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While localization is a joint effort, it's clear to everyone that those actively translating have a major impact on the quality of the results. In this episode Marta Boer, an expert of vendor and talent management in the localization industry, shares from her experience on how product teams can work with and manage translators to optimize their localized user experiences.
About Marta Boer
Marta is a talent acquisition expert passionate about improving the world through localization and human connection. With over 20 years of experience in the language industry, Marta previously worked as a project manager, vendor manager, and localization operations manager, as well as an independent localization specialist. Today, Marta helps SMBs and LSPs build or grow their localization teams and solve talent acquisition and supply chain management challenges.
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Michal: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Localization Process Pod, where we learn all about how companies everywhere get their products localized. In every episode of the podcast, we meet with someone from a different company to grill them on what they're doing right, what they're doing wrong, and how they're optimizing their processes for a better localized experience.
Today, I have a special episode because for the first time in this podcast, we are not meeting with someone from a product company. Instead, I'm interviewing Marta Boer, an expert on talent and vendor management in localization. We already know that humans are the biggest resource when it comes to creating great experiences in every language.
And so I asked Marta to come and tell us how to make the most of our relationship with translators. Marta has been in localization for over 20 years and managing vendors for over 10, and I'm really happy to have her here. Welcome, Marta.
Marta: Thank you, Michal.
Michal: I would kind of love to know, are you a vendor manager today?
Marta: I am a vendor manager today, but I try to work on my own, trying to set out on my own. Not to say that if I didn't have a job offer, I wouldn't take it.
But I'm also consulting with a few companies. So they manage to implement some kind of a community sense to their vendors to their vendor management department and how to go about this.
Michal: I'm not sure if you even told me how you got to vendor management in localization.
Marta: Well, I think it was a mix of things, but, in the last 12 years I was part of a company that specialize in QA, linguistic QA.
It started with two people when we were managing projects and reviewing content for Brazilian Portuguese. But the whole mission of this company was to set up a an LQA for other languages as well. So from the very start of the company, we had to contact people in the industry. At the time, we knew people that worked together or for us in other projects. So we hired people that we knew. I was a Brazilian reviewer and I remembered people that had worked in same projects as me and... spanish reviewer or a French reviewer. And that's how we got our first contacts to work on those projects.
And from then on, as the company grew, the people were busy and we were trying to find more people to join new projects. Okay, so let's go to Proz.com or LinkedIn. LinkedIn was very new at the time. People would refer other people. Yeah. So that was challenging in a way, but it was what needed to be done. Now, we would go out and, you know, find people to, to work on our projects. And we were lucky or we were good at what we do. with That's very hard to say, right? People don't boast enough, especially women. But we found good people to work for us. And our projects went very well while we were doing them.
Michal: Yeah, I actually, I remember those first days. had to go into these, like, infinite lists on pro.com and you had to search through the people, and then you had to decide based on sometimes very random criteria, who to approach, who's like the right people for the job.
Marta: Yeah. And because we wanted to do something different, we decided not to test people. So a lot of our projects, we would kind of train them or get senior reviewers to review the work after they did the first few projects, so there was not a pressure of doing tests and having to pass something. And also not having to put people on the spot without getting paid. Sometimes the tests are long, right? Half an hour, one hour of work for a freelancer is a lot. So we decided not to use this way, not to ask people to do tests for free. So we had to invest a lot of our time and other people's time to check the work of this new people that would come to work for us. And in the end these people that work for the same language became kind of a team, even though they were freelancers.
Michal: Then if you don't test the linguists, then... on what grounds do you choose to work with a specific linguist and not one of the others, which are, there are a lot of people looking for work.
Marta: Yeah. So the first thing we would do, it would choose people based on years of experience, five to 10 years depending on the subject. Also,
for some subject matters, we wouldn't go over 25 years of experience because it was all related to technology and tools and... you know, not to say that people that have 25 years experience cannot do those projects, but it was one way
of screening. Mostly, we decided to go on a hunch and trust people a lot of the time, and it worked out. And we would support them saying that if you're a new reviewer working for me, you would be by a senior reviewer, or your work would be reviewed a second time by a senior reviewer. By the time we had like three or four people for the same language, they became like a team, like I said. And they would welcome somebody into the team and, and tell them, this is how we do it. This is this client's preferences. So, hmm. We didn't encounter any problems. We did, but not something that would explode a machine or something like that. But we, we used to hire people because they were experts in what they did, and they had to demonstrate that. They were the last people to touch some content sometimes. So they, that's why we had... the usual, right? Style guides, glossaries and stuff, but we also had senior reviewers checking their work from time to time or train them before they start to get very heavy projects.
