COVID-19’s Impact on Freelance Linguists
CSA Research surveyed freelance linguists worldwide in mid- to late April to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them as providers of language services. These are the overall results from the 1,228 responses received from 100 countries.
For the full results, many more resources, and to help you develop a data-driven response, visit our COVID-19 Leadership Resources page regularly.
While freelance linguists told us the rates that they are being paid have for the most part remained steady (74% of respondents), 56% indicated that they have seen a decrease in income. The reason? They have seen a 61% decrease in the volume of work they have received.
We broke down those income decreases further by written language services (such as translation, localization, or transcreation) and spoken language services (such as in-person and remote interpreting). The freelancers who make 5% or more of their annual income from written-language services reported a 34% decrease in income. By any account, that is a huge loss. But the situation is even more dire for linguists who make 5% or more of their annual language services income providing freelance spoken-language services: a 72% decrease.
The largest income decreases were reported from the types of spoken-language services logically most impacted by the pandemic: on-site interpreting and conference interpreting.
Mixed Views on Government Response
We have asked LSPs, enterprises, technology vendors, and others their views on their government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be comparing and contrasting all the various results by country and type of company in the near future.
Freelancers provide a unique view, since they are not likely to benefit from government programs designed to provide funds to companies struggling to meet payroll. While we see that 57% of freelancers are satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their government’s response, our follow-up question about the response for freelancers versus company employees revealed that 51% feel that their government’s response favors company employees. Only 25% felt that their government was treating freelancers and government employees equally.
Impact Expected to Last Through At Least September
The largest group of freelancers (28%) responded that it was too soon to tell how long COVID-19’s impact will be felt. For those willing to hazard a guess, one-quarter (25%) predicted through the end of September and just shy of one-fifth (19%) to the end of the calendar year.
It’s not surprising, then, that the issue that freelancers said concerns them most is the uncertainty of business, with 91% saying it is either very or somewhat concerning. Close behind, echoing the decrease indicated earlier, is the slowdown in demand. As one might imagine, the least concerning issue is finding remote interpreting work.
When asked whether they agree that good-paying jobs will be scarcer for translators or interpreters after things settle down, 35% weren’t sure and 32% agreed.
Freelancers Remain Committed to Career
Income is down, the length of the slowdown is uncertain, and good-paying jobs may be scarcer in the future. That’s a lot. But these challenging conditions are not deterring freelance linguists. When asked the likelihood of continuing as a freelance linguist after the pandemic ends, an incredible 93% indicated they would. Only 2% said it was unlikely or very unlikely.
It is heartening that such a critical piece of the language services supply chain plans to see their way through this.
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