Trends for the Language Industry

October 14, 2019 10:00 am

This edition 2019 of the European language industry survey provides an analysis of European trends. The objective of the survey is to establish the mood of the industry.

There is an increase in business among the independent language professionals. Translation activities represent a majority of the respondent’s activities, be it companies or individual professionals. A significant number of respondents, mainly language professionals, indicate their intent to reduce activities other than standard translation.

Legal services remain one of the top customer types, but government (for independent professionals) and industry, finance and life sciences (for language service companies) score at least as high. Independent language professionals and language service companies largely agree on what their customers expect. Quality of service is top priority, followed by responsiveness, quality of deliverables and flexibility.

The revised question regarding operational plans reveals important – but not unexpected – differences between companies and individual professionals.

While both segments indicate that they want to start or increase the use of machine translation the companies’ determination is much stronger (51% wants to increase its use and another 18% is ready to start), in particular among the larger companies.  A similar difference can be noticed for process automation and remote working, two practices that have a bigger impact on companies than on individual professionals.

The expectations for 2019 follow the increase of competition in 2018, which leads to a staggering 70% of competition increase expectation. Companies (and to a lesser extent independent professionals) continue to see a growth of the global translation activity and expect this trend to increase slightly. We see a similar evolution, but at a more optimistic level, in the expectations of the independent language professionals. Somewhat more moderate than last year but still clearly positive, with 24% of the respondents expecting an increase and only 14% a decrease. These expectations are clearly rooted in the further increase in actual rates that the individual professionals report (20% report an increase and 16% a decrease).

The technology section of the survey has been revised to focus more on tool awareness, investments, impact and improvement requests. Most respondents seem to be satisfied with the stability of the tools they work with. The availability of the tools in the language of the user is considered mostly adequate or less important. Technology investment plans look also quite different for the various types of respondents. All respondent types plan solid investments in CAT tools, while quality assurance tools are only popular with translation companies (35%) and to some extent translation departments (26%). Only 11% of the independent translators intend to invest in these tools. This is an indication that the independent professionals are not entirely convinced that these tools help them in their work. In previous editions of the survey respondents had indicated which MT, CAT, TMS and other tools they were using. This edition listed 55 of them to investigate how familiar the respondents are with tools and whether being familiar also means that the tools are used – occasionally or as part of the standard working environment.

These traditional tools have been replaced by more recent CAT tools such as MemoQ (43% for companies and 13% for independent professionals) and Memsource (21% for companies and 9% for individuals), but even more strikingly by the online dictionary and bilingual corpus service Linguee (26% for companies and even 47% for individuals).

Only 15% of translation companies do not invest at all in social media, but most companies invest less than 10% of their marketing budget in it.       

In 2018 the survey included for the first time a series of questions on internships, a practice that is widely considered as an excellent means to narrow the gap between university and profession. 285 companies, training institutes and translation departments provided information on this subject. The results show in general a rather positive view on internships. Of those respondents who provided a reply, about 86% expect interns to be an added value. It is therefore not surprising that 87% want to continue or further develop internships in the future. A little less positive were respondents on the skills of the interns and on the duration of the internships. Only 48% agreed that the interns usually have the required entry level skills at the start of the internship and 60% considered the internships are usually long enough to be useful. 20% of the language service companies replied they want to continue or further develop internships in the future. An even stronger consensus appears with regards to the future continuation or development of the internship practice.

Concerning the European Master’s in translation, while 54% of the respondents were not aware of the EMT label in 2017, that percentage has dropped to 47% in this year’s survey.

A less positive finding is that the percentage of respondents that take it into account in their recruitment process has not changed. It is still only 13%. As in 2018, training institutions, translation companies and translation departments report a considerably higher impact of training on their performance than the individual professionals, which make up most of the respondents.

Contrary to previous editions of the survey, this 2019 edition presented different sets of challenges to be scored by the language service companies and individual language professionals. While some challenges such as the inevitable “pricing” are common to both categories, others such as “sales management” or “training and self-development” are specifically targeted to one or the other.

2019 results depict a somewhat more cautious picture than the strong positivism shown in 2017 and 2018. Respondents still expect growth, both for the industry at large and for their own business, but the expectations are tapering off, particularly among the independent professionals. Investment sentiment remains convincingly positive throughout Europe and other indicators such as hiring expectations also point to strong confidence in the industry. The open question regarding trends however continue to show the same concerns as in previous years, with price pressure as the dominant negative trend in the industry (usually attributed to low-cost, low-value competition and the inroads that machine translation and post-editing are making) followed by machine translation.


Written by Julia Pagès – Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and student of the LSCT Research Masters at the Paris Diderot University. She holds an ILTS Masters Degree (French acronym for Language Industry and Specialised Translation).

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