(Click here for the German version)
Back in January 2012, I made the following forecasts for 2012:
- A higher volume of work
- An increase in rate levels for qualified translations
- The social networks would grow in significance
- Specialized tools are useful but the definition of exchange formats and workflows needs to be driven ahead
- Machine translation has yet to fulfil its promises
- Translation associations should be looking at extending their range of educational and CPD facilities
- Representing the interests of the translation profession must be reinforced
The original article is here (available in German only).
For the year 2013, the topics remained more or less the same, as can be seen from the respective 2013 forecast (in English).
For the year 2014, the issues have shifted somewhat for us but in first place, we can still see:
- Order volumes and rates for qualified translations rising
- Social networks and Internet-based marketplaces for translation services
- Increasing specialized tools/interoperability of translation tools
- Machine Translation
- Looking ahead – 2014
- Specialization, CPD
- The market continues to separate itself
- Closing observations
Order volumes and rates for qualified translations rising
In this context, a study by an independent market research company for buyers of translation services is very interesting as an example. The summary of the report alone provides 3 paragraphs with exciting statements.
Statement 1 from the study by IBISWorld:
“Prices have risen moderately over the past three years, and are forecast to continue rising at a slightly slower rate through 2016. Price increases are due to a recent rise in demand for translation services stemming from increased globalization, rising immigrant populations and growing world trade values.”
In contrast to the opinion that is often expressed by many translators, the statement made here is that rates have risen in the last three years and will continue to do so over coming years. One reason cited for this is the increase in the volume of texts that need to be translated. The Common Sense Advisory reported back in June about this continued growth of the market: “The language services industry continues to grow, albeit slowly. LSPs: look up and smile. You are part of an industry that is worth US$34.778 billion and continues to grow at 5.13%, despite macroeconomic indicators telling a different story.”
Statement 2 from the study by IBISWorld:
Buyers must pay the prevailing market price in order to purchase translation services, because there are no equivalent alternatives beyond employing a team of in-house translators. Also detrimental to buyer power is the level of specialization among translation services. There are far fewer suppliers capable of translating rare or highly technical language, making the acquisition of these services more expensive.
The second statement in the IBISWorld study contains some explosive material. It is not only pointed out that – apart from a team of in-house translators – there is no alternative to freelance translators (which simply means that machine translation is not considered to be a viable alternative), but the very clear statement is made that there are only few translators for rare languages or specific technical subject areas, thus making the sourcing of these services more expensive. Whoever does not understand that as justification for further specialization by freelancers should perhaps look at the third statement in the study.
Statement 3 from the study by IBISWorld:
In general, however, the total number of translation services suppliers has increased considerably in the past three years, due in part to rising Internet usage. The majority of suppliers are independent, non-employing translators. The Internet has made it simpler for independent suppliers to find clients and to start their own businesses. The large number of competitors and low market share concentration among translation services providers help to moderate price increases and provide buyers with leverage when negotiating price.
Here it is quite clear that when it does not depend on specialized services, buyers of translation services can use a wide range of service providers to drive down rates in negotiations.
Social networks and Internet-based marketplaces for translation services
In this area, I unfortunately did not see only positive developments last year. The trend shows clearly that the previous translation platforms (Proz.com, Translatorscafe etc.) are losing more and more significance. Unfortunately however, cut-price platforms such as oDesk, Elance and whatever they are all called are expanding, and the bad thing here is that the impression is conveyed through these platforms that qualified translations are available for peanuts. It is also translators themselves here who shoot themselves in the foot by supporting these platforms.
On Facebook unfortunately, a strong fragmentation of the translator groups occurred. In addition to the clearly- defined groups that are dedicated to specific tasks (for example “Find a Translator” for jobs, “Translators helping Translators” for terminological assistance and “Glossarissimo” as a glossary collection), there are now countless groups for translators, so that it is virtually impossible to even come close to follow all (for German language translators for example, the group “Übersetzer/innen” can be recommended , while for English “Water Cooler” is certainly a recommendable group). It’s amazing how many good jobs are now placed via Facebook. Professional participation in the aforementioned groups is therefore certainly recommended.
LinkedIn and Xing are also increasingly developing into platforms on which LSPs are looking for freelancers and where LSPs and freelancers can establish contacts with end customers.
For those who use Twitter: the account @Translate_Jobs is an aggregator to summarize job offers from different sources. We also curate similar accounts to cover news from the translation profession with @Translate_News, while interesting blogs and events in the profession can be found at @Translate_Blogs and @TranslateEvents .
Increasing specialized tools/interoperability of translation tools
In this field too, much has been done during the last year. Both SDL Trados Studio and memoQ have endeavoured to improve the interoperability among what are the most popular products. Considerable progress has been made, and even with across, there are signs of the platform making progress. Overall, this is a very positive development because as LSPs or freelancers, we do not necessarily have to work with several tools In our view, the hype about online TM tools and crowdsourcing tools seems to have eased somewhat, but that could also be because these tools may have found their place in another segment of the marketplace. I am still suspicious of tools with which I have no control over my TMs, or even tools where I have absolutely no TM.
Beyond TM tools however, there are further tools that play a crucial role in many market segments of the translation profession. Even if we do not love it, one of them, for example, is the processing of PDF files, and it is alarming how many translators have no understanding of the function and structure of PDF files. Anyone who experiences problems translating PDF files, regardless of which TM tool they are using, is at fault themselves. There are plenty of training opportunities (e.g. this webinar – in German) that explain how to edit PDF files.
Another technology that has unfortunately not been discussed enough is voice recognition software. With Dragon Naturally Speaking, real magic can be achieved and the productivity growth which can thus be achieved in some areas can even make those committed to MT /PEMT pendant green with envy.
