Yes. That’s the short answer.
The question I hear over and over is: Who needs translations? Why would anyone pay for a service that Google Translate provides for free? And I get it. When I was in high school, I didn’t consider translator a viable career choice, either.
Yet translation affects every aspect of our lives: From the books we read to the products we buy. From the medical procedures that save our lives to the political decisions that guide our country. With an estimated net worth of $33 billion, the translation and interpretation industry is a major player in the global economy.
Multilingual content is everywhere: On the website of the hotel where we want to spend our next vacation. In the user manual for our latest gadget. In the old letters we found inside the shoe box under the bed of our German-born grandmother. In the MRI technology we use to get a glimpse inside our body. Most of the time, though, we only notice translations when they are bad, which reinforces the belief that translator is not a “real” job.
Still, thousands of translators are able to make a living off their passion for languages. They do so because informed businesses know the value they add for their companies. So who are these translation buyers? A 2016 market research report by IBIS World identified these major markets for translation services:
- Technology, finance, and retail
- State and local governments
- Marketing and advertising
- Medicine, engineering and natural sciences
In the age of globalization and digitization, commerce is no longer limited to national boundaries. Roughly 96% of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. And yet, a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences states that 30% of business executives have missed opportunities abroad due to a lack of language skills. Moreover, 40% blame language barriers for failing to reach their international potential.
“Business leaders are beginning to recognize that they are missing opportunities at home as well, especially in negotiations to attract foreign direct investment in the U.S. workforce.”
Businesses rely on translators and interpreters to communicate with their international partners, clients, and consumers. For that, they need services such as
- document translations
- website localization (adapting website content for foreign markets)
- transcreation (conceptual translations, which keep the core message intact while rewriting copy to resonate with target audiences of different cultural and social backgrounds).
Machines can’t do it all
There is a prevalent belief among the general public that machines will replace human translators within a matter of years. News reports keep praising the latest advancements in computer translation technology. They predict that the days of human translators are numbered – a conclusion that is in direct contradiction to the US Department of Labor Statistic’s predicted 29% growth for the profession by 2024.
Using free machine translation tools instead of paying a professional may seem like a good idea, especially if you have a limited budget. But there is no free lunch. An article in The Economist points out: “Software can give the gist of a foreign tongue, but for business use (if executives are sensible), rough is not enough.”
The problem with machine translation is that translating involves more than typing in another language. Professional translators hone their skills through years of training. Continuous professional development is the key to a successful translation career. It’s what differentiates the entrepreneur from the hobby linguist.
Serious translators know their limits. We are not jacks of all trades. For instance, my background in marketing and journalism led me to specialize in creative adaptation, helping businesses adapt their marketing, advertising and PR copy for German audiences. My clients include travel agencies, hotels, tourist destinations, international retailers, and online service providers. Between translating websites, press releases, product briefs and social media posts, I stay as busy as I want to be. When approached professionally, translation can indeed be a full-time job. And a rewarding one at that.