Inmaculada Serón is a professional translator and lecturer at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO) in Seville, Spain. In the interview below that was recorded recently, she analyzes the situation of localization as part of the degree in Translation and Interpreting and the future of translation.
We want to thank Inmaculada for her time and for the great work she is doing with her students so that they become good localization professionals.
Tell us about your career. Why did you decide to study translation?
I was interested in studying several languages thoroughly as I liked languages and picked them up quickly. The Degree in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Málaga was particularly suited to that purpose, since it would enable me to study three foreign languages in depth instead of just two, as would have been the case at other Spanish universities. I chose English as the major foreign language and French and Arabic as minor foreign languages. I would have also liked to study German as part of my degree, but studying both French and German as minor foreign languages was not possible due to timetable restrictions.
How did you get into localization?
In the final years of my degree, I was awarded several scholarships which brought me closer to the business insofar as they enabled me to travel abroad and improve, through linguistic and cultural immersion, my knowledge of the languages and cultures I had studied. But the definite bridge to translation and localization came shortly after I had finished my degree and done my first professional translations for small translation agencies in Spain and the UK. Then, I was awarded the Robert Schuman translation traineeship at the European Parliament, which soon made me both determined to pursue a translation career and curious to know how translating in a private translation company would be. When this traineeship ended, and after the relevant recruitment process, I was very happy to join a major global translation and localization company based in the United Kingdom as a financial translator. I was the only financial translator in the company for the English-Spanish language pair, as my colleagues with this language pair were specialised in IT. However, this doesn’t mean that my work wasn’t related to localization, which was the company’s core business. As a matter of fact, I was in charge of the localization into Spanish of an important financial institution’s website. Once this website was fully localised, I took care of the updates to its content, which most of the times were newly published financial reports for whose translation into Spanish I was responsible. These reports were published on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the type of report (market bulletin, market outlook, strategy bulletin…), so the project was an ongoing one and usually kept me very busy. Nevertheless, there were also slack periods that I used to help my colleagues on IT projects concerning anything from desktop publishing applications and printing software and documentation to ERP software, thus familiarising myself with this other translation/localization area.
Why did you enter the academic world?
After several years abroad (France, US, UK, Luxembourg, UK again), I had to go back to Spain for personal reasons and decided to become a freelancer in order to enjoy greater flexibility and be able to take on new, interesting projects that I had been offered by other translation companies. The following years were so busy that my work days and weeks were extremely long on a continued basis, and the resulting sedentary and stressful lifestyle eventually made me aware of the need for a change. I then turned to university, which I thought would help me take time off my translation/localization projects and would also add a tangible human touch to my working life. The latter was very important to me too, and university was a perfect place to achieve it given that it allows me to pass down the knowledge I have gained since I started in the translation industry while I teach other people (and not computer programs, as I used to do not so long ago in machine translation projects) what I best like doing.
What do you like best and least about these two worlds?
What I like best about university is precisely its social function. I find helping students break into the translation and localization industry (or other sectors, like teaching) very rewarding.
I also value very highly the fact that university allows me to reflect on the practice of translation, which, in the past, I wasn’t able to do. Time pressure was too high.
What I like least is possibly administrative tasks.
As far as translation is concerned, I think I like everything. Translation truly is what I am passionate about.
Does localization have a place in the curriculum of Spanish universities?
As far as I know, when I started teaching localization at university, that is, in the 2008-2009 academic year, it still hadn’t been recognised as a discrete subject in the curricula of the Spanish undergraduate degrees in Translation and Interpreting. In fact, for the past three academic years (2008-2009 to 2010-2011), I have been teaching localization to students of the Degree in Translation and Interpreting at the University Pablo de Olavide (UPO) as part of a fourth-year Specialised Translation subject. And the reason why I have been doing this is because, when preparing my part of the subject syllabus, I observed that there was no localization throughout this four-year degree, whereas many other translation areas were covered (such as business, medical, legal, literary and audiovisual translation). After careful consideration, I thought that the biggest contribution I could make to UPO was to programme localization into the subject.
Last year (2010-2011), localization didn’t seem to have been recognised as a discrete subject in the curricula of Spanish undergraduate degrees yet, according to some research I did while preparing the syllabus of a brand-new Localization subject which would be implemented this year at UPO, in the framework of the adaptation of our Degree in Translation and Interpreting to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). To my surprise, I couldn’t find any syllabus from other universities in Spain which I could consult. However, some syllabi must have been in preparation, as was the case of ours, and others might not have been published yet, since it is very recently that universities have been revising their curricula in the framework of the adaptation to the EHEA, which is still under way. At UPO, for example, the new subject’s classes started only a couple of weeks ago, in the newly-implemented third year of the new degree (also a four-year degree).
So is it a compulsory subject in the curriculum of future translators yet?
At UPO it is compulsory and language-specific, that is, all students taking the new Degree in Translation and Interpreting have to study it, no matter what foreign languages they choose, and must study it both for their major foreign language into Spanish language pair and for their minor foreign language into Spanish language pair, as two separate subjects (at UPO, two foreign languages are studied in the Degree in Translation and Interpreting).
Is it taught at all universities?
Not all universities have decided to introduce a Localization subject. For example, the EHEA-compliant Degree in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Malaga just covers website localization, and does it within a first-year IT Resources for Translation subject.
Nevertheless, there are postgraduate programmes in localization (sometimes plus other areas, such as audiovisual translation) at several Spanish universities, such as the University Jaume I, in Castellón, and the University of Vigo.
