Latha Sukumar, Executive Director: Reflections on GALA 2018

galaGALA 2018 held this year in Boston, MA, from March 13 to 16, did not disappoint.  We landed on 12th evening, just under the wire, with a snowstorm  looming.  The organisers had planned a walking tour of Boston on the morning of the 13th, which was cancelled because the entire city closed down under the heavy onslaught of a nor’easter.  The mother of all snow storms.  My two colleagues and I, stayed huddled in our Airbnb till evening and then ventured out for the Welcome Reception.  It was held at the conference venue, the Boston Sheraton, which had handy indoor access to the Shops at the Prudential Centre.  Providential, given the weather conditions.   Several attendees were staying at the venue and people had just begun to trickle in, when we arrived.  Several had posted on the GALA site that their flights had been cancelled and that they would only be arriving the following day, or that they were driving down instead, or, worse yet, that they had to turn back disappointed.  About 80 registered participants were simply not able to make it.  Notwithstanding weather, about 400 made it to this, one of the most awaited annual conferences in the industry.

What is GALA?  Why is GALA so popular?  GALA, a fun acronym for the Globalisation and Localisation Association, is a global, non-profit trade association for the translation and localization industry (https://www.gala-global.org/).  Their annual conference provides plenty of opportunities for networking and sharing between language industry folks from across the globe.  This year’s storm served as a wonderful ice-breaker!

I always assess the calibre of a conference by the number of epiphanies I have during sessions or from industry colleagues, in-between sessions.  This year, there were three.

One, the future is here and “English tolerance will fade”.  Artificial Intelligence is gaining on us in a real way and at the speed of light.  While this part is trite knowledge, my epiphany relates to a consequence of this.  Don dePalma, an industry veteran and founder of Common Sense Advisory (https://www.commonsenseadvisory.com/) talked about the unique qualities of mobile technology (mobile) which is bringing about this revolution – proximity, immediacy and intimacy.  Since mobiles are ubiquitous and used for all forms of  communication, ideological, transactional or mundane, there is an expectation among users that they will receive information in the language of their choice.  This has raised the bar for translation and localisation, at least in the top demand languages. Given this phenomenon every word transmitted through mobile devices adds to the intelligence of machines and in the case of our industry, improves the accuracy of machine translation .  And yes, it is entirely also possible that there will emerge on a global scale, a common language from emojees!  But seriously, this means that language industry folks, must re-think our relevance and evolve more into technology consultants, project managers and language solutions’ experts.  Oherwise, we will all go the way of the dinosaur.

This leads me to my second epiphany which was addressed in the opening plenary by David De Long, a Harvard alum who has made a career out of developing smart workforce strategies (https://davedelong.com/).  He identified as key the need for a shift from a workforce with purely technical abilities to one that is adaptive, constantly experimenting with new ways of doing, values and technologies.  Here he highlighted the need for a culture shift, a nuanced approach to recruiting and retaining a diverse demographic workforce and the need for leaders to constantly manage change to improve performance in an era of rapidly evolving tech.

Last but not least, was the epiphany that language industry members must unify on common pain points which have resulted from the numerous proprietary technology platforms that deliver interpretation and translation services.  Systems that make life difficult for freelance language professionals and industry, respectively.  Two GALA initiatives address this need.  One, Interpreting Technologies Alliance (www.ITAglobal.org), launched at GALA 2018, will address the difficulty interpreters face navigating between several platforms, to work with different Interpretation Service Providers (ISP).  Two, TAPPIC, addresses the need for systems in the world of translation, that can talk to each other and exchange both data and workflow information, tapping into the great potential of APIs. (https://www.gala-global.org/publications/translation-api-class-and-cases-project-statement-tapicc).

GALA 2018 was replete with wonderful sessions, besides speed networking and round table issue-focussed discussions that allowed people to communicate in small groups, bonding and sharing.  The parties were also amazing.  They included a dinner event at Fenway Park, a meet at Hurricanes in aid of Translators without Borders (www.translatorswithoutborders.org) and other industry sponsored parties, some of which we could not get to.   As always, I have come away with several learnings, happy memories and great friends!

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