It’s a new year and (arguably) a new decade; the time for experts to demonstrate their expertise by foretelling what’s going to happen in the next 12 months. Why do you even want to know? Because it helps you decide whether to swim with the tide or push against the current.

In business, trend awareness enables you to capitalise on good opportunities, determine what to change in your strategy and monitor what drives the success of your clients and competitors. In multilingual content management, the mavens who make trend predictions usually highlight what’s likely to disrupt the language services industry or what will continue to fuel the growth of the language services industry.

“Let’s not talk about trends, let’s talk about patterns”, says Renato Beninatto, the CEO of Nimdzi, and I like it. A trend is a direction in which something is developing or changing. Patterns are recurring, often predictable events or circumstances. Trends may be seasonal and contain an element of speculation, whereas patterns should be perpetual by nature.

In the language services industry, the following themes are currently on everyone’s lips:

  • The relevance of understanding clients and their clients
  • The need to transition to a digital-first organisation
  • The emergence of machine-first solutions
  • The provision of artificial intelligence support services (e.g. data collection, processing and labelling)
  • The improving quality of neural machine translation

Understanding clients is of course neither a trend nor a pattern, it is one of the cornerstones of a service industry. And as the entire global society in which the clients operate their businesses is undergoing digital transformation, it pays to know how they elect to tackle that challenge.

As for the rest, AI and technology topics are certainly trending in the language industry news. I’m pretty sure that machine-first solutions feature both in the ‘threats’ and ‘opportunities’ of every LSP’s business plan in 2020. We dig deeper into technology than any other element of our service provision. “We’re talking about the technology like it’s the thing that the user wants,” said the Systran CEO Jean Senellart at SlatorCon in London last year. “They don’t want the technology, they want the product.” Which I take to mean that whilst solutions matter to all of us, we don’t all need to know what’s under the hood.

There are two language industry patterns that feature highly in my decision-making in 2020. They present threats and opportunities to everyone involved in multilingual content management, and not least to premium-end specialist translation companies, like STP.

LSPs expanding product and service portfolios

Nimdzi estimated in August 2019 that media localisation services make up 14% of global language services revenue. With global marketing and games localisation revenue added to the figure, the segment accounts for a quarter of the world’s outsourced language services spend.

No wonder language service providers are keen to add localisation-adjacent services to their portfolios.

Given the rising consumption of video content across multiple platforms, media localisation has enormous potential. In recent years, media localisation experts have experienced double-digit growth with services that focus on improving search results across platforms and languages, on media buying and planning, and on digital advertising on platforms such as Google and Facebook.

2019 saw established multilingual language vendors (MLVs) acquire at least the following media and digital marketing companies:

Source: Slator1

The acquisition pattern in the media, games and marketing localisation space serves as an example of two more generic trends: the language service providers’ desire to break into new areas of the content creation, management, delivery and distribution chain, and our need to diversify away from the commoditised, machine-replaceable localisation services.

It will be interesting to see what human resources will be matched to these new services, since they – like the AI enablement work (voice and image data creation, collection, labelling and validation tasks) – don’t require the skills of a qualified translator. Consequently, the language industry’s revenue growth from these new services may not end up in the pockets of professional linguists.

University degrees increasingly limited in covering language industry skills

Which brings me to the second pattern playing on my mind.

The concept of translation, interpreting and localisation as a modern academic discipline emerged in the 1950s and 1960s when the first theories and systematic studies started to appear. In the 1980s and 1990s translation and interpreting became a university discipline, and higher-education institutions created full-time bachelor’s and master’s level programmes in translation and interpreting studies.

In those halcyon days, translation professionals could graduate with a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree which meant five years of 25+ weekly classroom hours of full-time study under their belt. Many of these BA programmes have since merged with more generic linguistic studies and many European countries only offer translation studies at master’s level. This has turned the translation degree into a year-long, or at most, two-year-long course after a bachelor’s degree in some other subject. Such an MA course can consist of as little as 176 hours of classroom time.

Whilst degree courses are diminishing in terms of tuition hours, the volume of content to be taught to a contemporary translation professional has exploded. The graduates of the ’80s and ’90s who studied translation for five years did not have to spend any of that time on CAT technology, terminology tools, QA solutions, translation management systems or machine translation post-editing. Neither were they offered modules on translation project management, translation as a business or diversification in the language industry.

Today, in less than one fifth of the time, the university staff is expected to teach all of the above as well as the traditional skills in translation theory, vertical industry specialisation and comparative analysis between the source and target languages. Add to that the new services present-day LSPs are introducing to their portfolios, and you see how academic translator trainers have to choose between covering a few key subjects in a cursory fashion or devising a slightly more in-depth course focusing on one area only.

There are fewer translators studying for university level qualifications than before. Many practitioners enter the industry via other routes. The combination of evolving LSP services, the current content of localisation courses and decreasing student numbers on courses suggests to me that the next generation LSP people will not be translators but multilingual content miners, trackers, labellers, editors and managers.

The forecasting experts out there have already defined fashion trends, food trends, property trends, UX trends and fitness trends for 2020. I have just added two language industry patterns to the list. Now the question is, what will you do about them?

I’m thinking of swimming with one and influencing the other. I’m excited about the tide that is drawing language solution providers into new types of services and happy to continue expanding STP’s product portfolio accordingly.

As for the current that is sweeping European translator training onto the rocks, I want to contribute to building new programmes that bring new types of language professionals to the market. I’m considering getting involved in publishing material on teaching business skills and industry knowledge to MA translation students. As Peter Drucker said, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

February 2019: TransPerfect bought Propulse Video, Straker bought COM Translations
April 2019: Lylo bought Studio PV
May 2019: Welocalize bought Search Star
August 2019: TransPerfect bought MoGi Group
October 2019: TransPerfect bought Lylo, TransPerfect bought Scheune München Mediaproduction
November 2019: TransPerfect bought Chulengo

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Director’s Cut, Translation industry