Our main job was to do LQAs. The mission was to remove a very painful point in localization, which is the LQA cycle.
Marta: The LQA cycle used to be very long and very painful, a lot of back and forth as well. And it used to be done in an Excel sheet or something like that. I'm talking about 15, 20 years ago. This Excel sheet with the review points from a reviewer would go back to the translator. The translator wouldn't agree with some points. There was a review 2 phase.
Then the reviewer would review the translator comments and so on. So this could be going back and forth five, six times. Very hard for people to agree.
LSPs were very protective of the translator's names and details. the reviewer didn't really know who they were talking to in this sheet. So one of the remedies was: why don't you create more collaboration for this phase of the process. And then that's how this company came about.
Our reviewers were like language owners or language leads. There are different names for the same thing. They would review the content, create feedback, send to translator and the translators would be invited for a conversation. So they could discuss the feedback, understand the points.
And most of the time the translators would understand where the reviewer is coming from. Not to say that our reviewer was the owner of the truth. sometimes the translator was right as well. So it was an adjustment. It was all a conversation and a collaboration.
Michal: Yeah, but there was a conversation, which I think is, on on its own a unique aspect, right? Because a lot of the times LQA is done very separately from translation. Sometimes , not even by linguists, right?
And so it's very hard for people to agree and everyone has an opinion when it comes to content.
Michal: It's also, it's the same when you write the content.
Everyone has an opinion, the writer does something, then the designer has their own feedback on it. The developer has their own feedback on it. The CEO says something and it's like, it's infinite. You can never get out it unless you say, okay, I'm limiting the amount of people who have access to giving feedback on this piece of content. And so it's the same with translation and it's infinite.
Marta: Yeah. The owner of the project, most of the time wouldn't speak the language, so they couldn't be an arbitrator or decide on the best solution, but they were put on the spot a lot of the times because they were anxious to get their project finished. There was nobody that take the ownership and say, okay, we stop here and this is gonna go this way. So the solution of the collaboration was very welcomed by our clients. Our clients knew the name of our reviewers and our clients sponsored some programs that would also require the LSPs to disclose the name of the translators because if they have to collaborate in a chat or in an email group or something, they need to know each other.
So the other important positive aspect of that, was bringing this translator back to the conversation. Because you know, they were very siloed. They are very removed. They have to churn words like crazy to make ends meet. And the value added by the reviewer side of things would also give them feedback, but also bring them into the conversation and ask their opinion and, and also check why some instructions are not followed or how much pressure was this person under so they couldn't understand what they were doing. How does these strings reach them?
Because if you are doing a UI, most of the time you only receive strings. There are one word, 10 words, I don't know. But they don't come inserted in the context.
Michal: Yeah, and it's very hard to produce good results
Marta: Yes. So our PMs and account managers and so on understood what the client wanted, helped create instructions, helped curate the style guide, the glossaries. If the client had a good localization department inside there was even more pressure because we would have to abide for what they were you know, building internally. If the client didn't have a localization department, then our teams were understanding client needs, understanding the quality that the client wanted, creating documentation around it. there was enough time, this would be shared with the translators before they could do translations. But this would vary with the nature of the project. The point of this one was just to, to bring the translators back into the conversation. Make them feel part of the whole, you know, collaboration
Michal: Yeah, the process.
I feel that in the earlier days of online translation, when companies started getting their workforce online as well, it was so easy, I guess, at the beginning. So it was sort of industrialized, right? You, you made these kind of, not automated processes, but you could click a button and you could email 50 people and say, oh, who wants to take on this project?
First one who answers, the cheapest one, was given the project just because it made everything faster and made everything cheaper and kind of like mcDonald... mcDonaldized.... Okay. I can't say it, but you know what I mean. It made this kind of a fast food translation method, I guess.
Michal: And what is happened is that... translators were... They became this kind of bolt in that system.
Michal: And, they started being treated like non-human. Like just someone who has to move the text from one stage of the process to the other stage of the process. At least that's how I felt when I was working as a freelance linguist. Like I was a bolt in the system and that's how I was treated and all these mass emails... The only thing I was meant to do is to move something from one end of the process to the other end so that it can go on and do its thing and be there for the client as fast as possible.
