Presenting Core Competencies of the Localization Manager
By Alaina Brandt
I entered the field of localization while completing my Master of Arts in Language, Literature, and Translation at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. In my first role as a quality reviewer, I proofread translated content in languages I couldn’t read at various stages of localization production. My job was to check that correct punctuation was used in target content, for instance, and to this day, I cannot stand to see a straight apostrophe where a curly apostrophe should be used! At the time the work seemed mundane, but reviewing translated content helped me build an understanding of issues common for romance, character, and script languages. When I went on to become a project manager, I used this experience to ensure the efficient processing of thousands of localization projects in eighty-plus languages.
I began advocating for the project manager after attending my first conferences as a director of the Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters. What stood out to me then was the conflictual nature of the relationship between project managers and translators. Translators told war stories of working with LPMs with a “file pusher” mentality. These translators weren’t being provided with necessary instructions like style guides or termbases. They couldn’t get answers to critical queries.
On the employment side, I noticed that my responsibilities far exceeded what seemed to be the messaging about my role. My experience in project management includes work at three localization firms of varying organizational maturity. In one of my jobs, I carried a project load of nearly 50 daily projects with 48-hour turnarounds while also establishing the infrastructure for a lucrative new client. In another role, I shifted our model from outsourcing to a single LSP to outsourcing to independent contractors. In that role, I established company-wide price lists for purchasing translation services while cutting out a middleman who was not providing value for the PM fees they were charging.
While my duties were often more characteristic of program management, my role was undervalued. I often operated without the authority that would have allowed me to move strategy forward quickly and create the bandwidth for a greater client load. I observed burn-and-turn hiring cycles in which project managers with no background in translation or localization were hired and worked around the clock until they quit, taking important institutional knowledge with them. As a PM with training in translation, I knew that localization management required an advanced, broad skill set obtained through higher education or years of experience. I also knew that as an industry we could do so much better. This context prompted my research in localization management competencies.
The LMCC typology
My research began in the spring of 2018 when I started teaching localization management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. I collected around 70 job descriptions for localization project managers and studied those descriptions to identify the wide range of skills employers need. In the fall of 2018, I received funding for a Graduate Research Assistant, and GRA Cheng Qian joined the project. She used memoQ to tag the job descriptions in a localization competency termbase, in which unique skills were classified according to competency area. Students in the fall 2018 rendition of my Localization Project Management course at MIIS participated in this tagging as well. From the 70 job descriptions, we collectively identified nearly 1000 skills that we later boiled down into the typology of Localization Management Core Competencies (LMCC) that is found on our Core Competencies of the Localization Manager website (sites.miis.edu/lmcc). Our typology was also built based on research in education programs in localization, international standards of best practice, and other resources. This typology is under ongoing development.
Stakeholder Engagement on Localization Competencies
As our typology became solidified into 7 dimensions with over 300 associated skills, we prepared to conduct stakeholder engagement on the topic. In the spring of 2019, we prepared an industry survey which was piloted on students in my Advanced Localization Project Management course at MIIS. In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Xi’an China to give the keynote address at the WITTA-TTES forum 2019, where I introduced our typology to the industry for the first time. I then published the Core Competencies of the Localization Manager website to educate the industry on our research. In the fall of 2019, two additional GRAs were added to the project: Vanessa Prolow and Xiaofu ‘Rick’ Dong. At the beginning of the semester, I took Dr. Netta Avineri’s Survey Design course at MIIS, and we polished our industry survey based on the knowledge gained in that course. We launched our industry survey of 35 questions shortly thereafter which collected respondents’ perspectives on localization competencies and training. Our thanks to the 62 respondents who took our survey!
LMCC Industry Survey Results
According to broad estimates on the number of localization practitioners in the United States, we would have needed around 400 responses for our survey results to be conclusive. While are results are not conclusive, they do give a good temperature check on the reception of our localization competencies within the industry. Our survey enjoyed global participation: Around 60% of respondents self-identified as being from the United States, and around 20% self-identified as being from Asia. We also had participants from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Our survey was taken by experienced professionals as well. Around 40% of our respondents had over 10 years of experience, and around 65% of our respondents had over 5 years of experience.
Xiaofu ‘Rick’ Dong conducted the initial analysis of survey responses that I presented at the ATA’s 60th Annual Conference in Palm Springs; and forthcoming publications will dive more deeply into the nuance of our survey results. For the time being, major takeaways from our survey are as follows:
- In terms of management competencies, terminology management ranked 11th for importance of the 15 competencies we presented to respondents. According to international standards of best practice, if you are not managing terminology, you do not have a quality product. This ranking therefore demonstrates that terminology management is an area where much stakeholder education is needed. From a practical standpoint, managing terminology when carrying out multilingual projects with multiple translators per language prevents unnecessary rework. From a marketing standpoint, terminology management should be viewed as perception design… As translators are aware, words elicit complex emotions tied to concept relations within the brain. Localizers would do well to be aware of the emotions their terminology evokes to avoid product failures in global markets
- In term of technological competencies, despite the fear with which machine translation is viewed, MT ranked 4th for importance of the 15 competencies we presented to respondents. (CAT and TMS tied for first place. General technological literacy and project management applications tied for second place.) Our survey demonstrates that ongoing stakeholder education on the skills required for such services as PEMT is needed for MT to be accepted by translators. For instance, according to ISO standards on human translation and PEMT, the latter actually requires more skills and competencies that traditional human translation, despite the undervaluing of PEMT in terms of perception and rates.
- Just over 55% of respondents agreed that bilingualism is necessary for the professional practice of localization management. This takeaway has important implications for bilingual education in the United States, where the promotion of monolingualism threatens our country’s ability to complete on a global level.
Moving Forward with Localization Competency Research
The work of the LMCC research team is ongoing, and our existing typology benefits the industry in a number of ways. Employers can use our typology to identify the competencies they have in house to make more strategic hiring decisions when adding talent to their teams. Localization practitioners can use our typology to identify the competencies they have and the competencies they need further development in. Trainers can use our typology to determine the what should be the core of their training programs and where nuance can be added. For more information on our research, please see our Core Competencies of the Localization Manager website (sites.miis.edu/lmcc/), which presents further information on the context for our research and our methodology. We also welcome feedback on version 4 of our typology, which is under ongoing development.
Alaina Brandt is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in the Translation and Localization Management (TLM) program of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. She is on the board of directors of the American Translators Association, and she’s the Assistant Administrator of the Translation Company Division of ATA. She is a member of Committee F43 on Language Services and Products of ASTM International. Brandt is CEO and founder of Afterwords Translations. She holds a Master of Arts in Language, Literature, and Translation from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.