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10Jul

The Future of Translators and Interpreters

Has the productivity of translators increased? Are career translators willing to post-edit machine translation output? Do they feel translation memories are sufficiently maintained? Are interpreters increasingly working remotely? Do linguists struggle with the number of vendor portals they have to log into? Are they likely to still be working in the profession five years from now?

Such are the questions that executives and vendor managers at language service providers are pondering. But so are big buyers of language services that worry about the sustainability of the language supply chain they either contract with directly or through their agency partners.

The CSA Research Survey of Translators and Interpreters

To address these questions, CSA Research is conducting a large-scale survey with translators and interpreters in all corners of the world. This research will enable us to gauge the demographics, behaviors, attitudes, and challenges of translators and interpreters. We will use the data to determine what the future of freelance and in-house linguists will look like and how buyers and LSPs need to prepare for it.

To ensure comprehensiveness and a representative sample in this survey, we partnered with Proz.com and Translators without Borders to create and disseminate the survey. In addition, InterpretAmerica, the Translation Bureau of Canada and several industry associations and organizations are helping to spread the word about the survey to their constituencies.

We are looking for the full spectrum of linguists in all regions of the world, whether translators or interpreters. We seek linguists with varied profiles, in particular freelancers and in-house staff, full time and part time workers, aspiring professionals and veterans, and pro bono contributors and regularly paid workers.

Please encourage your in-house linguists to take the survey and recommend that your freelancers do too. We need thousands of answers to provide an accurate picture of the market landscape.

Talent Shortage – Myth or Reality?

In past research on vendor management, we identified that the main talent shortage in the industry tends to be that of fully trained talent at low rates. Most languages show a strong base of raw talent ready to be trained up as needed to produce professional-level work. However, pockets of difficulties definitely plague some providers. Mainly, these are a shortage of linguists who:

  • Are native speakers of a specific language – think languages of Africa
  • Have extensive expertise in a narrow specialty area, like hearing aid implants
  • Have experience – and willingness – to work in the newer roles in the industry, such as MT post-editors and remote interpreters

However, beyond all that, the labor pool continues to shrink. Departure of qualified linguists from the talent pool combines with historic drops in enrollment in language studies to create a shortage of resources. An additional factor is widespread media coverage of machine translation developers’ claims to have reached “human parity.” These reports can lead many students to believe that studying language is a dead-end field with no future. These factors will lead to a future drought of qualified individuals – the smart linguists who understand technology and can help with machine learning, improving machine translation, and working to further the goals of seamless integration. Although most LSPs have not yet hit this obstacle due to their reliance on traditional skill sets, the largest ones have realized that it poses an existential threat to their current business models.

Tightening supply on top of growing demand for human language services makes it inevitable that most will face challenges in finding and retaining qualified staff in the future. The constant increase in volumes is setting the stage for more disruptive changes for people on the front lines of providing language services. This means that that all industry participants need to pause and give some thought to who will translate their materials in the future or be there to interpret for their meeting.

About the Author

Hélène Pielmeier

Hélène Pielmeier

Director of LSP Service

Focuses on LSP business management, strategic planning, sales and marketing strategy and execution, project and vendor management, quality process development, and interpreting technologies

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