Community Lives: Bridging industry and academia

Teacher/student relationships have taken on many forms throughout history and across the globe. Our younger years are focused on becoming a part of this community, acquiring knowledge and skills… and then what? We transition to the business community and put our knowledge and skills to profitable and satisfying use.

Except the equation is not that balanced, is it? Enterprises may devour the products that education delivers, but is their appetite satisfied? This is a complicated question, and specifically in the language industry, the answer is a tad complicated too. After all, we keep hearing about skills shortages and the difficulties enterprises have in feeding their ravenous machine. So, if this simple process of supply and demand isn’t working, we need to investigate why. We have seen initiatives that attempt to tackle this. For example, under Ulrich Henes’ lead, LocWorld ran the prescient Attracting and Developing Talent (ADT) initiative. Much has been learned from forging links between education and commerce, but the problems are perennial and we need to build stronger and more productive relationships that will satisfy requirements effectively and continue to do so on an ongoing basis.

Many academics attend conferences and language-industry events and business people are often guest lecturers at their courses. Together they create relationships that are crucial in helping develop language programs and tech-tools that fulfill real-world requirements. One very tangible benefit of such initiatives is that the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) is responding by reclassifying their localization program as a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula that will equip its graduates with skills that our tech-based enterprises require. Effective communication, transparency and a willingness to innovate for change are critical components that will ensure success in this major language-industry venture.

I recently attended the GILT Leaders Forum, hosted by Airbnb in San Francisco. One of the sessions was on the educational needs of our industry. On the panel were Max Troyer, professor at MIIS; Ludmila Golovine, president of MasterWord Services, representing the Professors Group at Translation Commons (TC); and Patrick McLaughlin from Eventbrite sharing his experience of the last three years as adjunct professor at MIIS. The interest and participation of the audience — leaders in tech organizations — indicated the need for communication and establishing permanent links.

TC has also responded to the solid groundwork laid down by ADT in forming a professors’ group tasked to provide a widespread forum for exchanging ideas and experiences that can be adopted to tailor translation and interpreting courses to industry needs. The Professors and Lecturers Group is a space where instructors from different universities all over the world can collaborate and share resources in order to achieve an excellent quality of education in localization, translation and interpretation. This group also provides a bridge between academia and the professional world, by helping educators promote the profession of translation, interpreting and localization, creating contacts for possible internships, exchanges and opportunities for students to get hands-on training.

This all started in LocWorld38 Seattle, at the TC booth, where trainer and company owner Ludmila Golovine mentioned how much we need professors to share their knowledge, maybe with webinars. Career advisor at BYU Doug Porter, assistant professor Cynthia Jones from Weber State and I jumped in, and after a few minutes of enthusiastic brainstorming, we created the group on the spot. We already had professors volunteering in different groups or directly on the TC website with their students. The power of community was strongly in evidence as we put the idea out there and ended up with a first list that was about 40 strong.

It is interesting to note how the strong symbiotic relationships between academic scientists, engineers and major corporations are becoming de facto. The strong bonds between academics and tech enterprises in Silicon Valley since the 1950s played a critical role in transforming the US economy. Such is the measure of how essential technology has become to our activities. Now that businesses are global, the need for multilingually capable tech is finally ensuring a place at the table for the language industry — maybe not quite the top table yet, but give us time! When enterprises finally understand just how much properly implemented globalization strategies can enhance revenues, we will receive due recognition of our value. At least, we should.

With these thoughts in mind, the need to forge strong bonds between academia and industry is brought sharply into focus. Educators are no longer just providers of raw, young talent. Mutual understanding between widely differing groups in communities is fundamental to their cohesion, health and fitness. This has led to the identification of four objectives for the group. First, the need to facilitate professional communication between professors from different universities and countries will lead to excellent quality of education in translation and interpretation with a more distant goal of understanding a kind of common curriculum. Leading this subgroup is Irina Maas, adjunct professor at Houston Community College and vice president of the translation and interpretation (T&I) program for alumni. She has extensive international experience as a language professional and business administrator, having worked for major automotive and oil and gas companies, and now found a new passion in sharing her knowledge with others. As she says: “Communication is key to our joint success!”

