Illustration showing global trend

The Coronavirus pandemic has left its mark on the translation and interpreting community. A new study released by CSA Research shows that more than half of all freelance linguists have seen a decrease in business activity as a result of COVID-19. Work volume is down by 61%, according to the study, which included responses from 1,228 people in 100 countries.

The study also showed that some markets are seeing an increase in demand for translation services, particularly the following fields:

  • healthcare
  • life sciences,
  • medicine,
  • and government.

Given the nature of this international crisis, this is hardly surprising. People across the globe need to be informed about the latest developments, warnings, and mediation measures. From travel advisories to community policies and international research papers, translators with these specializations are seeing an abundance of work cross their desks.

Pandemic shines light on consumer habits

Interestingly, demand for translations is also up in the areas of social networks (27%) and gaming (25%) – two of the most popular pastimes for people stuck at home. The World Health Organization has touted video games as a great way to spend time during social isolation, and video-game internet traffic has increased 75% since restrictions were imposed in America.

The markets that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic are, not surprisingly, the tourism and hospitality industries. Demand for translations in the area of travel and leisure is down a whopping 80%, followed by the airline industry with a 75% decline. Other industries that have scaled down their use of translation services are:

  • automotive (67%),
  • real estate (65%),
  • and consumer goods (62%).

What does the future hold for translators?

While the slowdown of business and uncertainty about the future weigh heavily on language professionals, the vast majority (93%) of freelance linguists are either “likely” or “very likely” to continue their chosen professional path once the pandemic ends.

Perhaps the most troublesome finding of this study: 44% of the respondents think that customers are likely to increase their use of machine translation as a result of COVID-19. It is understandable that businesses in need of urgent translations are tempted to turn to AI. Maybe they don’t have the time to find a qualified professional in a pinch, or maybe they don’t have the budget in these uncertain times. As a long-term strategy, however, machine translation is liable to do more harm than good.

To combat this development, professional linguists and T&I associations may need to step up client education efforts and convince businesses of the added value human translators provide.

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About the author - Marion Rhodes

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