Heavy Lifting

From the Backseat

By Bridget Hylak


nnabelle and Akari. Monique and Adriana. Olga, Javier, and Klaus. Isabela and Ursula. Jimena, Dario, and Lamis. And the list goes on and on. All rock stars. All linguists. All true industry icons. Many of them are women. Not one is active on LinkedIn. Not one looking for praise.

We all know them. Suppose we are running a successful multilingual enterprise on any level. In that case, we all have a few of them in our back pocket: those tireless, selfless “word nerd” warriors who go the extra kilometer and translate (without charge or fuss) that pesky four-word subtitle change that arrives after hours via client email outside the pipeline; the accommodating mother of four who rushes through dinner with family to elegantly rectify a character limit overage; the night shift hero who immediately detects the wrong character encoding before the project breaks, averting disaster (and delay) for the third time in one evening.

They are whizzes on just about every computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool and translation management system (TMS) on the market. Many of them are quietly plugging away at uncovering the useful yet intricate applications of generative AI (GenAI) in their workflow. However, you won’t find them teaching courses or trying to get famous. Too bad, because some of the tips, tricks, secrets, and suggestions they have up their sleeves are effective, humbling, and often mind-boggling.

Their roots are in language, yet their hearts skip a beat over emerging technologies that help them do their job better. They know how to come in through the front door, the side window, or the back porch of any project; how to import, align, and/or prep the craziest of disjointed files; how to detect and correct problems before things break down; and how to exit elegantly through the chimney leaving perfect presents behind like Santa Claus — all tasks involving insane levels of expertise that to them are second nature.

The public — you and me — don’t know who they are, but their fingerprints are all over the subtitles on the foreign films we watch, the brochures at our doctors’ offices, and the billboards and commercials advertising all those famous and fancy things we so desperately “need” to buy or sell — the profits of which they will never properly share in.

And the thing is, they don’t care. Money as a reward is not their incentive. Wait, what?

They simply love their work. They love their community. They do what’s right. Yep, like Mayberry’s quintessential Citizen of the Year, they impeccably do it all “just because.” And they do enough of it, and with such proficiency, that they make a great living at it.


Most of their clients would be devastated if something happened to them. Even when they go on that rare vacation, project managers (PMs) squirm nervously in their chairs upon receiving the polite email requesting two or three weeks off “to spend some time with the kids” and/or “help with a family matter” somewhere beyond Wi-Fi borders. The PM struggles with saying, “No problem! You deserve it!” while internally scouring their brain over how and who will fill their shoes in the interim.

The answer never comes easy. Linguist XYZ — or even three or four working together — never manages to measure up. If clients complain, these subs just don’t care. They don’t rise to the occasion and supply all their references and links to their research like Adriana, or take up the charge to stand behind their product like Klaus; they don’t rush to rectify the non-localized graphics that slipped through the pipeline like Gabriel; and they won’t and can’t defend their work beyond a frustrated huff and a careless retort, “I’ve been doing this for years. I know I’m right.”

As captured by CSA Research’s The Evolution of Language Services and Technology in December 2022, neither Monique nor Annabelle are campaigning or desiring to be spotlighted. However, anyone with any sense who is really observing with an eagle eye from the C-Suite down will recognize the invaluable service and intrinsic, enterprise-stabilizing value of these professionals who care, deeply care, about “getting it right” and have the experience and expertise to execute.

They are key to the core if they are not at the core. Properly recognizing, compensating, and retaining their expertise is — and will increasingly be — vital to any serious multilingual effort focused on true connection and reduced-risk profit.

There is no line item or value metric for what they do, but there should be. Making any global campaign fly without their input is about as risky as attempting a packed transatlantic flight on New Year’s Eve without flight attendants. Without them, who recognizes the onboard flight problem; calms the unruly, slightly tipsy passenger; replenishes the urgently needed barf bag (or improvises with a Ziplock); alerts the pilots of sparks issuing out from under the left wing; and ushers everyone to safety in an emergency landing at Shannon Airport? Never mind the prospect of heading to the hotel only to wake up early the next morning and do it all over again.

The real industry influencers? That would be Javier, Jimena, Marissa, and others, because so much of what they do and how they do it influences the industry’s success. From Italian to Tamil, Alemannic German to Canadian French, Arabic, Mam, Mandarin, and Yoruba to Hebrew, Mandarin, Slovenian, and back again — these diehard pros make sure that just in case you are that patient in the doctor’s office learning how to use insulin for the first time, or that employee required to use potentially hazardous chemicals in their workplace, or that parent struggling to assist their child with the new curriculum, nothing within their power will go wrong. Because of caring and experienced Ursula, no letter, number, or column is out of place on that meticulously localized table on your pharmaceutical package insert. Why? Because they think of you like family.

This caliber of industry professional is worth their weight in platinum. To them, connection is more than an option; nuance is essential to detect, decipher, teach, and communicate.

Health, well-being, love, success — everything to do with being human — will never be undermined or overlooked by them because they live and breathe the “get it right.” Their ambition is not to be an influencer on a grand stage but to influence the quality of your life and how well you live your day in an increasingly globalized world.

Week after week, they do this. Month after year, and even decade after decade, they labor quietly and diligently in an office of one — veterans and new-industry blood, silently preaching messages of inclusivity, quality, and connection through their work. Personally and professionally, they have this down and live it eloquently; the next generation should be watching their focus, dedication, and learning more than a few things.

Why? Because these exemplary pros understand the one detail that is most important of all: the disappointment and repercussions of getting it wrong.


They know enough to recognize and admit what they don’t know, stop the presses, and course-correct until “due west” once again looms large on their project compass.

