There’s always room for innovation: Interview with Gökhan Fırat

Following our recent partnership with Localex, an Istanbul-based language service provider, we asked Gökhan Fırat, the company’s co-founder and Operations and Business Development Manager, a few questions about Turkey and its translation market.c

Interview with Gökhan Fırat, co-founder of Localex

Gökhan offered some keen observations and sharp criticism of Turkey’s language industry, covering such topics as business, education, access to technologies, and the impact of globalization.

— Hi Gökhan! To start with, how long have you been in the language industry?

Almost eight years in various roles and positions.

— What motivates you to work in it?

For me, considering a career in the language industry was about aligning my passion with my skills. The diversity and opportunities it offered fit well with my ideas, skills, and perspectives on life — at least for the time being.

Another reason is that the language industry requires you to work in a multicultural environment. You deal with clients, linguists, and colleagues from all corners of the world, and they bring along their own languages, cultural backgrounds, and ideas.

Localex and its Translation Village project keep me motivated about the industry. Localex is a linguist-friendly company owned by translators and language experts, and I like being part of a team where people are not only bright and responsible but also have interesting opinions about our industry and life in general.

The language industry has its ups and downs, just like any other, but there is always room for innovation in it and there will always be innovators who bring in new ideas and positive changes to it making the world around them a better place. I feel lucky to work with such amazing people.

— Localex offers translations into Turkish. Would you say it is worth the effort to try and cover more language pairs? What challenges would that likely pose? Do you think Smartcat’s Marketplace can be of help for that purpose?

Starting out as a young boutique translation company, we didn’t want to take the risk of covering the languages which we wouldn’t be able to handle internally. So, we started with translations from well-known languages into Turkish.

However, some of our regular and new customers wanted us to cover more languages, as they needed a single reliable vendor who could take care of their multilingual projects.

Now that we have a stable quality assurance policy and project management process, we are planning to expand our services and language pairs. But we don’t want to do this using the conventional vendor management methods. Smartcat provides us with a well-managed freelancer database of language experts and a practical, efficient vendor management service.

Using your system, we can find approved language experts, request a team of freelancers for a specific language pair and domain, easily assign tasks, and pay the experts after the project is finished. We are sure that Smartcat’s Marketplace will help us enrich our existing offering and introduce new services and language pairs to our clients.

— What is Localex’s approach to hiring freelancers?

We’re always looking to add new talents to our team and foster a healthy working and social relationship with them to understand better what can and what cannot be done.

It is also essential for us to be able to find and hire the right candidate right away. Searching on different platforms and databases can be a huge waste of time.

Using Smartcat’s Marketplace, we can search for freelancers from all over the world, while the built-in chat and in-document comments help us communicate our needs to the freelancers in a clear way at every step, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

We needed a barrier-free platform, or rather an ecosystem, where finding talents, hiring them, assigning tasks, managing projects, collaborating, communicating, and making payments can be done in an integrated and seamless way. And Smartcat fit just right!

— That’s very nice to hear from you, Gökhan! Can you tell us what the translation industry is like in Turkey? What do you believe the future holds for it? And what do you think about Localex’s role in it?

Turkey’s translation industry is still at an early stage of development and is riddled with many problems. Like anywhere else in the world, the demand for translation in Turkey has dramatically increased in the 1990s as a result of globalization and internationalization. That was when the first market-oriented translation and localization companies had emerged.

Turkey’s inability to produce technology and innovation was another important factor that led to the commercialization of translation services. Our country has to import lots of technologies, and they come with tons of material to be translated, such as product manuals, software, marketing copies, websites, legal content, etc.

The companies that started back in the ‘90s now work with large local and international companies and institutions. But still, most Turkish language service providers are far behind in terms of current trends and technological developments. This is why I believe that affordable, easy-to-use cloud-based technologies will transform the traditional practices in the field of translation services in Turkey.

Localex is a new player in the market, and we decided to adopt a brand-new approach to translation services and the professionals who provide them. Our tech-savvy and experienced team is here to serve our customers and independent language professionals using the latest technologies, and this keeps us one step ahead. Our cooperation with Smartcat will enrich the Turkish translation industry and introduce new services to our customers, project management teams, and independent language professionals.

Earlier this year, Localex invited freelance translators and other industry players to participate in our Translation Village project. Our intention was to discuss new ways of living, learning, producing, and working — and how language professionals can maintain a higher quality of life.

The near future of the translation industry in Turkey will, of course, be affected by the recent advancement of machine translation technology. Interestingly, Turkish was among the nine languages Google had chosen for their NMT experiment. This shows that large corporations like Google consider Turkey an attractive market for investments into language services.

