Translation sector in 2022: what challenges do agencies, translators and clients face?

The expectations, questions, and interests of agencies, translators, and clients converge in the translation sector ecosystem. These stimulate new challenges and opportunities, which in turn impact available innovations and tech.

How do agencies, translators and clients view this? And what are the biggest challenges facing the translation sector in 2022? We canvassed their views.

Agencies feel price pressure and technology costs

We’re currently witnessing unprecedented events that are changing the world. And the translation and interpreting sector is no exception. Tomáš Polerecký (CEO, Translata) states that the pandemic has taught us about accumulated problems and new threats, which can only be identified as a situation develops.

The major challenge is transitioning from translation to MTPE (machine-translation post-editing), and the mounting pressure on prices and work efficiency: “Outside the translation segment, there’s an overall price hike. But it’s troublesome for the translation industry to respond in kind by also raising prices.” An agency (anonymous) supports this view, adding that in addition to prices they’re also under pressure to increase investments in technology. “The problem, especially in e-commerce, is changing clients’ priority from quantity to quality. Widely available technologies enable companies to easily develop in-house localisation.”

Hectic changes in ownership are also cause for concern: “By acquiring large agencies, major agencies and investment groups are delivering growth to translation segment giants (e.g. RWS, Transperfect, etc.), leading to changes in prices and working models (e.g. extremely cheap translations through online communities). We fear that this trend could lead to general structural changes in our industry.”

Translators respond to project slow-down with MTPE uptake

While other professions struggled with home working, for many translators their household is their normal workplace. Translators have recently faced work-flow fluctuations as pandemic-impacted sectors slowed down. “Orders were irregular in past months, but with the gradual easing of pandemic measures, clients are coming back. In 2019/2020 my China-based clients went quiet, but as restrictions ease work-flow has picked up again. And it was similar with clients from North America and Europe,” explains translator Marta Giralt, who also faced requests for temporary price reductions.

While industries directly affected by the pandemic have suspended translation projects, digital content translations have taken off: “There’s been higher demand for transcreation, video translation, and marketing translation, and subject areas such as the environment and Covid-19 also dominate,” observes translator Monika Mikušová.

Yet translator Nicholas Daniels actually had to turn down some job offers. But he mentions an acquaintance, an interpreter for MEPs in Brussels and Karlovy Vary, who could not work at all. “I think Zoom and other technologies have enabled remote interpreting, but there’s still room for improvement,” adds Nicholas. Monika Mikušová appreciates how CAT tools have improved so that “advanced technology plays an increasingly important role in localization and translation.”

Translator Gabi Nagy is critical of agencies’ in-house CAT tools. “These are almost always less efficient than SDL Trados Studio or memoQ, lack QA tools, XBench compatibility, off-line functionality, etc.”

Translator František Vaško highlights that in addition to an agency’s own CAT tools, it also develops internal tools for downloading/sending files, keeping records of orders, etc. “But some are really impractical for users, while others have bugs or outages. This leads to frustrations for the translator, complicating and slowing work, especially when working with several agencies to meet needs and simplify own processes.” He calls on agencies to consider translators and to develop optimally practical systems, thoroughly testing functionality and clarity.

The busiest translators recognise that MTPE has a role to play. They agree that it certainly has a role in the translation process, especially for certain texts. “MTPE applications are becoming more frequent. Fortunately, many clients understand that MTPE isn’t always useful for Hungarian, or more specifically, not so much than for other language combinations,” observes Gabi Nagy.

According to František Vašek, MTPE is becoming mantra-like in some agencies: “Most agencies and clients just see lower costs for machine translation. But it can place higher demands on translators. When translating, more demanding passages often alternate with simpler ones – when the brain rests for a while. Machine translation can handle simpler things (context-free terms, well-written texts with a relatively large database of quality translations, etc.), leaving a translator to primarily focus on more demanding parts or segments that were inaccurate/incorrect in the source. This necessitates longer breaks, which of course eats into work time: which should logically be compensated for by raising rates to cover such time outage.”

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Is the translation profession becoming devalued?

