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Business Insights

The Language Industry Beyond COVID-19

By 26. 5. 2020June 14th, 2022No Comments6 min read

After more than two months of lockdown, the COVID-related government restrictions in the EU are easing up. With businesses reopening and employees slowly returning to their offices, it’s easy to believe: a return to business as usual in the language industry is just around the corner.

But it’s not. After this crisis, business as usual just won’t cut it. The game has changed too much. Don’t let the change slip under your radar.

Here’s the translation and interpretation industry’s post-COVID playbook.

The impact of COVID-19 on the language industry

It follows that the COVID crisis hit different sectors of the translation and interpretation industry in different ways. While the impact of social distancing measures on interpreters was immediate, with all events canceled early- or mid-March, translators have been successively absorbing the shock wave over the course of the pandemic. Some say the worst is yet to come.

The translation business has run the gamut of crisis impact from low to high:

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Data source: European Language Industry Survey 2020: Before and After COVID-19.

The crisis significantly changed the demand patterns for products and services across different business sectors.

The next Industrial Revolution

Businesses had to spring into action and adapt to the changing environment – virtually overnight – to remain competitive. Processes such as digitization and new technology deployment, remote communication and collaboration, etc. that used to take months or years in the pre-COVID world, rapidly accelerated. Adaptability and agility proved to be the key to success.

The coronavirus crisis is clearly a game-changer in terms of technology deploymentevery business is now a technology business. This impacts the language industry in two ways:

  • our clients have redefined their portfolio and modus operandi, so new opportunities have emerged for us
  • we need to transform our own business

While the future involves a great amount of guesswork, there are a few beacons shining through the post-COVID fog: remoteness and digitization.

The new normal

Let’s take a look at the language industry. What are the main threats and opportunities?

Increase in demand for translation and localization services

The shift to digital and remote is leading to a contact-free economyE-commerce and remote payments are especially successful.

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Data source: McKinseyForbes.

Other than that, remote operations are growing in healthcare (telemedicine), entertainmenteducation, and work automation.

Booming digitization in many industries and growing revenues from remote business activities will encourage existing and emerging tech companies (such as online stores, online service providers, fintech startups, etc.) to go international. To expand, they will need user interface localization, content transcreaction, SEO translation, localization management and consulting, and more.

Increased machine translation implementation

According to the European Language Industry Survey 2020machine translation, post-editing, and automation have turned out to be the hottest trends for 2020 in the translation industry:

  • 78% of LSPs want to start or increase MTPE in 2020
  • MT, CAT, and automated workflow score highest, as far as investment intentions are concerned
  • MTPE is also the strongest new service the LSPs are going to offer

If implemented recklessly, MTPE may bring more damage than benefit. Clients and their vendor managers must understand the role of the human factor in translations, and it’s the translator’s role to educate them.

Remote interpretation more common, but not replacing on-site interpretation

Once meetings in Q2 moved online, interpreters followed. It’s hard to predict right now, whether RSI/RCI is a last resort (with traditional forms of interpretations stepping back in as soon as the restrictions are mitigated) or a long-lasting trend.

What is safe to say, though, is that some events are more remote-friendly than others. Take large conferences, with thousands of participants, networking sessions, experience zones, and evening entertainment programs: people come to these events for first-hand experiences and face-to-face interaction in the first place. Not surprisingly, conferences have been mostly postponed. Now, compare it with a two-hour training session for retailers, with no extra program. Sounds doable, right? But what if the training requires physical product presentation?

💡 Helping clients choose the best interpretation option is what consultant interpreters do. Now, they should be able to advise their clients on whether to take their event online or to wait until meeting up in real life is possible again. They should always take into consideration how much the customer will really benefit from any given approach.

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Protecting professional standards

Freelance language service providers are highly specialized and educated professionals. They are not gig workers; therefore, any new work modes or tools must maintain their commitment to the protection of hard-won professional standards.

Interpreting like a pro

How to provide RSI/RCI services in accordance with professional interpreting standards, such as providing appropriate space and technical equipment and charging daily – not hourly – fees, is probably the most discussed question nowadays.

AIIC recently updated their Guidelines for Distance Interpreting and published a Checklist for interpreters working from home. Another useful article, listing key requirements and tips on how to embrace remote work smartly, can be found here. If you’re not sure which interpreting platform suits you and your client best, you’ll find an overview here.

Privacy and security standards

Remote work means more cloud-based technology used for data storage and access, communication, collaboration, project management, etc. MT may also pose a great risk, as far as confidentiality is concerned. Is your customer’s data safe with you?

Pricing and rates

According to the aforementioned survey, prices were the top concern of 79% of polled LSPs. At the same time, clients contacted only 16.2% of them to ask for lower rates.

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Commercially aware customers rarely seek the lowest price: they rather look for the best value for money (quality of deliverables, reliability, confidentiality). Lower rates should be the last resort. If your client is struggling financially or their budget has been capped from above, try suggesting cost control tools that can serve as alternatives to discounts, such as fixing monthly budgets and limiting monthly workloads, or postponing non-urgent work.

Where to start: damage control

Even before your recovery fully starts, do the following:

  • Estimate your financial impact, based on a YoY assessment by services.
  • Identify primary sources of revenue, available now and in the near future, under different scenarios, and revisit your revenue model accordingly. Take the worst-case scenario and all the “what ifs” into consideration, too: What if the fall conference season is canceled? What if I lose my most important client?
  • Reconsider your business plan to remain competitive (simple SWOT analysis and USP identification should help), but with these questions in mind: Is this solution really for me? Do I have enough resources to implement it? Will my clients be interested in this innovation? Is this course for me? How exactly will I benefit from this?

What about you?

Was your specialization highly impacted by the crisis? What measures have you implemented? Did your clients approach you to ask for lower prices or suggest any other way of reducing costs on their side? Are you considering rebuilding your service portfolio or value proposition? Let me know in the comments.