It’s not just any linguist who can adapt to projects that rely on natural language understanding (NLU) – it takes a certain mindset and a particular set of skills. We spoke to Linguistic Team Leader Izabela Lecewicz-Świeboda to learn more.
What is your story with Argos? What was your first role and how did it evolve?
Izabela Lecewicz-Świeboda: I joined Argos a bit over 5 years ago, after moving from a different translation company. I started my journey as a Language Lead and was responsible for the linguistic coordination of translation projects for IT clients. Right now I’m managing a team of linguists in a business unit dedicated to a strategic IT client.
What is NLU? What kind of linguist could enjoy and fully grow in this field?
ILŚ: NLU stands for natural language understanding, and it refers to machine reading comprehension. Our work starts with the translation task and ends in actual conversations with a chatbot to verify whether everything is understood correctly. In order to enjoy all stages of a project, a linguist has to be versatile and creative – while done by linguists, NLU tasks are different from regular localization projects.
What was the most challenging part of your NLU learning curve?
ILŚ: I think it’s quite difficult to switch from regular localization tasks to NLU at first, because we are so used to certain rules that govern “traditional” translation. In NLU projects, a linguist has to mimic what the actual application user could type. Just think about how you type search phrases into a browser – do you really consider all linguistic rules? And that’s the challenge here – don’t think in terms of grammar rules, get into the user’s mind, and even mimic common errors.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
ILŚ: Thanks to our team’s work, users can have conversations with a chatbot that is able to understand them and solve their problems. How cool is that?
How do you feel your role contributes to a translator’s performance?
ILŚ: I’m responsible for preparing instructions, so I’m helping the linguists understand what their task is about and guiding them through the requirements. Preparing the hand-off package is a joint effort between the Language Lead and Engineer – if this is done correctly, there will be fewer questions and the task of the linguists will be easier.
What kind of skills and qualifications does a linguist need to become an NLU expert?
ILŚ: The Argos team offers support and training, but an ideal candidate should be versatile, creative, and not afraid to investigate – the issues we encounter may be quite complex, but with a positive attitude, everything is possible. To work on NLU, you need to look at the bigger picture and be able to connect the dots – sometimes the problem we have at the final stage of the project is caused by something that was skipped at the very beginning.