The General Theory of the Translation Company – First Chapter

Welcome to the language services industry! If you are already an industry veteran, then welcome to your opportunity to get a new perspective on the industry! It is a good place to be. We have fun here and we hope you will as well. And why wouldn’t you? This is by far the most fascinating industry in the world. We, the writers, Renato and Tucker, have dedicated decades of our lives to localization. It is not just a job, not just a career, but also a passion and a way of life. There is no other job on the planet that could lure us away (it turns out “space cowboy” is not a thing yet).

We have chosen to write this book for two reasons: to teach and to have fun (not necessarily in that order).

Why teach? What do we want to teach? And whom do we want to teach? Let’s explain.

Typically, translation is a lot like toilet paper. Nobody ever thinks about it until it is not there and nobody really knows how much it costs. This has allowed the language services industry to largely fly under the radar for decades, serving humbly in the background and letting our clients take the credit for the work we do.

But now, the industry is changing. Those of you who have been around a while know that this is nothing new. The industry is always changing. But there is a difference now: it is starting to mature and people from outside the industry are noticing. And they are very interested in what they see.

More and more companies are turning their eyes towards global domination and fresh faces are entering the industry every day. Back in the Stone Age when we started working in localization, nobody ever chose to enter this career. Ask anybody who has been around the industry before George Bush was in office why and how they got started in localization. Most will simply shrug, smile, and say, “Funny story, actually…” At which point, you should run. Run fast. Despite what they say, it will not be a funny story. It will be long and boring.

The point is that in days past, this was not a mature industry that people aspired to join. People just used to land up in this industry. Today, they climb into it. There were no school children dreaming of becoming localization project managers when they grew up. Today, multiple college courses and degrees prepare young aspiring language services professionals for a career in localization.

No single person or company founded the language services industry. Over the millennia, the industry evolved into what it is today and that evolution has happened almost completely organically. Until now.

Now, we are witnessing the adolescence phase of the industry. Outsiders are starting to recognize some of the big names in translation and it is not only when there is a major lawsuit in the news!

As the language services industry comes into its own, it has become apparent that there are some gaps that need to be filled. Particularly for young entrepreneurs who are starting out in the industry or industry outsiders who are perhaps interested in learning more about what goes on behind the scenes at a language services provider (LSP). For such interested parties, there is no single source of information available. Basic information that is so abundant in other industries seems to be missing when it comes to the language services industry.

In pursuit of our goal to teach, we are hoping to bring to the language services industry the same level of information and visibility that we take for granted in other industries. This is an overly ambitious goal for one book, but we predict that in the days to come, we will see more and more readily available information about language services. Eventually, this book will be a drop in the bucket. But we hope that by publishing early, we are able to influence, even if only in a very small way, the way information is taught, shared, and learned in the industry.

Our second goal for writing this book is to have fun. In case we haven’t mentioned it already, we really love the language services industry. This book can be seen as our best attempt to convey our passion and enthusiasm for all things localization. If we were poetically inclined, we would call it our love letter to the language services industry. We both have very short attention spans, but somehow, we have been able to stick around in this industry for some time now, which can only mean that we are still having fun. It never gets boring!

So we are not ashamed to say that publishing this book is largely a selfish endeavor. We could claim that we feel a solemn responsibility to share our experience with the world, but, really, we also want to have fun and this seems like a neat little challenge for us! It is important to be upfront about this motive because it will undoubtedly affect the way you read this book.

Because, even though this book contains a lot of useful information, it is not a textbook. It has not been written like a textbook, nor should you read it as one. Textbooks are boring and unexciting. There is no passion in textbooks. This book? It’s an extension of ourselves, Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson. There is no way we would write this without the passion we have for language services. Also, we like simplicity and short sentences. Really short sentences. Easy to write. Easy to read. Very easy. See? That’s another reason this book will not fit in the textbook category.

This book is our attempt to provide information about the language services industry to those who are thirsty to learn more and to deliver it in a way that will not bore you to tears. Out of necessity, some chapters may be a bit more “dry” than others. We encourage you to hang in there. There needs to be some meat on the bones, and we will attempt to deliver that meat in as palatable a format as possible.

We will not teach you how to manage a glossary or internationalize your code. There will be no discussion on how to run a third-party quality assurance review, manage a website localization project, or set up an onsite interpreting project. This book is not about the “how”. It is about the “what” and, most importantly, the “why” of the language services industry. There are plenty of other, if much more boring, books that will happily regurgitate localization best practices for over 500 pages. So if you are interested in the “how”, then you may need to look elsewhere. However, since you’ve presumably already paid your hard-earned cash for the book you are holding, we invite you to stick around to see what you can learn.

This book will help the small business owner understand how to better grow their business. This book will inspire the young (or old) entrepreneur who wants to get into the language services industry. This book will help any and every employee working for a language services provider better understand how he or she adds value to the localization process. This book will encourage curiosity. It will raise questions. It will not provide all the answers, but it will provide us all with a common language to be used to frame better questions. It will facilitate a discussion between industry veterans, young entrepreneurs, language services buyers, investors, and anybody else who is interested in learning more about how to survive and thrive in the most fascinating industry on earth.

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