Michal: And when you dehumanize people, obviously you get less involvement, less engagement, less of a willingness go the extra mile, to do better work. Right? No one is inclined to do anything that they're not forced to do or paid to do.
And what you're saying, I think the biggest thing that comes out of it for me is humanizing translators again, making them part of the team instead of part of the process.
Yeah. Does that make sense?
Marta: Yeah. So bringing the translator back into the conversation was a big, big step. And we felt that at the beginning, translators felt weird about it.
Michal: Yeah, because it's unusual. And I'm sure it was more unusual then.
Marta: Yeah. But after a few months, realized the value and that they were heard. And once they felt heard, then they accept the process a little bit better.
Michal: Yeah. I'm guessing that once everybody understands that their input is actually valued. Then I'm guessing they start behaving in a whole different way.
Michal: Which kind of leads me to my next question, because we talked a lot about the technicalities and how LQA was done, but from your expertise as a vendor manager, what were the key things that you did that really made these people become part of the team and not part of the process?
Marta: Hmm. I've been asked this question a lot, and I think it was just our ethos, the way that we treated people from the get go. And our reviewers, being treated better, would treat translators better as well.
So it's a kind of a chain. I think if you change the way you treat people, it goes in ripples and it affects everyone, right? So if the reviewers are treated better, and if they understand that the review part is not only something that they need to do to prove they exist, like, they have to change something in a text to prove that they're doing the work. Because that's what happens, a lot of people in the localization industry kind of have to prove their existence by pointing to other people's mistakes.
Michal: I distinctly remember, I worked with a different linguist and we worked on reviewing the content. We worked together. And I really distinctly remember, I didn't have any notes and he said, no, you have to have least two notes. Otherwise, something is wrong. You're not doing the work that you're supposed to do.
But then a few years later, I did a project and there weren't a lot of notes and the project manager actually wrote back to me to say, so you know, we got feedback that you were doing really good review because you're not excessively adding, you know,
Michal: Preferencial edits, just to show that you did edit, I'm is a big issue for companies.
Marta: So, by that time then there was already the option of kudos in the industry. So if You review a job that has no changes, then you would give praise to the translator. Then the cycle's closed. In way people need closure, right?
Michal: Yeah. Well, it makes sense because you know... I saw on one of the Facebook groups a while ago, when you talk to a human chat support center. Uh, Then you wanna say thank you, and it reopens the conversation because the... yeah, because, the conversation was already closed and it was handled, and your problem was solved. And it's an issue because as humans I think we really want that, like you said, that closure. We really wanna be to say that "thank you".
Marta: Yeah, that reminds me of the early days of email. I'm going to reveal my age. And there was one machine in the office, one email address for the whole office, and people would take turns sitting in front of the computer to see if there were new projects coming in.
Then one day somebody sat in front of the computer and said, oh, this guy sent me an email just to say thanks. And we were not used to this, you know, we were receiving projects and email was not something so quick in the beginning. We were surprised that this person used this whole means of communication just to say thank you.
Michal: Yeah, that makes sense. You wouldn't send a letter to say thank you, but yeah. When you do, when you have email, then you say thank you. Okay. So, when you manage linguists, freelance linguists, what are the top things that you should be doing and you should make sure that your company's doing to optimize, I guess, the quality of work?
Marta: I think trust is the first thing that comes to mind. You have to feel trusted to trust people, I suppose. Somebody has to start, right? Somebody has to be the first. So if you treat people like people, it's already a great start. You need to invest some time and some energy into building a relationship.
I think we are at the stage now that everybody realized that crowdsourcing didn't work. Machine translation is not great either yet. So trust and investing time into getting to know your people. And that's where vendor comes into play, because you need somebody dedicated to do that.
So, when we were bringing new people to the team, it was always very welcoming and casual and trying to make people feel at home on the slack channels and things like that. But there is a time and energy that you have to invest in it. You cannot have a project manager try to do this bit very well.
Marta: The project managers will develop their own communication style and relationship with their preferred vendors. But there needs to be this level of care in the beginning of the collaboration, so people feel welcome. Translators, reviewers, feel welcome, feel heard, feel understood.
When this particular company grew to a point where we were hiring people that we never heard about or they were not referrals or anything, we started to do 15 minute phone calls with them just hi, how are you? To check if the person is real, to check the person is a good fit for your team. To check why somebody that does English into German is charging a low rate. You know, as you grow in this role, you notice some red flags as well. So if a German person is charging too low, then what's going on there?
