according to the 2013 TAUS report, whereas in 1980 and in 2000 translation was much of a one-way road, with usually only one language (English) translated respectively into 10 and 40 others, by 2010 six widespread languages were translated into 60 others and the other way round, making translation a mutual process.

Plus, Common Sense Advisory data point at the fact that the worldwide language services market is growing at an annual rate of 5.52%, with the overall global language industry estimated at around $40 billion in 2015, with a large share being attributed to the sole language technology industry.

As our world grows more and more interconnected, there is a natural shift in the nature of treated content, with the explosion of demand for digital content, multimedia files included. This shift in demand brought –and goes on bringing- about changes in the whole language industry. Indeed, nowadays, on top of translating and interpreting, the industry also encompasses globalization, internationalization and localization services (GALA), sectors that stem directly from the ICT revolution.

It is therefore heterogeneous since made up of language service providers, language technology and software developers, in-house localization or/and translation teams, research analysts, training institutes, globalization and localization consultants and of course linguists (translators and interpreters) that remain “the core of the language industry."

As linguistic products do not limit themselves to text anymore but include mixed data, a redefinition of the profile of the language industry professional has gradually been taking place, pointing towards a less monolithic profession.

10 Traits of Successful Language Industry Professionals

Of course, language remains at the heart of the sector, which means that professionals still need to be highly proficient in source and target languages and to have a good knowledge of source and target cultures to understand the subtleties of the language, references and humor. Actually, the cultural aspect is even more central nowadays, at times when localization, i.e. cultural adaptation, is taking over so many areas. In that matter, I would say that the first trait required is curiosity and eagerness to learn, since the language industry is very much intertwined with many other sectors, which makes it crucial for people working in the area to do research and become familiar with subjects they knew nothing about in the first place.

In relation to this idea, versatility appears to be another crucial trait since people are confronted with a wide variety of challenges, ranging from the translation of a literary work to the internationalization and localization of a commercial website. In order to face this multiplicity of situations and contents, language professionals need to be able to adapt themselves quickly and do a bit of everything.

Increasingly, mandates require various tasks to be performed, including some that are more technical than linguistic, often requiring some computer skills or knowledge of numerous fast-developing tools like terminology databases, CAT tools or other purpose-specific software. For instance, whereas traditionally subtitlers were in charge both of spotting (i.e. deciding when a subtitle appears and disappears) and making subtitles, it is now common practice for companies to ask them to perform more complex tasks like encoding audiovisual content, converting it into different formats and creating a file with both audiovisual content and subtitles, among others (Díaz Cintas, 2008).

In such case, versatility is definitely an advantage. Plus, this quality applies to more than technical knowledge and really encompasses many areas: knowing the basics of project management and of search engine optimization can prove just as useful for a language professional. In order to keep up with the realities of the job market, where the tasks entrusted to language professionals are increasingly diverse, some schools have included courses that are not purely language-related and prepare students for handling such cases. One may quote the University of Geneva, which offers a specialization in translation technologies for its master’s degree in Translation Studies.

Given the aforementioned context, a certain taste for challenge seems fit. Indeed, every project is different from the others and full of obstacles of various natures that professionals have to overcome. If we take the example of subtitling a TV report on cystic fibrosis, the professional will have to document himself on this disease, to translate scientific terminology, to ensure the message fits in the reduced space, to segment subtitles properly, to learn to use specific software and maybe to perform other more technical tasks. In that respect, perseverance and willingness to improve are also more than welcome.

In order to solve potential linguistic and non-linguistic issues, creativity is a strong asset. Indeed, the ability to think out of the box will prove useful in a great deal of situations and will be inevitable in fields like literary translation, video game localization and “transcreation” activities, that is to say “the process of adapting material for a given target audience instead of merely translating it” (Capita), often used for marketing and advertising purposes. As Bernal Merino puts it, we, as humans, own a “polysystem of creativity” composed of “four main creative realms and their media: textual (literature, science…), performative (plays, songs, opera, films, TV…), illustrated (sculpture, painting, comics…), interactive (multimedia toys and books, video games…)” (Bernal Merino, 2015, p. 51).

In the language industry, these four realms come together to achieve one goal: the illusion that the product was originally made in the target language and for the target audience. Regarding non-linguistic aspects of the industry, being creative will help you find alternative solutions to complex issues other people have spent days over, because it enables you to adopt a different angle to approach the issue. For example, when working with an automated translation tool and not obtaining the right translation even after adding tests to the entry, maybe you will realize that you were not looking at the issue from the right perspective: there might be a way of solving the issue by adding an action instead.

At the same time, language professionals have to be meticulous and pay close attention to details. A popular saying goes “the devil is in the details”, which I believe is very true in the language industry. Indeed, in order to create the linguistic illusion and truly immerse the target audience, every detail that may seem trivial matters, for example the currency or the format of the date. In the end, all these tiny details are what makes the whole content appear authentic and become immersive. For example, in a video game if the keyboard parameters are not fit for the keyboard you are using, it may be troublesome to play and the player will feel that the game was originally intended for another target audience.

Furthermore, in text content, details also are of great importance, let alone in literary works where they define the author’s style. Even punctuation matters, since forgetting a comma can make the whole difference between being faithful to the original and writing something totally different, what the website write.com tried to show by making language-based posters (collected by beebom.com), one of them featuring “Let’s eat kids” / “Let’s eat, kids” concluding with “Use a comma. Save lives.”. Or, as Mark Twain said “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug”.

Considering the fact that people often work together on projects, being a team player is also quite essential to the industry. It is very important for professionals to be able to split tasks, to communicate effectively and to exchange points of view and feedback. The diversity of parties involved in current language-related projects makes this human trait even more needed since linguists now have to collaborate with localization engineers, software developers, consultants and so on, that is to say various groups that all have their background, their way of doing things and their views. Communication and team spirit are thus crucial to a successful collaboration.

On top of that, in our changing world where competition is fierce, boldness comes to mind as a key trait: if one wants to be successful, they have to be bold, to some extent, they have to start by trying their best, even if they think they do not stand a chance, and they have to show some determination.

Last but not least, passion is vital to working in the language services industry. Actually, it probably is the most important trait to work in this area. Of course, it is always better to be crazy about your job no matter what it is. Yet, in a professional area where people pour so much of themselves into their work and into the final result, being absolutely passionate about what you are doing is not an option. As Hegel once said, “nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”.

By way of conclusion, I would insist on the fact that recent evolutions have deeply transformed and diversified the position of language specialist or language industry professional, making linguistic proficiency a necessary but not always sufficient condition for success. Nowadays, many other traits are just as important: versatility, creativity and curiosity -to name only a few- and, of course, passion are traits that are common to all positions in the very heterogeneous language industry 2.0.

Traits of a Successful Language Industry Professional:

  1. Curious
  2. Eager/Willing to Learn
  3. Exhibits Versatility
  4. Taste for a Challenge
  5. Perseverant
  6. Creative
  7. Meticulous
  8. Team Player
  9. Bold
  10. Passionate

Marion Hernandez, is a Master's student in Translation Studies at the University of Geneva, a program within the European Master’s in Translation network.  Marion is one of two winners in the GALA 2017 Rising Star Essay Contest



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