The translation and localisation industry has been defying economic trends for quite some time now. While the world´s economy insists on slowing down, the language industry continues its steep ascent with a 12% growth expected in 2013.
If you are a freelance translator, though, trying to make a decent living, these figures might contradict the struggle you face to get a job booked, late payments from demanding clients or the ever decreasing rates you get awarded for a job well done.
So, what are the trends we need to watch out for to ensure we get a fair share of the approximately US$35 billion the language industry turns around per year?
A triple A moment
Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), indicates that the rapid spread of the Internet in what he calls the Triple A markets ( African, Asian and Arabic) compounded to the economic growth expected in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East is accelerating the demand for more translation and localisation services for languages in these regions.
While markets everywhere are suffering the effects of a severe economic crisis, Africa is experiencing its longest income boom for over 30 years, with gross domestic product growth rates averaging about 5 per cent annually over the past decade. The IMF forecasts the continent’s income to increase by around 4.5 per cent and seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies to be African. Nations like Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria are expected to expand by more than 6 per cent a year until 2015.
The mobile phone industry is reaping the rewards of the economic progress now felt in these countries. Africa is the fastest growing region for mobiles in the world, and the biggest after Asia, according to the GSM Association. There are now an estimated 700m sim cards in Africa.”What happened in the UK and US at the turn of the century is now happening in Africa on the mobile platform¨, explains Gareth Knight, a 35-year-old South African based in London, founder of the series of Tech4africa conferences. ¨The market is much bigger than the original one in the UK and US. More and more people are going to get online in the next couple of years and they’ll want all the same things.”
This unparalleled economic growth has created an enormous demand for translation into African languages. Companies wanting to establish their presence in some of the wealthier nations like Angola and Mozambique are in need of Portuguese translations, for instance. In Nigeria, whilst the official language is English, telecommunication or pharmaceutical companies will consider having their marketing material translated into at least one additional local language or possibly even two or three of the most widely spoken tongues dependin on the nature of the product and the demographics of the target market and the speakers´disposable income.
Finance and insurance, mining, tourism, legal, government departments and life sciences are also fields that will require translations into African languages and vice versa.
The Arab world
Arab is widely used in countries that present sound business opportunities for foreign investors like the UAE, Dubai and Qatar. Trade and import/export liberalisation have made some of the countries in the Middle East very attractive investment havens and this has resulted in an ever increasing demand of Arabic translators capable of translating mainly into English but also into other languages like French and German.
Interestingly, a report compiled by translation supplier The Word Point also noted a dramatic increase in English to Arabic and Arabic to English translations during and after the outbreak of popular uprisings in Egypt and Libya. Demand for Arabic – English translations (in both directions) increased in 2011 by 31%. , with media and communications and financial and business related translations seeing the areas where the increase was most felt. Demand for French-Arabic services increased 20%.
Members of the Translation Association of China participating in its annual conference in May 2011 agreed that the current Chinese translation industry is short of professional training and emphasised that only a small portion of the one million people who are providing translation service in China hold professional qualifications.
Before the extensive demand for qualified Chinese translators and localisation experts the government of China approved in 2009 forty training programs for professional translators and interpreters in leading universities throughout the country. However, no matter how many native Chinese translators are produced in China, the fact is that globally speaking, there are fewer than 10 qualified interpreters whose mother tongue is English (or any other language for that matter) and who can translate between English (or any other language) and Chinese.
William White, an experienced freelance interpreter who used to work for the Delegation of the European Union to China, attests to this. White is now based in Beijing, and his daily fee has been increasing at an annual rate of about 10 percent in recent years thanks to the tight market. “In peak seasons like April and September, it’s really hard to find professional interpreters, as there are many international conferences and qualified interpreters are all occupied.”
So, if you have the time and patience to get involved in the apprenticeship of the Chinese language, the demand for professionals capable of translating into English and other European languages is definitely out there. The same can be said for other Asian languages, Japanese to some extent, but also languages from countries that are slowly taking the manufacturing relay from China, like Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.
To quote the words from GALA CEO Hans Fenstermacher, “despite the advent of the most advanced automated translations in a generation, businesses increasingly need professional translation services to maintain their brands. To sell worldwide, businesses must look and sound as if they’re right next door”. The economic downturn experienced by the developed economies means that it is that much more important to communicate to customers regardless of their geographical location. Transcreation and localisation become crucial, as I have already discussed elsewhere.
Automated translation might have replaced some of the very basic communication needs that result from a number of intercultural and interlinguistic exchanges (the likes of the very handy Google translate or Bing translations). And yet, it is the same automation, technology itself and the ever increasing content that keeps on being uploaded onto the net that create new opportunities for translators and for the language translation industry.
The rapid increase of language combinations and the faster delivery deadlines, professional project and quality management have already become and will continue to be more significant in future. Technology will allow translations to be performed directly in the client’s CMS system. Translation agencies will adopt further project management tasks, which currently are performed by the companies themselves. I have also discussed in earlier articles how this change is affecting the nature of the tasks performed by translators.
Effective Data Management System (DMS) and Content Management System (CMS) will be basic prerequisites to enable cost-saving and terminologically consistent translations in a translation industry where the quantity of documents to be translated becomes a concern. The application of CAT tools is imperative to create terminology databases, glossaries, etc.
To ensure terminological consistency and to simplify terminology work companies are now making their translation databases accessible to other companies. Skrivanek, together with 42 other leading companies, recently founded the
so-called TAUS Data Association (TDA), which enables its members to share translation files. All members load their language combinations onto a server in the form of Translation Memories or multilingual glossaries and can in return download the language pairs of other members. This creates an immense volume of linguistic data. (Source: http://www.tekom.de/upload/alg/tcworld_608.pdf)
Educational institutions churning the translators of the future have to make a concerted effort in order to adequately prepare them for this continuously changing industry. Poetry translation classes are indeed vary valuable but technology and localisation needs to become core subjects in the curriculi of tertiary institutions. So are business and project management subjects that prepare the younger generations for a profession that every time more will require them to deal with clients and agencies all over the world.
As Einstein once said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Technology is making the translation industry change at a very fast pace. So, we either change the way we understand the profession or we´d better look for a new one!