For many of them, pay rates have decreased in recent years while the quality and speed of delivery have increased. And yet, they haven’t suffered as much as others, nor are they unduly alarmed. As the exciting potential of GenAI breathes down the industry’s neck (and even makes its way down our pantleg), these pros see it as anything but a threat. They’ve been through this before; they’ve adapted as their clients have requested, and they’ve risen to the occasion hundreds of times and raised their personal bar. They’ve also been ridiculously careful in the process, such that their skills have only built upon themselves, and like fine wine, their mettle has been proven with time.

And the adapting never ends, which is something they intrinsically recognize. The inherent dynamism of language itself — not to mention the technology that currently drives and supports it — requires adaptability, not only to linguistic shifts and emerging jargon, but also to client relations and solutions customization. Indeed, personalization and human interaction by highly-skilled human linguist technicians — which can be accomplished only by, well, highly-skilled human linguist technicians (or those they consult for) — are key in client relationship management. (And who adapts, juggles, or improvises better than a working mom?)

The sheer volume of work they do, combined with a minimalist lifestyle and an impressive list of savvy, happy clients, is their security for now. While they may not be panicking (it’s not in their nature!), neither have they benefited as much as they should simply because they don’t see — well, they just won’t look at — their own worth long enough to get that part of the equation right, too.

Here’s your permission — Moira, Lamis, Jimena, and Dario — to do just that. Look in the mirror. See what we already know. Claim your stake.

To the community and industry that surround you, a humble request: This year, let’s vote all of them up. Let’s vote for the real industry influencers who will never have their name on a book, video game, or in movie credits, though they’ve been key to many; who will never get rewarded for nailing that oh-so-perfect rendition of “mumbo jumbo” or “heebie-jeebies.” Who have researched single concepts for hours to get them just right, research that is now globally available (with no royalties attached) as part of a public large language model (LLM), machine-translation (MT) engine, or termbase. Their subtitles, commercials, voiceovers, and press releases have made us laugh, cry, and connect — all in the name and credit of an agency that generally pays them a fraction of what they deserve and what big corporate earns.

This year, let’s stop robotically relying on their impeccable efforts without an occasional pat on the back. Whether it’s an actual nomination or something they’d prefer — like a raise, a promotion, a bonus, a lunch date, or a thank you note — let’s ensure they know we appreciate them. Your gratitude will shock and humble Madelaine, Fernanda, and their peers. As they plow along, plant and sow, rise, shine, and retire, they’re so used to being “unsung heroes” that your accolades may internally throw them into full, five-part harmony.

While the existential “chicken or the egg” question — what came first, male or female linguists? — may never be answered, we might all give that one to the men, simply due to industry mascot St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible. But just because good old Jerome assuaged his temptations of the flesh by turning to the arduous study of Hebrew and passionately executed his monastic duties to become one of the earliest, bona fide documented linguists on the planet doesn’t mean he wasn’t instructed and supported by a lot of Annas, Esthers, and Ursulas. After all, isn’t fostering harmony and connection — the very essence of interconnectedness — one of the fundamental tasks of women in almost any household?

Need sober, ethical insights as processes adapt with unprecedented speed? They have those, too.  They took their oaths seriously as junior pros and still abide by the iron-clad Code of Ethics drafted in 1998, making them the trustworthy, client-focused professionals they are.


Every language company, system, or platform dealing with direct clients brags about their “professional, native linguists” or “fully automated localization processes.” Their teams have it all down, they say. Do they, now? Without Adriana or Javier, they are like aliens riding blindfolded in the backseat of an Earth-made autonomous vehicle on its maiden voyage to Tatooine, hoping to arrive “somewhere” safely. And fingers crossed, they might get there.

But without proper implementation and testing, without the right expert, and without teaching that AV the difference between a Tusken Raider and a womp rat, a landspeeder, and a Waymo, isn’t the risk a little high?

So skip the hope, and get some insurance. Directors and executives, you can mitigate a lot of risks and solve many problems simply by hiring a Monique, a Catharina, a Hänsel, or a Gretel. They are your real magic bullet. A technical linguist who masters both sides of the language/technology equation is a rare and valuable find. Do not look past her (or him), and don’t let them slip away. They will lead you to the Global Promised Land.

There has to be a seat for these brilliant, ethical language connoisseurs at the industry’s next birthday party, particularly as processes veer into increasingly automated, headless, and “lights out” scenarios.

Cutting costs by extremely wide margins is possible with significantly less risk as long as they remain in the mix. If directors go one step further and surround them with a few competent and marginally motivated colleagues, they will mentor them like true champs.

They were born to make your language challenges disappear and love the art and science of words. But in the current industry climate, if they must transition up the chain from Word Nerd Extraordinaire to other roles, then so be it, so long as they don’t fade away; they won’t be comfortable giving orders at first, but soon, they’ll understand how to add value, and indeed, how without them, the odds of success are low. They already know more than most industry PMs and language directors and are already in the business of averting disasters before they strike. They just aren’t recognized for the effort, nor do they (currently) charge for it.

Once they grasp their worth, they will adapt and thrive — they always have. They will quickly see that no one can do the job quite like them.

Somewhere in the pipeline between approval, initial review, and delivery, if these proven industry experts’ eyes (and hearts) are not somewhere on the deliverable, language and localization providers will risk missing the mark entirely. Talk about dire consequences. Even some of the least damaging scenarios could turn “C-suite dreams” into nightmares.

We salute you, all you silent and heavy lifters from the backseat! In the name of authentic influence and in harmony with the technologies you continuously seek to master, you are the industry’s next best investment. 

Bridget Hylak uses her experience as a nationally certified linguist and multilingual communications director to help clients find the tools that balance efficiency and cost with a human touch.

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