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April 18, 2016
With the increase in the functionality of translation applications, anyone speaking the main languages of Europe can now use their smartphone or tablet to turn their words into a foreign language. As Skype rolled out a similar feature earlier this year, premature speculation began to build up with many believing that this was the beginning of the steady decline of what were regarded as outdated translation agencies.
While there is no doubting the fact that advances in software has increased access for the general public to understanding the general gist of a foreign language; for businesses, the general gist simply doesn’t cut it. The translation, language services and software localization industry generate an estimated US$38.16 billion a year according to consulting firm, the Common Sense Advisory (CSA). The language services market has registered year on year growth and continues to expand as a result of politics and commerce.
Nowadays the translation environment isn’t as straightforward as just needing to translate to or from English. With the growth of European Union members to 28, EU politicians now have to communicate in as many languages. In Asia, languages which were once neglected such as Vietnamese and Indonesian have grown in importance as their economies continue to grow. Interestingly, as the world’s investment attention moves to Africa, with more and more companies looking to become active in the region, knowledge of the continent’s languages is increasingly important. Large software companies, such as Microsoft have found it extremely profitable to localize their software into some of the less widely spoken languages such as Maya which is prominent in growth markets such as Mexico and Central America and in more established markets such as Luxembourgish which is spoken in the country with the world’s highest GDP.
Since the 1980s, translators have been able to use vast Translation Memory databases that include whole sentences that have already been translated in a given language pair, aiding the translator to speed up repetitive work. Technology has instead of replacing humans, become a tool which has helped human translators keep up with the growing demand for high-quality translations. As machine translations continue to be developed and their accuracy improved, human translators are beginning to embrace this model as an aid for their work.
Most translation agencies are still fairly traditional in the way that they function with the heart of the business centred on managing projects and acting as a go-between for customers and freelance translators. This does offer scope for some form of disruptive innovation with a translation world’s equivalent of Uber coming to the market. However software is very unlikely to replace human translators and instead is more likely to be used to co-ordinate with clients and produce work more efficiently. Translation is a subjective trade because language which is the main currency of the industry is fluid, dynamic and full nuances. Human translators look to be safe with their tasks aided by machines as the fluidity and nuances of languages is for now, like a foreign language to machines.
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