What do you teach in your localization lessons?
In my localization lessons, I give an overview of the localization industry, focused on the translators’ roles in this industry, and teach how to translate texts belonging to localization projects. In other words, the students learn where translators stand in a localization project, who they work with and at what stages of the project, and how to render successfully into Spanish a computer program’s software, online help and documentation, plus other components such as the audio, web content, etc.
Students always work in real-life working conditions, so they have to create term lists and fill in query sheets. If time allows, they also do project management, but the main focus is always on solving problems faced by translators and providing accurate translations within localization projects.
Tell us about the OmegaT localization project you and your students have taken part in. How did the idea come about?
The idea came about a year and a half ago. I had been observing a dramatic increase in localization projects offered to volunteer translators on the Web, and thought that involving my students in one of these projects would motivate them further and give them a clearer and broader insight into localization, by showing them a practical application of the knowledge gained in class. I then started looking for potential projects and, of those I considered, the one which seemed most interesting to me was OmegaT’s localization. It offered several key advantages. On the one hand, the fact that the product to be localised was a CAT tool made the whole idea of working on a real localization project even more compelling for students, and it also made them feel more confident. Furthermore, it would enable them to familiarise themselves with an additional CAT tool. On the other hand, they would be able to see the source text in its context, as they would be able to download the product from the Internet and install it on any computer. In addition, they would be able to work in a translation memory tool (this same product) without being forced to adapt to the limited university resources (computer lab times, etc.).
I must say that OmegaT’s development and localization team has been very supportive and willing to help at all times.
What have been the main problems faced?
The main problems faced were the high number of students (around 100) and, above all, the little time we had (approximately six weeks, during which each of the two groups the class was divided into just had four 2-hour classes with me).
Another challenge that teaching/learning based on real projects may confront translation teachers with is text selection constraints. Apart from project availability, which can be increased through project proposals, teachers have to adapt to the texts (and tasks!) available. For example, if the whole translation part of the project is going to be accomplished by your students (under your supervision), you can only choose the project for them, you can’t select the most suitable texts (content and length-wise) within that project (at least not in complete freedom), since all texts are to be translated. It may even be the case that some content has already been translated and needs to be reviewed, instead of translated.
How do the students feel about the experience?
The overall response was very positive, and according to a poll I ran at the end of the course, what they valued most highly was developing the ability to learn autonomously, to work as a team (they worked in small groups and all groups had to collaborate with each other, among other reasons for consistency purposes), to make decisions and solve problems, and to adapt to new situations. Other skills they reckoned they had increased were attention to detail and the ability to work under time pressure. Lastly, they generally thought that they had gained a better appreciation of the reviewers’ work.
Regretfully, we didn’t have time to complete OmegaT’s translation, but many of the students offered at the end of the course to go on working on it and eventually finish it, and some of them have already asked me several times when we are going to resume work.
Will you repeat the experience with similar projects?
Of course. Not only did the project increase general student motivation and satisfaction, but it also raised the students’ interest in translation and localization and helped them get a better insight into localization, which improved their results compared to those of previous years’ students.
This year, work will be resumed by the students of the new EHEA-compliant Degree in Translation and Interpreting. Thanks to EHEA requirements and to the fact that localization has become a subject, the number of students is significantly lower and the number of classes that they have with me is significantly higher than last year, so the main problems have fortunately vanished.
In the future, I intend to work on similar projects not only in my localization lessons, but also in other translation lessons that I may give.
As a professional translator, how do you see the future of translation?
Translation has often been viewed by translation buyers (from international organisations to publishing houses) as a necessary evil, given its costs. I think it is far from being an evil, but it certainly is necessary.
Machine translation is receiving a boost but it can’t keep up with quick language evolution (e.g. new meanings for old words and newly coined words), it can’t cope with poorly written texts (typos, for example, may be an insurmountable obstacle for MT systems), it has trouble with polysemy and nuances, etc. Therefore, human translation will continue to be required, especially in sectors where quality is paramount (like finance and medicine, just to cite a couple) or special restrictions (e.g. regulatory or stylistic requirements) apply.
Nevertheless, I think machine translation will be increasingly used, by companies who wish to translate texts that would otherwise remain untranslated (and whose translation will perhaps be reviewed by a human translator), by the general public to meet their routine communication needs, and by translators to speed up their work. The first of these three uses has been in place for years now. In fact, I have worked on projects of this type as an MT post-editor since 2001. This type of project can be reasonably expected to become more common and open up post‑editing opportunities for translators. The second of the uses mentioned has also been in place for years and is now getting substantially more widespread, which – together with the app boom – is giving more visibility to translators’ work and making people aware of the limitations of MT systems, to our advantage. The last of the uses mentioned is the novel one. Many translators are reluctant to use machine translation, but apparently some colleagues are already using it.
Apart from the growing use of machine translation, on the technology side I think we will also see a growing use of free software. This will challenge proprietary software, which will as a result be enhanced at a higher rate and see its prices go down. One of the areas of improvement will probably be related to the use of massive translation memories. Another one may be related to cloud computing.
On another topic, volumes of information keep increasing and companies are broadening the range of texts sent for translation, adding e-mails and newsletters for their clients, blog posts, etc. to the traditional set of products and websites.
Regarding rates, they are under significant pressure, especially in certain sectors. I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that low-cost translators must translate a very high number of words per day to earn a living, and this necessarily means low quality (good translations do take time), which will sooner or later prove problematic, making low-cost translations bad value.