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Insights from Managing Canadian Indigenous Language Projects

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When we think of the translation landscape in Canada, the first thing that comes into many people’s mind is the unique English-French bilingual environment. The vast majority of the translation requirements in Canada are from English into French. However, there is a small but steady amount of translation required into Canada’s Indigenous languages.

Managing Indigenous languages projects are very different from managing French ones. In some languages, there are very few speakers left; often translators don’t have consistent access to a computer or internet. Additionally, cultural differences between mainstream business and Indigenous traditions can create confusion or potential conflicts.

Elvire Mekoudjou is a project manager at wintranslation, a Canadian translation company that has an Indigenous language practice covering 40 of Canada’s 60 Indigenous languages. She shares her insights and lessons learned from managing Indigenous projects such as the Federal Indian day school class action lawsuits, and Canada’s Food Guide.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Elvire Mekoudjou, and I am from Cameroon in Central Africa. After I graduated with an M.A. in translation, I worked as an English-French translator for more than five years before being recruited as a project manager in a start-up company. I later became a project manager at Wintranslation, where I have been working since 2018.

What are the top Indigenous languages in Canada based on the number of speakers?

According to the 2016 Census done by Statistics Canada, the main Indigenous languages in Canada would be:

For a COVID-19 related document, what are the languages that should be translated in order to reach a maximum number of people in Canada’s Indigenous population? 

Before answering this question, it is important to mention that when making recommendations to a client seeking to reach a national audience, we take into consideration the number of speakers per language, and also the representativity per province. This is why, in order to reach the largest audience possible, we will recommend the most-spoken dialects of the languages mentioned earlier, but also perhaps a language like Mik’maq, as this will allow our client to reach the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Indigenous communities who might not have been included in the most-spoken languages.

Based on your experience dealing with government departments that translate into Indigenous languages often, what are the most frequently translated languages?

It really depends, but usually, a federal organization with a national mandate would ask for languages like Inuktitut (many dialects), Cree, Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, Dene, OjiCree, Michif and even Stoney. They will try to reach the maximum number of Indigenous communities, not just to cover the most spoken languages. However, when it comes to provincial governments, they will target the languages spoken in their specific province. For instance, an Ontario government organization will translate into Cree (one of the two Ontario Cree dialects), Ojibway, Inuktitut, OjiCree, and Mohawk, whereas a Quebec Government will request the translation to be done in Cree (Quebec Cree), Inuktitut (Nunavik), Innu, Atikamekw, Mohawk and Naskapi.

What are the misconceptions about Indigenous languages you encounter most often?

The most common misstep is when clients want a specific language that will be understood by all Indigenous communities. We have to explain to the client that there are many Indigenous languages in Canada, and that there is not a “national” Indigenous language.

Another faux pas is when clients try to make a comparison between the English/French structure and an Indigenous language structure. Here again, we have to explain to the client that most concepts are new to Indigenous languages, so our Indigenous language expert has to use his/her creativity to find the perfect way to express a completely foreign reality in a way that won’t be misleading for the target community. This is why a single word in English or French can be translated by a sentence in an Indigenous language, or the other way around. For example, to translate the term “digital device,” our Inuktitut language expert had to look up the meaning of the different words and use general descriptions to convey the meaning of this foreign concept in his language. For digital, he used “ᖃᕆᑕᐅᔭᓕᕆᔾᔪᑦᑎ” which means involving or relating to the use of computer technology and for device, “ᓱᓇᒃᑯᑖᖅ,” which simply means a tool.

What are the most memorable things you learned about Indigenous language or culture in the course of your work?

Oh, this is a great question! I must say working with Indigenous languages has been the most challenging yet fulfilling experience I have ever had. With every single project we manage, we learn something new about the Indigenous culture. Indigenous resources seize every opportunity to share some interesting aspects of their culture or language with us, and this is absolutely amazing!

I am often in awe when I see some similarities with my African culture. The world is definitely a global village! A great example is religious beliefs. Just like most African tribes, Canada’s Innu people, for instance, believe in the power of ancestors. Ancestors have the power to intercede for us with God. This is why it is important to honor them and convey our prayers through them. However, we should bear in mind that Indigenous people have different cultures, and this aspect of the Innu culture might not exist among other Indigenous cultures. 

Are all Canadian Indigenous languages based on syllabic scripts?

No, all Indigenous languages are not based on syllabics. Syllabics are used for some Inuit languages, Cree languages and Algonquian languages. Languages like Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, and Innu use Roman letters. I was also given to understand that for some languages like Dene, the Cree syllabics were adapted to write them at some point since they were basically all oral languages, but today it is written differently. I would also like to mention that nowadays, the tendency is also to write syllabic-based languages in Roman orthography, but just like dialects, the choice of the writing system would depend on many factors.