On the other hand, since the Turkish translation market is currently unregulated and unimproved in its nature, the future developments in NMT will put many translation companies and individual translators at risk. Well-organized, trend-savvy, highly qualified linguists will probably survive, though.

Also, with the increasing number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, the community interpreting in legal, educational, medical, and social fields has significantly expanded. I believe this will soon have a consequence on translation services. Many Arabic- and English-speaking Syrians now study in Turkish schools and universities, and they will have a good command of Turkish. This will likely push Turkey to become an important player in the Arabic translation market. Following the latest developments in Iraq and Syria, Kurdish language with its many dialects can also become one of the major languages in the region.

— Is processing payments to freelancers a pain point in your company? Have you already been able to use Smartcat’s payment processing solution?

Yes, our traditional payment process — which is both labor- and time-consuming — involved lots of procedures and correspondences between the account manager and the vendor. This might not be a major problem when you run a small business, but if you’re planning to grow, you don’t want to waste your time on such tedious and error-prone processes.

As we grow, we need to deal with more payments on a regular basis, but hiring someone to take care of that is not what we want to invest in.

Luckily, Smartcat’s automated solution streamlines the entire process and allows us to make both domestic and international payments to a whole team of translators. Since we require fewer staff to take care of such routine tasks, we can reduce overhead labor costs.

Avoiding hefty processing fees when sending money abroad is also very important to us as international money transfers can be expensive both for us and our vendors. Using Smartcat, we are able to send money overseas easily and quickly at a lower cost, while our language experts have the opportunity to receive money in at least three different ways in five different currencies including the euro, the US dollar, and the Turkish lira.

— Do you have any thoughts on the quality of education for translators and other language specialists in Turkey?

There are two major destinations for the translation education — universities and the industry. I have had experience with both. I graduated in Translation Studies and am currently in the process of completing my M.A. degree. I also give lectures about translation at universities. As a translation professional and translation activist who has spent a lot of time both in academia and the industry, I must say that, despite some recent improvements, the departments of Translation Studies in Turkish universities are below expectations in terms of theoretical and practical training. This is largely because almost all of the departments were established without prior planning and knowledge, or even any consideration for the desired graduate profile. Other reasons include the lack of well-educated, experienced trainers and a misguided approach to curriculum.

It’s great to know, though, that the new generation of students who have graduated from these departments and are lucky, courageous, and ambitious enough to survive are bringing fresh blood to academia and the industry.

And when it comes to the “industry” side, students are mostly seen as cheap labor. Sadly, most of the translation companies do not offer well-organized internship programs. As a result, many students either abandon the industry or have to try extremely hard.

There are almost 90 departments of Translation Study at Turkish universities, and every year nearly 2,000 students graduate from them. In my view, most of them aren’t motivated or sufficiently trained to have a career in translation.

The Union of Translation Students (TÜÇEB), whose founding members have also established Localex and initiated the Translation Village project after they had graduated from universities, have set out the project’s roadmap with the intention of solving the major problems of translation students. But as far as I can see, the Union is now far beyond even defining and addressing the problems; let alone solving them.

To top it all, I feel that political interference into the universities also makes it really hard for the academicians and students to focus on education. We at Localex try to close these gaps by providing industry-focused training to young translators who are willing to be part of this industry. But, of course, there needs to be a structural reform in the university departments to keep up with the fast-growing and changing environment in the translation world.

— How do you believe Smartcat will help you improve your efficiency?

The rapid worldwide spread of cloud technologies proves that cloud-based translation tools are one of the key factors for improved productivity, better economics, and higher translation quality. Smartcat provides us with all of these. We don’t have to worry about counting licenses anymore; all we need to do is add as many language experts as we want and assign them to corresponding projects. This great flexibility rids us of the need to worry about licensing costs for huge projects that need collaboration and/or crowdsourcing.

With its high-quality customer service and development team, Smartcat has proven to be a reliable and constantly-evolving translation ecosystem that suits our operational and accounting-related needs.

We believe Smartcat will help our business maximize efficiency and productivity, cut overhead expenses, and increase profitability.

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Gökhan Fırat,
Co-Founder at Localex

Gökhan is a co-founder and executive team member of the fast-growing language service provider Localex.

Apart from overseeing the day-to-day production, Gökhan improves the company’s market position in order to achieve financial growth; defines long-term organizational strategic goals; builds key customer relationships; identifies business opportunities; negotiates and closes business deals and has extensive knowledge of current market conditions.

He also lectures about the effects of technological developments on the practice of translation at various state and private universities and is also one of the founding members of the first Elia Engage Committee.