Ciklopea Coffee Chat: “Localization is a tool, not a purpose”: Interview with Yuka Nakasone

Ciklopea 1 year ago 8 min read

Yuka Nakasone is one of the most inspiring localization professionals in the industry. With 26 years of experience under her belt, today she works as a consultant and manager for localization and translation projects. In addition to being a globalization expert, she is also a kind, loving, and open-minded person. We had the opportunity to speak with Yuka and learn more about her engagement with Translators Without Borders, her thoughts about the current state of the translation industry, the role of AI, and more.

The path to becoming a globalization strategist

Naturally, we were first curious to learn more about Yuka’s career path and whether she always knew she’d be working as a localization expert:

I didn’t become a globalization strategist because I “wanted to.” A tree doesn’t want to become a tree, it grows as a tree because that’s what’s written in its DNA. I am naturally good at seeing the big picture, viewing things from different angles, and critically thinking about every option. I suddenly realized that what I create and execute is a strategy while talking to my coach one random day.

Creating a global strategy requires standardization and a combination of international and multinational strategies. So how does one become a globalization strategist? Yuka underlined the importance of doing things and experimenting while connecting the dots:

To be a strategist, you need to know the subject matter deeply enough and widely enough as a practitioner. I’ve been in different positions in different layers in the industry. I know lots of things well enough and in a connected way to relate everything, and it is knowledge I acquired by doing – not by reading about it.
That’s some golden advice for you right there!

AI has been in the localization industry for a while

With DALL-E officially available to the general public, Google’s LaMDA, and Metaverse – the fast development of AI and tech are in our focus. We were curious to find out how Yuka perceives these events, and what are some of the technology-related trends she’s noticed in the localization industry:

An increasing amount of commoditization and industrialization are happening in the industry, and even more with recent investments. Tools have become further diversified and sophisticated. Machine translation seems to be accepted and now we are moving forward with different types of artificial intelligence (AI).
As Yuka explains, AI exists in so many forms and on various levels. If you’re working in the localization or translation industry, you’ve likely already relied on it:

I sometimes roll my eyes when localization or translation professionals cite AI as something that they don’t know well or they don’t use much. We are one of the leading industries in terms of real AI usage – machine translation itself is a very good real-life application of Natural Language Processing (NLP), which is one of the core parts of artificial intelligence.

Speaking of tech, we also wanted to know just how important technology is for the success of a localization project:

It, of course, depends on the technology you are talking about. Trying to translate everything only by overwriting in a word processing program like Word or Google Doc doesn’t produce the same results in speed, volume, or quality as when you use a CAT tool. Trying to manage projects with only a spreadsheet and email is doable but it’s much faster and more accurate to use a TMS.

Additionally, translation and localization tools can help you save precious time and be more productive:

Keeping up with the technologies is very important. With new tools, maybe you won’t have to click that annoying button one hundred times anymore. This creates the space for you to do other meaningful tasks.

And what about the voices from the industry that panic, saying human translators will become obsolete or lose value on the market? Yuka has a prepared answer:

We have skilled talents in the language industry. The only thing is that we need to keep shifting what we do and how we work. While our current skills are essential, unless we stay current with the rapidly emerging new technologies and applications in which we can be of service, we won’t be thought of as the go-to talent that we are.

We couldn’t agree more!

The 4 golden rules for a successful localization project

Yuka was kind enough to share some golden rules that apply to most companies localizing their product or services.

Rule #1: Think global from the very beginning

If you’re planning to expand internationally, you have to be proactive about localization, Yuka explains:
Localization cannot be an afterthought if you really want to enjoy its money-saving aspect. If you do localization well, you will likely sell more across different markets. Coming from another market, localizing the product, gives you a financial competitive edge compared with local businesses developing the same from scratch.
This is true for any type of product, be it physical or digital. BUT when the original products are not designed well or prepared well for localization, it takes more time and money to localize them, which dilutes that competitive edge.
There’s also a widespread logical fallacy that all your customers know English and that it’s fine to leave it be:
One of the most common mistakes I see is to use English as the main language on a market where the native language is not English or to do it without a localization professional overseeing the efforts. The mess you create by doing it unprofessionally costs a lot of money to redo and restart.

Rule #2: Internationalize before you even think about localization

The second rule is about internationalization and the importance of getting the buy-in from everyone – engineers included:

You need to internationalize the products fully even before you think about localization. Here, the term internationalization is used in a very technical and specific way. A well-internationalized product is designed to be universal from the foundation and architecture – in addition to full implementation of internationalization rules for the type of products. Surprisingly enough, there is a myth in the localization industry about this new type of design tool, and that’s that engineers don’t need to do internationalization. It is far from reality.

Rule #3: Be data-driven and develop KPIs

The third rule is to be data-driven and create sensible KPIs for your localization operation:

The KPIs you’ll rely on will depend on the maturity of the company or your localization operations. After collecting data from the appropriate data points, you need to think about what you need to share with each stakeholder in your organization and strategize how to share the insights with them. The best practice is to keep updating all the stakeholders with an appropriate report from your team to departments and functions, and executives.
And what should the report look like? Yuka has the answer:
The report may vary from the operational team to a set of executives. Think frequency, format, and content. Everyone should understand the collective progress that’s being made, and how they can all collaborate to keep refining the operation. Globalization is highly strategic and you may need to change the strategy to align with the business strategy. Remember that localization is a tool, not a purpose.

Rule #4: Never stop learning, always adapt

The fourth rule is about always finding new ways to innovate, both when it comes to professional development and updating the processes and tech tools you have in place:
The speed of technological advancement is so fast that what’s true today may not be true tomorrow. It’s not an era of changes: what we are facing is actually a change of an era. I won’t be surprised if I see some innovative people enter the industry and scoop localization professionals who are not up to date off their feet.
Supporting social causes and leading the way with kindness
When you speak with Yuka, you instantly feel like you’re in the presence of an incredibly curious and ambitious mind. She’s currently leading a digitization and globalization project for a local winery, a film industry global research project, and participating in many network group activities such as LocLunch Barcelona and soon the Global Chamber Barcelona.

Yuka is also working on Metaverse evangelization, doing KTLC promotion as an ambassador, and investing continuous effort into being a great mom, something she feels is the most important and challenging role of all.

We were curious to learn more about her collaboration with Translators Without Borders. Yuka started fundraising for them as a part of her leadership training:
When the training ended at the end of May, I felt I’m not done yet. So I decided to continue. For the moment, I haven’t done much but haven’t given up. Consistency over time wins over any sprint type of effort. You know the tale of The Tortoise and the Hare.

We asked Yuka about her inner drive and how she connects purpose to her work:
I feel my mission in life is to connect and build bridges between people. It happened to become more international now that I live in a foreign country and speak a few languages. And that’s what I do professionally as well. My company’s mission is to help people bridge cultural and linguistic barriers and make the world a better place.
Something that Yuka noticed in more than two decades of work is just how culturally rich and emotionally intelligent translators and interpreters are. This allows them to empathize with people in another language or culture, which is precious when there is a need for humanitarian support activities:
Now that the world is becoming smaller and smaller, people need us to step up and help. I encourage anybody in the industry to do what we can do. It doesn’t have to be big. Many raindrops form a stream and then a river. Before you know it, you’re a part of the vast ocean.

Thank you, Yuka Nakasone for this inspiring interview!

Ciklopea Coffee Chat is our new series designed to bring you interesting and insightful conversations with language professionals and researchers.

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