Which of course brings us to one of the most controversial and sometimes almost hysterically-discussed topics in the translation profession: the alleged threat posed by MT.
I cannot understand the almost frantic fear that many translators have with regard to MT. If you just look at what is happening in the market, you can recognize various interesting details. There are a few companies that dominate the market mainly through press releases and marketing activities, but let’s cut to the chase: who has ever seen a text translated by MT from Asia Online or KantanMT? Are they so good that you do not even notice, or indeed so bad that no one is buying the services. Why has Sayan, a large LSP, that has been relying on MT for years, actually just changed from Asia Online to KantanMT (see here). Did Asia Online not deliver the results that were so highly-praised by Sajan in 2011? Or is a price war between equal suppliers starting here?
TriKonf Conference 2013
We dealt with the topic of MT in depth at Trikonf 2013, and Jutta Witzel summarized it beautifully in her MDÜ article (MDÜ 6/13). In her opinion, “Trikonf strongly dispelled fears that machine translation could seriously endanger the work of human translators”. In his keynote speech, Prof. Philip Koehn really clearly pointed out just where MT can be useful and where not. One of his key messages was: “A machine translation system will never reach the point where it can replace the human translator”.
Unfortunately, many translators often forget that most of the tools with which we work today such as Trados Studio, MemoQ, Wordfast, OmegaT, DéjaVu or across, are based upon the early work of MT pioneers. TMs, AutoSuggest Sub-segment Matching, AutoAssemble etc. are all features that come from the MT area.
Prof. Philipp Koehn delivering his keynote speech at TriKonf 2013
Professor Koehn therefore sees the need to help translators in their work. Two projects for that have already been started: Casmacat and Matecat. It is worthwhile finding out about it and maybe even participating in the activity.
My belief is – and remains – that MT and MT functionality are best left in the hands of translators, which is where they will also work best.
Looking ahead – 2014
The word is going around and analysts are proving it with numbers: Specialization is a way with which larger volumes of orders, higher rates and better profits can be achieved and there is not much to add to that. The route to specialization is no walk in the park. In addition to the professional training offered by the professional societies (e.g. BDÜ, ITI, ATA), there are also “private” platforms that offer qualified further education. Apart from the large MOOCs platforms, such as Coursera, there are also small specialized suppliers who make specific offers available for the translation profession such as eCPD Webinars, and of course our own CPD platform “The Alexandria Library” which we founded just a year ago. For 2014 we have quite a few plans for the library and will be extending the audience soon.
But apart from the professional training facilities for “established” translators, it becomes ever more important to directly approach the universities. It really cannot be true that students at so-called “renowned” translation schools and universities who have taken a course in medical translation have never heard of EMA- templates. A little more reality and a little less translation science would not hurt here.
It should be expected that the private suppliers and probably also translation associations will try to close this gap. At best, this can of course be fixed by the universities which is why I would plead for
- Universities to establish contact with more experienced translator colleagues and agencies, in order to have training adapted accordingly
- More experienced translators attending universities
One of the key-words in 2013 was certainly diversification which, depending on your philosophy, could be seen as hype or a trend (which also was surely stimulated by Nicole Y. Adams’ eminently-readable book “Diversification in The Language Industry”. To what extent diversification is in opposition to specialization or even supports it, is not always quite clear. Thus medical writing, for example, would be the additional specialization of a medical translator in my opinion and at the same time a step towards diversification. In other diversification activities I can see some risks; for example those which are addressed in the Wikipedia article about product/market matrix.
The market continues to separate itself
Listening to experienced colleagues like Chris Durban who, by the way, has also written a very recommendable book, she describes two groups that she refers to as “Bulk” and “Premium” translators. I would rather describe these segments as translators who are part of a “Buyers Market” or “Sellers Market”. Both descriptions actually refer to very similar market segments.
The “Bulk/Buyers Market” segment is characterized by a significant downward pressure on prices, an oversupply of translators or by those who describe themselves as translators. I see this market segment as a major threat to the entire industry, since it provides potential customers with two negative impressions.
a) Translations can be had for peanuts
b) We so often get poor quality that it is probably not worth paying more because of what we have to invest in reviewing translations.
Translators in the “Premium/ Sellers Market” segment are hardly aware of the problems, because they are usually fully booked and achieve a decent turnover. You often see them at conferences, training events and other professional events.
Jerzy Czopik, a colleague whom I hold in great esteem, regularly makes the point when mention is made of the Bulk/Buyers market segment: “We unfortunately have no contact with the people in this segment. They are not members of the professional translation associations, they do not participate in training events and often just muddle through on their own.” He’s right, and I also have no idea how this could be changed. Of course, it would be important specifically for these translators to take part in continued training and to network and they would benefit most from it. But that said, it is just as important for the translation profession itself to take care of these translators, otherwise they could cause more long-term damage there than all current and future MT solutions put together.
What has changed in 2013? Not that much really. Unfortunately, the expected upward hike in the translation profession has not taken place and there has been a lot of whingeing and bitching. Rather than rousing itself and doing something positive, the profession just fragmented further. No, it does not help to call oneself “extraordinary”, to be “proud to work as a translator”, to suggest that people should “love their translator” or to subscribe to even more pointless opinions. And no, it also does not help to constantly rant against MT and evil agencies. The only recipe that will help the profession in the long run is:
- to become a member of one of the established professional associations of translators and participate in order to strengthen them.
- to say no to jobs that are poorly paid or which are outside of the area in which you are experienced
- to support beginners and students so that they can grow into the profession without becoming victims to any of the hyenas and vultures that abound there.
In this sense, I wish you every success in 2014, and see you at the FIT XXth World Congress in Berlin in August or MedTranslate in Freiburg.
Thank you Chris Irwin for the English translation!