I suppose this role is becoming more relevant now. So you really need people that like to deal with people, that have a good rapport. It's almost like a human resource thing, but it is not as formal because these people are freelancers. They are your vendors. They don't have any commitment to you, formally, apart from a contract that is like, I send you work and I pay you, and so on. But you really need to create this bond. So they, they feel they want to work for you. They feel they are treated well and they are valued. And if their kid is sick, they don't mind telling you, look, is there somebody to cover for me for this project because I have to go to the hospital. Or, you know, something like that. So it's human connection as well, very important. You make people feel at ease with you so they don't feel under pressure or become unresponsive because of some anxiety that they don't know how they're going to be treated.
And I suppose that another thing that facilitated this whole thing was that projects were coming on an ongoing basis. So the same people would be getting the same kind of jobs from the same client. So the account manager, the project managers and the reviewers that did the work were like part of the same team, and then supporting this whole operation. Then there was the vendor managers getting people, but also checking on people. One of the ideas that we had that worked well was having somebody that would call the vendor advocate, if a vendor becomes unresponsive or delays a couple of projects in a row or something, then somebody would go and check on them. Not check on the project, right? The first questions I would ask people were, is everything okay? Can we help, can we support, can you engage with the second reviewer and see if they can take over from you?
Because this also became like a relay team kind of thing. For projects that have had more than one person working on the same type of content. They could exchange jobs if one person was too busy or if something happened suddenly as well. It's funny how these people set out to work on their own, but when they're part of a team, they feel more comfortable.
Michal: I think there's nothing we can do against it. Right? It's, it's human And I say that as a person who likes to work alone. Obviously when there's communication, we communicate better, so we transfer information That's the first part. But also I think we do feel more inclined to do things for that other person, for the other company. When we know who they are, we have a face and a name that we can kind of connect to that random email that we get.
Marta: Hmm. And this whole thing that we set out to do, we didn't know where we were going to end. For me personally, feels like it happened organically. The intention of this company was collaboration, human centered communication. Human first everything. It worked because everybody felt good working for this company. You know,
Michal: Yeah, definitely.
Marta: They would refer friends, they would, would like to work in the team. We had a slack workspace with more than 300 freelancers. and we didn't need a community manager for that. So, you know, people knew how to behave. If they feel safe and trusted, they self-regulate in a way. So if somebody would post something that was, somebody wouldn't agree with, they would kind of, you know, discuss and resolve it among themselves. It, it was not like one of those Twitter kind of things where people not treating each other very well.
Michal: Yeah, because there is a face and a name, and once there's a face and a personality, you know that other person, then you don't...
Marta: It was a still professional environment. So yeah.
Michal: Yeah, well you mentioned about how people self-regulated and how... I'm just curious ' because translators are considered to be a tough people to work with sometimes. And we do have this reputation that we sometimes, first of all, there's a lot of ego involved in working with translators.
I think a lot of translators are just very, very smart people and that shows in the way that they communicate, that shows in the way they're used to being the smartest person the room. And then egos clash sometimes.
And like you said, people have their own opinions and when you do translation, editing and QA, everyone has their own opinion and people start arguing with each other. So how did you, how did you feel about working with translators? Was that your experience as well?
Marta: I don't remember any very bad situation that happened, but what happened was that because translators felt heard for the first time in a long time, they started oversharing. So they would come to our reviewers issues they were having with the PM they worked for in, in an LSP. So it was not, it was not under our scope. We couldn't do anything about it. So I don't remember anything very bad that happened apart from reviewers sending feedback and the feedback not being heard or not being implemented.
We didn't, we didn't really detect any in this collaboration because I think it was a professional setup and translators were eager to learn from the reviewers as well.
Michal: And what would you recommend, because you said you really recommend having a vendor manager on staff because project manager can't take this on top of all their other responsibilities, which makes sense.
But what would you recommend if you are in a digital product company and you are the only localization manager or even the product manager, and have enough capacity to really hire a dedicated person.
Michal: How could they do, like with minimal effort and maximum impact, what could they achieve?
Marta: The first idea that comes to mind when you ask me this question is if you go after language people that have experienced. And they can become like some sort of a lead for you. Even if they're a freelancer, they would be your top person for that language, for example, and, and give them some kind of autonomy to choose other people for the team together with you. So I think nobody should work alone. If you are a localization manager in a company I would look for top people on their language and try to hire two people per language so you're not uncovered. So...
