Middlebury’s New Translation and Interpretation Dean on Educating the Next Generation of Linguists

The student population of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) is as diverse as the language services industry — 764 students from 53 countries speaking 45 different native languages.

Based about 100 miles south of San Francisco in the city of Monterey, MIIS is a graduate school within Middlebury College, a private university located in Middlebury, Vermont. MIIS offers world-renowned programs in translation, interpretation, and localization management and may as well be a microcosm of the industry.

Professor Laura Burian, the newly appointed dean of its Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education (GSTILE), says that there is a strong market demand for its graduates —  97% of its translation and interpretation (TI) and conference interpretation (CI) graduates are employed at one year out, and 98% of its TLM graduates are employed at one year out.

Employers for recent graduates include: the United Nations, the European Union, China Ministry of Education, China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, India Ministry of Foreign Affairs, US Department of State, Inter-American Development Bank, Mount Sinai Hospital, Stanford Hospital, Stanford University, Moravia, SDL, Venga Global, Honda, Donnelley Language Solutions, TransPerfect, Salesforce, Google, Facebook, Apple.

“A number of them become freelance consultants, translators, or interpreters upon graduation; for those with in-house jobs, a sampling of position titles for recent graduates includes: Project Manager, Linguistic Tester, Translator, Medical Interpreter, Court Interpreter, Conference Interpreter, Quality Control Verifier,” Burian says.

This reflects what Slator reported recently about the stunning variety of job titles and professional roles in the language services industry.

But like the industry in general, the Middlebury school is also in a state of flux.

Early Introduction to Machine Translation  

Asked how young people perceive the profession of translation and interpretation in the context of rapidly improving machine learning technologies, Burian says those who don’t really understand the industry think that they will all be replaced by machines.

“Our students know that translation, interpretation, and localization technologies are changing rapidly”

“Our attitude and that of our students was summed up very well by Bill Wood, founder of DS Interpretation, who said, “Interpreters will not be replaced by technology – they will be replaced by interpreters who use technology,” she explains.

The dean says this holds true for translation and localization management. “Our students are introduced to machine translation and other relevant technologies from the very start of their coursework with the idea that they are most likely to succeed when machines are positioned to do what they do best, and humans are empowered to do what they do best,” she says.

“Our students know that translation, interpretation, and localization technologies are changing rapidly, and they keep up to speed on the latest advances so they can prepare themselves for the language industry careers of the future,” she adds.

New Direction at MIIS

This is where Burian’s professional experience would be most useful — in adapting the curriculum to ensure that graduates are prepared for and can help lead changes in translation and interpretation and localization management (TILM) technology and the market.

“For interpretation coursework, this means teaching and incorporating the use of remote technology platforms and research and corpus tools. For translation and localization, this means going beyond traditional CAT tools and adapting to a market dominated by discussions of artificial intelligence, neural machine translation, and automation,” she says.

“We welcome such advances in technology, as this means our graduates will spend less time pushing paperwork via email, more time working with clients and talent, and most importantly, can be more efficient and get more work done,” she adds.

Burian is herself a graduate of the Institute’s Chinese Translation and Interpretation program, and has been a member of the faculty since 2000, according to the MIIS when it announced her appointment as dean.

According to MIIS, she also has over two decades’ experience as an in-demand, high-level freelance translator and interpreter, a past recipient of both the Institute’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award (2004) and the Eliason Teacher of Excellence Award (2009).

Moreover, her “TEDxMonterey talk on interpreting, co-presented with Professor Barry Olsen, earned an “Editor’s Pick” accolade from TED in 2014.”

Engagement with the Business Community

“As you may know, Monterey is known as the “language capital of the world” because this region hosts some of the globe’s leading military and educational language institutions as well as a myriad of private sector companies that provide cross-cultural training and interpretation, translation, localization, and globalization services,” Burian tells Slator.

Its proximity to Stanford University and the broader Silicon Valley is also very helpful, she says.

“Localization teams and language service providers (LSPs) visit campus frequently”

“Localization teams and language service providers (LSPs) visit the campus frequently to provide guest presentations and employ Middlebury graduates around the world. Recent presenters on campus include Cadence Translation, eBay’s machine translation team, and a majority of NetApp’s globalization team,” she says.

“Other recent guests have come from further away, including representatives from the United Nations, the US Department of State, Facebook, ADP, Huawei, Translations.com, Linkedin, and Mozilla,” she adds. “We feel very fortunate and work hard to stay well-connected to the industry.”

Hence, Middlebury’s engagement with the translation, interpretation, and localization industries comes naturally. All professors and instructors come from the profession and are required to be professionally active to remain relevant to our students.

“Full-time professors have served as in-house or contract translators, interpreters, and localizers in government, intergovernmental agencies, and the private sector. Adjunct professors come from major international organizations, localization teams at Adobe, Pinterest, Salesforce.com, RWS Group, and more,” she says.

Re-examining the Curriculum

Burian reveals that her priority in the short- to medium-term is introducing more flexibility for different language combinations to be able to tailor the coursework to specific markets.

“For instance, we’ve been experimenting in our Spanish T&I program with a community (court and medical) interpretation specialization, as the market demand for this in the US is huge,” she points out.

“Our Russian T&I program is also going to run a pilot that will allow students to specialize in non-proliferation and terrorism studies, a major source of employment for translators and interpreters in this language combination, and a major strength here at the institute with our world-renown research center, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS),” she continues.

Based on lessons learned from this pilot, she says this will most likely expand domain-specific specialization and tailored curricula to other language combinations.

“I’m sure I will have a lot to learn in this new position, and what I learn will further shape my priorities as Dean,” she concludes. “I am honored and excited to be taking on this new role in an institution that I know and love, and look forward to helping to shape the future of the Institute.”

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