 

 

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Lilt Hosts Successful Virtual Conference

Language Industry News and Events

Lilt, an AI-powered enterprise translation company, held its first Lilt Ascend virtual conference yesterday, October 22. The theme was localizing at scale in a digital world, a topic that underscores the challenge companies face as the volume of digital content continues to grow exponentially while the pool of linguistic talent remains constant.

The conference came right on the heels of Lilt becoming the first ever Diamond sponsor of the Women in Localization organization, which was announced earlier this week. And indeed, advancing the role of women in the industry was a recurring theme throughout the day’s sessions. The conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Lilt’s chief evangelist, Paula Shannon, who emphasized the benefits of finding a mentor and filling in gaps in financial literacy to those seeking more senior roles in the industry.

Following the introductions, Lilt’s CEO Spence Green gave a presentation on how Lilt is helping enterprises address the challenge of localizing digital content at scale. For those whose first introduction to Lilt was through their adaptive MT-enabled Translator Workbench, it was informative to hear about improvements in translation and review workflows. These include a Neural AutoReview feature that provides reviewers with context-based stylistic suggestions for text improvements. Green also announced several other new and improved services, including connectors to leading TMS solutions, an on-prem private cloud deployment option, and improved data modeling via Lilt Insights.

The conference was a well-balanced mix of product updates and demos, conversations with industry thought leaders on how they’ve driven digital transformation, and presentations on AI that ranged from the technical to the practical. Speakers from Intel, Aisics Digital, and Canva took the audience through challenges they faced scaling their localization programs, and how Lilt has helped them achieve the efficiency gains needed to keep up with their global customers. 

Lilt Ascend was hosted on Hopin, an interactive online event platform. As anyone who has attended virtual conferences in this brave new world knows, the platform can make or break an event. Hopin did not disappoint. Though there were a few minor delays lining up speakers for Q&A portions, the audiovisual quality was excellent and the UX was quite intuitive. The networking function also worked well, setting up participants with one-on-one sessions lasting 15 minutes each. Overall, it was a solid solution that any event organizer would be remiss not to consider.

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CATTI Announces International Linguist Accreditation Test

Language Industry News and Events

Planned for the end of the year, the first CATTI International test will allow translators and interpreters to test in a remote, online setting, or at appropriate test centers.

The CATTI Project Management Center of China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration recently announced that CATTI International would be launched on Dec. 20, 2020. As an extension of CATTI Level 3, CATTI International will be open to candidates worldwide. The test is mainly focused on testing the translation and interpretation abilities of general translators and interpreters, those doing business related to China as well as personnel engaged in the practice of using foreign languages. The test will be managed using an international model and operated in a market-oriented way.

The CATTI aims to measure competence in translation and interpreting — including simultaneous and consecutive interpreting — between Chinese and seven foreign languages: English, Japanese, French, Arabic, Russian, German, or Spanish. The test is intended to cover a wide range of domains including business, government, academia, and media, though it is not designed to assess literary translation.

According to reports, CATTI International will have both overseas and domestic versions. At the end of 2020, the overseas version will be first launched for foreigners and Chinese studying or working overseas, while the domestic version of the test is expected to be launched in the first half of 2021. Mock tests held over recent days, with the participation of more than 2,000 people from over 50 universities and international schools, have achieved satisfactory results, laying a solid foundation for further improvements of the examination.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in mind, organizers have taken several measures to ensure the health of candidates. First, Chinese citizens who study, work, or live abroad but must stay in China temporarily due to the pandemic can apply for the test by providing necessary certificates. Second, the test at the end of this year will be held online and taken at home. For those who have difficulties taking the online test remotely, the exam can be taken at test centers subject to the local pandemic prevention and control policies.

Authoritative experts, professors, and scholars have been engaged in test designing, outline reviewing, test question setting and assessing, and textbook compiling to ensure the validity and authority of the test.

Those involve include Chen Mingming, associate director of CATTI English Expert Committee; Qiu Ming, associate director of CATTI Japanese Expert Committee; Wang Weimin, professor of translation, member of CATTI English Expert Committee, and member of National Senior Professional Titles (T&I) Evaluation Committee; Jin Yan, professor from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and director of CET Committee; Yan Ming, professor from Heilongjiang University; Li Chunji, professor from Dalian University of Foreign Languages; Li Ming, professor from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies; Ouyang Qian, professor from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies; and other well-known experts in translation, interpretation, and language assessment.