Marta: Of all the systems I've seen, there is no perfect way of localizing content. Even if there is a good content management system end to end, there's always stages that need people. So like managers or coordinators or something like that.
you can convince one freelancer to put the team together for you as well. You can outsource this as well. There, there are people that are willing to do this work.
Michal: Vendor management.
Marta: Like a light version of a vendor management
Michal: Okay, that makes sense. Yeah.
Tell me a little bit about the courses that you are... I actually said you are writing them, but I saw that one is already advertised.
Marta: Okay, so I created a course for Localization Academy called Vendor Management. It's to see how vendor management works end to end for somebody that wants to get into this role. It's a 20 hour course, so it's 10 sessions of two hours each, and it, it will cover all aspects of vendor management that I am being exposed to in my career.
And the second course is called new to loc. It's with localization Advocate. And it's going to be a six hour course, so two hours, three Saturdays in a row. For people that want to get into localization just after college.
Michal: Yeah. Okay. That's amazing. Before we wrap it up... let's say if I asked you for your biggest tip for people reaching out to freelance linguists for the first time. Maybe they're just starting to localize and they're saying, oh, we need to find someone to do Spanish. We have a very small piece of work for them. It's not, we're not doing a whole kind of big product. don't have, obviously the budget for LSPs and also the need, most of the time. They don't even have a localization system yet. But they're reaching out to freelance linguists.
So what would be, first of all, your biggest tip on how to do that, but also... if you have kind of recommendations to where they can find them and what are the best places to look for linguists?
Marta: My first instinct would be to invest time at the beginning to get to know the person. No still want the highest quality, right?
Marta: So if you invest time to get to know the person, exchange a few emails or LinkedIn or even Proz. Proz is more difficult. But linkedIn is more personable.
Get to know the person, exchange a few messages, have a phone call if needed. You know, build a relationship. It's time well invested at the beginning. Look for references. Look to see if they work as part of a team. This gives some reassurance that they have to keep themselves in check because they are working with somebody else as well. But I would invest time at the beginning to get to know the person, to show them you're human and to, to, to check they're also a human.
I am investing time in LinkedIn these days, so I look for people in, the language pair that I need in there. I think LinkedIn is the way to go right now. I feel that at least in in the last couple of years, I would like people to invest more in their online presence and LinkedIn profile. I have a personal mission to eliminate CVs from my inbox.
Michal: Oh, wow.
Marta: Would love people to be, you know, findable and personable and reachable on LinkedIn and, you know, eliminate more paperwork.
Michal: Definitely. you find that maybe you are more inclined to reaching out to people who have their own website or a well maintained LinkedIn profile rather than those who just send a cv?
Marta: Yeah, I'd say make yourself easy to find on LinkedIn and have a website that is up to date as well and have a consistent online presence. You'll need to work on your personal branding. I think it's the way forward.
Michal: Yeah, that's a whole other podcast episode, I guess. A whole other conversation. But yeah, absolutely.
Marta: I feel the industry should go for human connection, trust, and collaboration using things like LinkedIn and Slack and, you know, the way that you're doing stuff. So yeah, just create opportunities for people to connect, to interact.
Marta: And we keep each other in check.
Michal: Definitely, definitely. Just have more people and localization around us. More women in localization is also amazing.
Michal: I'm enjoying that, a lot. Just seeing women from all over the world who are also passionate about localization and UX localization.
So thank you so much. I really feel that this could be a game changer for a lot of companies because I think a lot of companies that don't do localization come into this without really knowing how to reach out to people, how to communicate with people from different, you know, countries, different languages. it's a whole other mindset, I guess, when And so definitely I think it's going to be really, really helpful for people.
Marta: Well, thank you so much for inviting me and for the opportunity. Talk to you soon.
Michal: For those of you who took the time to listen, you're the best. Thank you for being here for this special episode. I hope Marta's words gave you some inspiration on how to make your localization processes more human and find the best people too.
If you want to get a message about new episodes from the Localization Process Pod, make sure that you follow this podcast on Spotify or subscribe to emails from Localization Station. I promise to only send you the good kind of emails. Until our next episode, I was Michal Kessel Shitrit. And this was the Localization Process Pod. Have a great day!
p.s. Did you know we have a Slack community for UX localization? Join right here – and don't forget to join the relevant language-specific channels, too. Can't wait to see you there!
Humanizing translators for better loc with Marta Boer
Learn how product teams can work with and manage translators to optimize their localized user experiences.
Michal Kessel Shitrit