As a second objective, it is a vibrant and given part of language study that travel fosters understanding of cultures as well as the languages they speak. Exchange programs, which have a history that stretches back to classical times (think Attila the Hun being educated in Rome!), are an excellent means of achieving this, even if history does show that diplomacy is not 100% guaranteed. The aim of the Professors and Lecturers Group is to create a consortium that will focus on exchanges. But not just that. Sharing professors’ knowledge, without borders and across institutions, will enable students to have a more complete view of all the potential paths they can follow after they graduate. Leading this subgroup is Natalia Noland, professor and creator of the T&I program at Houston Community College. Noland has a PhD in linguistics and has been teaching in institutions of higher education for over 35 years. She has extensive academic administration experience; has performed governmental, technical and literary translations; and has served as an interpreter in technical, business and government arenas. Noland holds the position of Houston Interpreters and Translators Association president and is a member of Texas Chapter of Women in Localization Leadership Team. Noland shared with me: “Translation/interpretation is a profession like engineering, or nursing, or any other. One must get professional education to produce high quality translation and interpretation. This education must be delivered by higher educational institutions in strategic partnership with the industry to meet its workforce expectations.”

As a third objective, taking opportunities as a catalyst of innovation, hence progress, they are seeking to create solid relationships with industry, companies and professionals to better connect students with opportunities. I can personally attest to the talent among students whose ambitions in the language industry are an asset that is far too valuable to squander on sink or swim situations when they first enter the workforce. This truly is a situation in which everybody wins. Heading this subgroup is Golovine, a TC advisor and the driving force behind MasterWord, a world-ranked top 50 multimillion-dollar company. She serves on various boards and chairs many advisory committees and chapters.

The challenge of getting industry to acknowledge, understand and prize the skills of linguists is long overdue for priority attention. We need to help industry recognize the professionalism of qualified translators and interpreters as well as promote the translation and interpretation profession itself. I’ve often said it — we have fullstack engineers with a plethora of skilltrees describing their many activities; where is our equivalent? Imagine the benefits if there is a broad, accepted understanding of the full range of language competences that our community possesses.

Is this simply another hyped-up initiative that makes all the right noises, but delivers little more? Are we truly addressing a real-world requirement? We emphatically believe we are and we believe our doubly inclusive approach has massive potential. Industry changes quickly and we as trainers of the new breed of professionals need to adapt rapidly to their needs. At the same time, industry experts work on the front line and have first-hand knowledge of what the real needs are for incoming talent to be able to integrate their academic skillset into enterprise requirements smoothly. Together with these experts, professors can ensure that students receive both academic and professional experience that will help them enter the job market successfully. It is important that those in top globalization positions share their knowledge with professors and academic institutions. By assisting and influencing the academic curriculum with ideas of what current needs are in large enterprises, we ensure that new talent will be appropriately trained. There is no better way to provide candidates with the correct skillset.

We now have an opulent communications tool bench at our disposal that puts the dusty lecture halls of the past into the dimming light of receding history. A lecturer can now reach a global audience thanks to streaming and other online resources. I’d like to take webinars as an excellent example that illustrates how a previously unimaginable networked audience is being reached. We use Google’s generously-donated facilities to deliver guest lectures to any number of participating institutions allowing all manner of content-sharing to keep students up to date. This may well be old hat in the business world, but in education, we’re only getting started.

But why restrict lectures to academics? We are also using the medium to bring in industry professionals to give students the benefit of cutting-edge insights before they even embark on a career. This can be critical in guiding students toward a path that interests them. The talent brimming in our young student community is there for the shaping. We are also creating a job-posting page encouraging enterprises to create internship opportunities for current students and new graduates. As part of the TC commitment to mentoring, Doug Porter with a small team of collaborators is creating best practices for internship programs as well as other projects that the community asks for.

TC is a volunteer-managed community. We are proud to be omni-inclusive. No linguist, no language, no language provider, no client is ever excluded. If anyone has an idea for any way in which to help promote strong, healthy communication between all of us, there is a place for that idea. We know that life for some language professionals can seem a bit lonely at times. But languages communicate, and as an Argentinian friend always tells me, it takes two to tango. What is a professor without their students and what are students without their professors? A business with global ambitions will remain mute without us.