Moreover, several professional language teams from universities of foreign studies will join, including NATTI from Australia, Sydney Institute of Interpreting and Translating, Macquarie University, Han Culture Centre of Malaysia, Canada Education Group, European Research and Development Fund for Chinese Language, Xi’an Research Institute of Blockchain.

The CATTI test battery is divided into four levels of Senior, I, II, and III, from highest to lowest. The total test time for translation proficiency is 120 minutes; for interpreting proficiency, 60 minutes; for translation practice, 180 minutes; for interpreting practice at Levels I and II, 60 minutes; and for interpreting practice at Level III, 30 minutes.

Test registration will open to candidates all over the world on Oct. 20, 2020. Users can register at the official website (www.catticenter.com). The test will be held on Dec. 20, 2020, including two sessions in the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere.

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UN Translators Describe Remote Work during COVID-19

Language Industry News and Events

Remote work in 2020 is difficult for any profession. How have UN translators and translation teams managed during the transition?

United Nations translation teams received a spotlight from the Department of Global Communications this week to shed some light about they have transitioned to remote work and sustained an efficient workflow since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the shutdowns abruptly curtailed on-site activities at Headquarters and other UN premises, the translation services of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) transitioned to remote working almost seamlessly, although not without ongoing difficulties.

“Several factors enabled us to transition so easily, not least our commitment to remaining at the forefront of language technologies and developing in-house our own suite of high-performance web-based tools,” says Oxana Sobkovich from the Russian Translation Service. “DGACM had already implemented a fully electronic workflow and built a set of sophisticated computer-assisted translation and editing applications, such as eLUNa and UNTERM, to support the production of multilingual documentation. In addition, we had just reorganized all the translation services’ online resource libraries at the end of 2019 and started working with Sharepoint and Teams.”

With strategic activities like recruitment online, the translation services held the first part of their sixth fully remote online competitive examination, this time for Spanish translators, editors, and verbatim reporters, on July 7 with over 1,400 test takers. On April 1, The Documentation Division (DD) also launched a new online training platform, The SPOT (self-paced online training), which contains over 500 learning activities. The project will be extended to other areas of DGACM and duty stations in the next phase.

Likewise, the gText suite of translation, editing, and terminology tools have proved invaluable, with other departments and even other UN entities requesting use. In April, staff from the Department of Global Communications, as well as interpreters and verbatim reporters from the Meetings and Publishing Division were set up with the tools. The World Health Organization soon after followed suit, as the latest organization to join the group of UN entities that have adopted eLUNa and UNTERM as their translation and terminology solutions.

Despite the smooth transition made possible by new practices and software, much of the DD staff realized major technological gaps between their homes and workplace. Staff who were assigned laptops by OICT had to visit the Secretariat Building to collect them at scheduled times for health and safety reasons. The necessary software applications were then installed remotely with the Business Analysis Section of DGACM and OICT support.

Besides obtaining the necessary tools to complete their responsibilities, many Finding sufficient quiet time was a challenge for many. For some, sharing a workspace with a spouse whose job involved a lot of time in video or phone calls was a major source of stress; for others it was combining teleworking with what was effectively home schooling. Flexibility and compromise and non-standard work schedules seem to have been the best coping mechanism.

“My children were home, and having to supervise the remote learning and after-school care of a highly active 7-year-old and an 11-year old, meant that the interruptions were constant. Translation requires concentration, and I kept having to reread what I had just written and pick up my train of thought again or put off my own work until nighttime,” said Olga Begisheva of the Russian Translation Service.

Despite the turmoil in the personal lives of the editors, translators and text-processors have been able to produce the multilingual documentation on which the work of the Organization depends. “I am very proud of the dedication and commitment shown by the staff of DD,” says Cecilia Elizalde, director of the Documentation Division. “They rose to the challenge and responded with extraordinary team spirit.”

Furthermore, to address the loss of the spontaneous, in-person interactions that often lead to valuable learning moments in the work place, some services have organized regular virtual coffee gatherings, and the Division has organized a series of online lectures, covering a range of topics, from remote tours of artwork, to how COVID-19 case projections are calculated, to yoga classes. To complement the self-paced learning activities in The SPOT, small online discussion groups and workshops have also been organized to build skills and increase knowledge transfer. In this and other ways, the Division’s staff continue to innovate, build resilience, and support one another.

“We can do this, and we are willing to do this, despite the personal difficulties and even across time zones, because this is a crisis situation, but I am not sure how long working at this level and at this pace under these conditions is sustainable,” worries Frank Schramm, from the German Translation Section. “However, we pride ourselves on our professionalism, on our ability to deliver high-quality translations on time, as the United Nations and the public worldwide deserve. And knowing the UN translation services and their capacity for innovation as I do, I am sure we will find the ways and means to continue to do that.