All the translators we contacted were very concerned about the negative impact on translation. They observed that the pandemic has highlighted the problem of those with language knowledge being emboldened to become translators.

“Many language-speakers are now providing translation services – without the prerequisite experience and at cut-price. Companies are attracted by saving money, but overlook the potential negative impact on their business and the whole industry,” adds Martha Giralt.

Gabi Nagy warns: “Agencies should beware of ‘translators’ who use solely machine translation without any editing, and offer their services cheaper. There are numerous proofreading requests from such self-proclaimed translators who lack the appropriate knowledge and experience.”

Translators are well aware of an increased emphasis on automation and AI. Nicolas Daniels fears that over-automation could lead to increased unemployment and subsequent social unrest. “I don’t know how far we are from super-accurate machine translations, but I see this as a threat to the translation community in the near future.” Marta Giralt is sure that the translation profession’s direction and outlook must change to survive: “It’s evolution in action: those that adapt thrive, those that don’t fall by the wayside.”

The big challenge is to optimize the translation process and the pressure to deliver the best translation in the shortest time. “Of course, multiple eyes are needed to deliver quality translation – there is a shortage of qualified proofreaders. It often happens that proofreaders lack the prerequisite knowledge, or just skim text in an unfocused manner, ” says Monika Mikušová.

Nicolas Daniels agrees. He considers it crucial that clients understand that if they want quality translations, they cannot expect immediate turnaround. “Numerous times I’ve turned down an order because a lengthy translation had next-day delivery. It’s also important for a translator’s mental health to have ample time for long translations.”

František Vaško also draws attention to translators’ mental health and work-life balance: “Preventing burnout is of utmost importance. Our work is uniform, and few translators from my area devote their entire lives to commercial translation. Motivation is really important. Increasing job rates from time-to-time certainly helps, but more frequent positive feedback is also a morale booster. And yet, it is received by translators only exceptionally.”

Nicholas Daniels points out that interpreters should be remembered too. As the pandemic hit home, work was scarce – but some people sought but couldn’t source interpreters. “Technology should also support interpreters to enable them to smoothly work remotely.”

"Many language-speakers are now providing translation services - without prerequisite experience and at cut-price. Companies are attracted by the low prices, but overlook the potential negative impact on their business and the whole industry."

Clients’ perspective of international expansion and purchasing experience

Fortunately, many companies already recognise that quality translations are an integral part of their global expansion. Even minor details make major differences to final quality, and the final impression of international buyers.

Our logistics client knows just what it means to enter foreign markets, and in 2022 aims to stabilize and strengthen the company: “It’s important for us to establish a brand image as a trustworthy business partner. We strive to maintain cooperation with current business partners and acquire new ones. And it’s important for us to negotiate mutually advantageous conditions for our operations and cooperation in non-EU countries. Yet unavoidable red tape must be navigated in the course of this foreign expansion.”

ZAJO’s Martin Bohunický considers it crucial to give customers a great smooth shopping experience with clear information and excellent service from order processing, delivery, and even return of goods and making claims. In addition to huge global players such as Amazon and the highly-competitive e-commerce sector, all aspects must be given attention.

“Info must be clear, high quality, and ideally in the customer’s mother tongue – everything pulling together to persuade the customer that the purchase is a good idea. Because if a customer isn’t won over, now he or she can simply search online rather than window shopping along the High Street. Customers are increasingly prioritising the security of their personal data, especially as the next generation of customers is much more risk-aware. We care a lot in Slovakia, and we value customers equally whether they’re locals or from Spain, Romania or Japan. Local or foreign – all customers deserve to expect the highest quality of service. That’s why it’s important for us in 2022 to cooperate with partners who can assist us in providing service at the European and global level,” says Martin Bohunický.

Translation sector dynamics

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to follow the dynamics of how the relationship between agencies, translators, and clients develops. Today’s market needs are orientated towards maximizing technology use and pressure to squeeze prices for clients. On the Slovak market, we aim to support solutions that facilitate both the agency’s and translators’ work, and educate clients and the general public about the importance of quality rather than quantity – an emphasis that pays off in the long-term. In this way, we can cast the translation sector in the positive and professional light it deserves.

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