How Translators Adapt to the Fast-Changing Localization Industry?

Three translation experts and I hosted a room at Clubhouse few weeks ago. Our topic was “Localization is translation? Let's talk about the localization industry”. It was inspiring!

The initiator of this event is Hsu Hao, a lecturer of the Graduate Program in Translation and Interpretation at National Taiwan University. He has been working in game localization for many years. It’s my pleasure to co-host this event with him.

Hsu Hao also invited Leon Fan, a vendor manager at RWS Moravia, to share his observation with us. RWS is the fifth largest localization company in the world, and we are thrilled to have Leon to show us a bigger picture of the industry.

I too invited Camille Xu, the technology director at Linguitronics. Linguitronics is a well-known localization company in Taiwan and Camille has abundant experience working with big LSPs.

From an outsider perspective, localization seems like a shadow with little presence. In reality, however, the industry is as large and complex as the multinational companies it serves.

In this 2.5-hour session, we talked about a wide range of topics. Since there is too much to cover, I will share the most inspiring part here.


Things have been changed

In the past, Leon said, clients usually commissioned large-scale cases that took years to complete. But recently, big projects have been gradually replaced by small ones that take a few months to complete. These much smaller cases sometimes come in a hurry, and it’s difficult for LSPs to predict which domains of talent they need to complete the tasks.

Camille added that many IT companies are now using the Agile development method in their R&D process, which leads to a huge change in how multinational companies cooperate with LSPs.

Since software development is very much about meeting the customer's needs at all times, Agile development, with high adaptability, is heavily applied to the R&D process in IT companies to ensure that the final product is useful to the market. In Agile, development and testing are done simultaneously and everything has to be adaptable along the way.

For example, Camille said, that often clients come to a LSP without any product or even prototype, and this increases a lot of uncertainties in their cooperation. “Many times clients come to us in a hurry, and end a project as quick as a flash,” she said.

In fact, Leon and Camille’s observations echo with the trend: the market is changing faster and faster, and companies are facing more challenges. They must respond quickly to survive.

In 2016, McKinsey published a study: The average life expectancy of S&P 500 companies was 61 years in 1958. Today, the average is less than 18 years. McKinsey predicts that by 2027, seventy-five percent of the current S&P 500 companies will disappear.

Since the S&P 500 companies are in better shape than most companies in the world, the average life expectancy of all companies is much lower than the above figures.


The need for talent has changed as well

As LSPs are commissioned with more fragmented and urgent cases, I asked Leon if it has affected how LSPs evaluate a translator?

“Yes,” he said, “we have to quickly assemble various talents to complete the projects.” For example, sometimes clients need not only translation, but also SEO. So the ability to write SEO-friendly content becomes an important consideration in their selection of a translator.

In this case, a translator with multiple skills is a big plus when working with LSPs because they can respond to LSP’s needs faster.


How translators positioning themselves

Leon said he finds that translators in Europe and the US rarely position themselves as a “translator,” but rather as a “freelancer.” The difference between them is that the latter not only translates, but also capable of doing other tasks. In contrast, most translators in Asia tend to position themselves as translators only, with little exposure to other skills.

When I asked Leon to offer some advice to translators, he suggested that translators foster “flexibility.” In addition to translation skills, you should also learn how to manage your cost and time, so that you can make progress regardless of how the outside environment varies.

When there are a lot of or urgent cases coming to you, you should be able to immediately mobilize yourself to achieve tasks; when there are little or no cases, for example during the Covid-19 pandemic, you can cultivate skills to improve your long-term advantage. This is not easy. It takes determination and a long-term mindset to swiftly adjust yourself under any circumstances.

Camille also suggested that translators should not limit themselves to translation, and that translators can expand their skill set to other areas, such as language quality management (LQA) or web auditing. These areas require skills that are related to translation, yet go further into domains of Internet and online marketing. If you don't have these skills yet, you can consider learning them now.

As for learning new things, one of my favorite resources is Udemy has many highly rated courses, and most of them are not expensive at all. Being able to learn on your own is one of the most important abilities in modern times.


Everyone is facing a fast-changing world

Some translators have bad experience working with a LSP, such as the client coming in early to book your time, or even requiring you to undergo a training course before taking on a project. However, when you make time for the incoming project or complete the course, the project never comes into fruition due to whatever reasons.

Situations like that can be frustrating, and translators are not the only ones who face such things. LSPs are facing similar situations too. When dealing with it, my advice for translators is pretty much the same as Leon's and Camille's: Learn more, manage your time and resources well, and improve your ability to cope with uncertainty.

There is a Chinese saying that "In the world of Kung Fu, there is no such skill as too sound to breach, but too fast to tame." (天下武功,唯快不破) And this is even more true in the business world.


Specialists and generalists

I once read a passage and would like to share it with you:

Since the end of World War II, specialists are becoming more and more important, and the world is indeed becoming more and more specialized. The importance of specialization, however, peaked in 1985 and then fell sharply. Generalists are becoming more vital.

The role of specialists remained stable for a period thereafter, but began to decline again after 2007. Researchers analyze that this is likely because of the Internet. The scarcity of specialists has further decreased.

Therefore, I am afraid that generalists are more important than specialists now. Another more serious problem with specialists is that they specialize in a relatively narrow field with relatively low uncertainty, leading them to face the fiercest competition ever. And if they do make a breakthrough in their domain, others can quickly learn it.”

In a world with increasing uncertainty, you can turn yourself into a generalist to be more flexible.



Joanne Chou

Joanne is an English-Chinese translator, a UI/UX designer, and the co-founder of Termsoup.