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Dutch Linguists Respond to Ministry Contracts Changes

Language Industry News and Events

The Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security have pushed back RFPs that aim to broaden the pool of agencies. Many translators and interpreters, however, claim the changes will lower professional standards.

After months of disputes, the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security has decided to defer the request for proposals (RFP) for its new contracts for interpretation and translation work to the first quarter of 2021. Originally scheduled to put out the RFP this month, the ministry would have put out a call for tenders that would include remote interpretation services for the Dutch Police, along with interpretation services for the Judiciary and Probation Office, Council for the Protection of Minors, Dutch Council for Refugees, Nidos (for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers), Immigration and Naturalization Service, Central Reception of Asylum Seekers, and the Repatriation and Departure Service.

The notice also stated that the Justice Ministry is “working on a renewed system for the quality, use, and procurement” of language services that includes the renewal of the Register of Sworn Interpreters and Translators (Rbtv).

“By offering sufficient variety in tenders and by setting clear quality requirements related to Rbtv in all tenders, we aim to attract a wide range of tenderers,” the Ministry said.

The Ministry had also planned to publish at least a dozen subsequent tenders “consecutively or simultaneously,” for interpretation — simultaneous, remote, or face-to-face — or translation services for the police, Legal Aid Council, Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, among others.

However, after strikes from over 1,500 interpreters and translators in the Netherlands, the Ministry has decided to delay the RFP. The opposition to the new system began with a petition put out late last year, claiming that the Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, wanted “to outsource the hiring of interpreters and allow unqualified translators and agencies to bid for work” with the police, courts, and immigration services.

Roemer Leushuis, a sworn translator from the petitioning group who has also gone on strike, stated that he and others are on strike because “the work only consists of very small parcels (individual assignments). So, legally, there is no obligation to publish a tender. In Germany, for example, the authorities outsource per assignment. In the Netherlands, too, we want it to keep it that way.”

Leushuis wrote in a column that, on June 16, 2020, “MPs rejected a final attempt to stop” Minister Grapperhaus from pushing through with his two proposals. “One concerned the introduction of commercial intermediaries for all government interpretation and translation work. The other focused on reducing the language skill level for certified interpreters and translators.”

Nevertheless, the Dutch Ministry has gone forward with its shift in standards, lowering the certification requirement from C1 to B2-level. The Rbtv also contracts first B2 interpreters, but mostly for low-resource languages, such as Amharic, Albanian, Azerbeidjani, Farsi. Leushuis wrote, “The justice department has decided to deal with the relative scarcity [of linguists] by lowering the professional standards. That is not a wise decision. The B2 language level which would be required is about that of a secondary school pupil, and not nearly enough to do the job properly.”

In response to the changes, many of the translators and interpreters involved in the strike have plans to form “a new professional body to protect the interests of Dutch professionals. This organization will shortly come into existence,” according to Leushuis. Asked how the new group would be different from the currently existing NGTV (Netherlands Association of Interpreters and Translators), Leushuis replied, “It will be different from NGTV in the sense that it will be representing primarily certified T&Is — and I expect it will take a tougher stance against the Ministry of Justice.”

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Mental Wellness a Focus for SDL, Women in Localization

Language Industry News and Events

Women in Localization and SDL will coordinate to organize workshops and events centered around the mental wellbeing of industry workers and the general community.

SDL, the intelligent language and content company, has partnered with Women in Localization to raise awareness of mental health issues and promote mental and physical wellbeing of people working remotely during the pandemic. Founded in 2008, Women in Localization is a global community that supports women through its mentorship and coaching program, local Chapter events, training initiatives and resources. Its goal is to promote and advocate equality among members and across the localization industry. The campaign will be delivered across events organized by Women in Localization as well as SDL’s own initiatives.

According to a recent study at Stanford University, 42% of the US workforce now works from home full-time, and similar estimates have been made for workers in who have decided to work from home during the pandemic. The drastic changes in working conditions, coupled with the isolation of lockdown and political and financial instability, pose a serious threat to the mental health of the global population, with more than 40% reporting mental health conditions since June 2020.

“Those affected by mental health issues often suffer in silence,” said Virginia Clark, VP of Global Talent Development at SDL. “Our goal is to change that by hosting a series of events for our colleagues, and members of Women in Localization, where everyone feels safe, and has an outlet, to express how they feel and how they’ve personally been impacted. Training and guidance will be offered to help everyone overcome the many challenges presented by the pandemic.”

