Localization for Impact

How the USC Shoah Foundation Uses Localization as a Strategy to Further Their Mission and Maximize Impact of Their Digital Archive

The USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA) preserves the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides. The archive, built and developed over the last 30 years, holds more than 56,000 testimonies, the largest archive of such testimonies in the world. The testimonies are indexed to the minute, making the VHA an invaluable resource to educators, students, researchers, scholars, survivors’ families, and others. However, until now, the website and all of the surrounding metadata – including almost 70,000 indexing terms and their definitions – were entirely in English.

To make the archive more accessible to Hebrew speakers, the USC Shoah Foundation decided to translate the Visual History Archive website into Hebrew in support of a new partnership with the National Library in Israel. In addition to a Hebrew-language user interface, the VHA website will feature indexing terms and definitions in Hebrew.

Elana Lubka, Marketing Manager at Academic Language Experts, spoke with Anita Pace, Managing Director of Technology, to review the process that the USC Shoah Foundation undertook to decide on translation as a strategy for dissemination and impact, how they went about preparing their materials, finding an appropriate vendor, ensuring technological fit, and how they worked together with ALE to build out a robust and efficient workflow.

Elana: Anita, thanks for talking with me today. Can you tell us a bit about the history of the digital archive and how the initial idea of translating the archive came about?

Anita: The USC Shoah Foundation was founded in 1994 to collect, preserve, and share the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. By the early 2000s, we had collected 52,000 testimonies. Our core purpose at the USC Shoah Foundation is to give opportunity to survivors and witnesses to the Shoah—the genocide of the Jews—to tell their own stories in their own words in audio-visual interviews, preserve their testimonies, and make them accessible for research, education, and outreach for the betterment of humankind in perpetuity.

Elana: What was the rationale behind translating these materials to Hebrew?

Anita: The USC Shoah Foundation, in support of their work with the National Library of Israel, defined work to localize the database’s language into Hebrew to better support Hebrew-speaking scholars, advance their research, and make the archive accessible to a larger and more diverse audience.

In addition to the degree of detail we needed for the translation, we also needed to reconceptualize the entire layout of the visual archive (from right to left) to make it as accessible as possible to Hebrew speakers. Every button and every prompt require accurate localization to ensure an easy user interface. 

Elana: How did you go about looking for a translation vendor? What kind of skills and abilities were you looking for?

Anita: As the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive database collects genocide testimonies from around the world, it was important that the translators have the requisite academic and historical background to translate the materials. The archive metadata contains over 5 million words, requiring a provider who could handle a large quantity of material without sacrificing quality. On top of this, we only had about eight months to complete all the work. Therefore, we needed a company with a large roster of translators who are specialists in the subject content and have a deep understanding of the source and target language. For this, project expertise in subject content goes hand in hand with a strong command of the language. After running a comprehensive call for suppliers, we carefully reviewed and vetted a few options before choosing Academic Language Experts (ALE). We chose ALE because of their experience with similar projects, subject expertise, and competitive pricing.

Elana: How did you work with ALE on your materials?

Anita: Due to the large volume of content required for translation, we were able to work together with ALE to create a workflow that would allow high-quality translation for the volume and nature of the materials. We chose AI-assisted translation, which ALE offers, combining the latest AI technology with close human oversight and review. This also helped us get more for our money within our budget. ALE helped us connect our content management system to their translation tool, making the process very efficient. The translations are reviewed by ALE’s editors to ensure consistency and accuracy. They have a large number of editors working in parallel to ensure we get the work completed within the timeframe allotted by our grant. We meet with ALE’s CEO and editorial director biweekly to discuss progress and troubleshoot issues.

Elana: What process did you use in preparing the materials for translation? What did the back and forth with ALE look like?

Anita: After we prepared the files on our end, we would upload them directly onto the CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool where the AI translation was started immediately, and a team of editors was assigned to review the files. Once ALE completes this work, we receive a notification and can directly ingest the output into our content management system. Avi Staiman, CEO of ALE, and Liron Kranzler, Director of Operations at ALE, also looked over some of the pages of the completed localized archive, giving us feedback on where further polishing and user experience improvements could be made for the Hebrew version.

Elana: What have you learned about the translation process that you did not know before? Is there anything you would do differently?

Anita: We learned that the digital archive is more detailed than we realized. For example, we were able to review and refine many layers of programming detail to make it more easily translatable.

Elana: Would you consider localizing the digital archive to other languages in the future?

Anita: Yes, we will want to engage in more language translation.  

Elana: How do you plan to disseminate or getting the word out about the Hebrew archive?

Anita: We will work closely with our program, communications, and educational teams within the Shoah Foundation to ensure the translated archive successfully reaches its target audience.

Elana: What would you recommend other museums or foundations consider when embarking upon research translation projects? 

Anita: There are a few points I would recommend for museums or foundations to keep in mind when embarking upon a translation project. First, keep your stakeholders in mind. This might include being mindful of how this project contributes to your organization’s overall impact and reach, taking you one step closer to fulfilling your organization’s mission and goals. Therefore, it is important to create metrics to measure impact and reach at the very outset. I would recommend looking for a company with expertise in your type of subject materials. Be sure that they are able to address and meet your specific translation needs - ranging from subject matter expertise to translation experience - and understand that localization goes beyond word-for-word translation.

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