SDL, through its Platinum sponsorship of Women in Localization, plans to host a series of events through the SDL Women’s Forum alongside Women in Localization’s own events and local in-country Chapters, to encourage colleagues and members of the community to connect and share experiences about permanent shifts to working from home. SDL will also create further initiatives for its employees like virtual yoga and fitness classes, along with ongoing workshops and training focused on “Wellness in the Digital Age.”

“A big thank you to SDL for working to address the important issue of mental health during COVID,” said Women in Localization President Loy Searle. “During these very challenging times, this effort is very meaningful and can have a profound impact.”

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Paper Expands Multilingual Support to Online Services

Language in Business

The educational support system Paper emphasizes language access as among its primary goals to ensure a more equitable education for students across North America.

The educational support system company Paper is expanding unlimited tutoring support in English, Spanish, French, and Mandarin. Multilingual tutors are available across several subjects, including Math, Science, History, and English, so that students can get help in their native tongue. Founded in 2014, Paper is an educational support system providing students with online support and teachers with real-time feedback and intervention tools.

Paper partners with districts across North America to close the achievement gap and support educational equity. With the enhanced features on Paper’s platform, students will be able to pre-set their language preferences. By doing so, Paper automatically pairs students with tutors that can help them in their preferred language. Providing scholastic assistance in preferred languages has many crossovers for the localization industry – not least translation and interpretation.

“It is required we increase and improve services,” said Blaise DiGoralmo, chief academic officer of Carmel Unified School District, in California, in a recent board meeting discussing the adoption of Paper to support the district’s English as second language (ESL) students.

Making up a diverse group of nearly five million K-12 students in the US, ESL students face the challenge of acquiring a new language while learning core academic subjects. With the ongoing impact of the pandemic, educators in the US likewise have had to radically adjust to meet student needs in a remote setting, particularly when many of those students come from non-English backgrounds. Many educators fear disproportionalities in pandemic-induced learning losses are exacerbating existing achievement gaps between ESL students and non-ESL students.

“The nice thing is you can get tutoring in both English and Spanish, which is really valuable if you have a Spanish-speaking parent. The Spanish-speaking parent can go in with the kid when they’re at home; they can ask questions in Spanish, that parent can help them in Spanish even if the kid’s doing this stuff in English. They can have that interaction, so it does provide access for those parents as well to the tutors with their child,” added DiGoralmo.

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Emsi Language Services Industry Overview Projects Growth

Language Industry News and Events

An exclusive Emsi report outlines several variables around the language services industry, including salary, job growth, job training, and demographic breakdown.

Emsi, a data modeling firm based in the United States, recently gave MultiLingual a look at its third quarter 2020 data set on the US language services industry, providing a status of job postings as well as the industry’s projected growth over the next two years. The industry has seen steady growth over the past few years, although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a disruption and re-organization in demand. Here are a few takeaways from the report.

As of 2019, translators and interpreters made up over 40,000 jobs in the US, with average annual earnings of over $50,000. The report projects growth of over 19% by 2022, though these numbers depend on region. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area’s southern regions exceed the national growth average at around 23%, whereas the San Diego region projects a slower rate of 14%, according to the report.

Most jobs are found under the category of “Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services,” making up almost 40% of jobs in 2019. The “Other” category represented over 20%, while “Education and Hospitals” at the local level followed at around 17%. Both population size and region play a role in job rate with California, Texas, and New York leading.

The job demand remained steady between early 2017 and 2020, but Emsi reports a rise in demand in 2020, corresponding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and health-related language services. The past couple months have seen a return to the national average.

LanguageLine Solutions represented the majority of unique job postings with over 20,000, and Soliant Health, Inc had over 6,000 postings. The top three job titles are bilingual interpreters, interpreters, and sign language interpreters, and the top hard skills for job postings are language translation, pronunciation, and language interpretation.

Among both industry and language-specific occupations, age demographics spread fairly evenly among people between 19-64, with the highest concentration of those 25-34 years of age. Furthermore, women make up around two-thirds of the industry, with well over two-thirds of those holding language service occupations. White workers also hold most industry positions at 70% but hold less than 50% of language occupations, with Hispanic or Latino workers representing the next highest demographic at around one-third of workers.

In terms of educational training, most in the industry hold a bachelor’s degree, though as many as 20% hold a master’s degree or higher. Spanish language and literature ranks highest among educational programs, with University of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, and BYU ranking among the top schools.

Emsi data comprises a hybrid dataset derived from official government sources such as the US Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Leveraging the unique strengths of each source, the data modeling team creates an authoritative dataset that captures more than 99% of all workers in the United States. This core offering is then enriched with data from online social profiles, resumés, and job postings to give a complete view of the workforce.

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Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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