The end of 2014 draws near. The last days are approaching and many companies are already preparing for the New Year. For many of them, it is not yet the moment to take stock, but with the New Year ahead, this is a good moment for an overview of trends and developments in the translation industry. As a translator, I feel privileged to have first-hand insight into what is going on in our industry. In this article, I share some interesting trends that will change the translator’s world in the next few years.
Online translation systems
Translators traditionally completed their translations with no tools at all. Although it may seem recent, the introduction of the first tools for computer-aided translation (CAT) occurred thirty years ago. Moreover, although there are still many translators who do not invest in CAT tools, the next generation of translation software has arrived. It exists in online translation systems, built and mostly managed by translation agencies.
Online translation environments offer big benefits for translation agencies. They are flexible and can be hosted on agencies’ own premises. Furthermore, translation memories and terminology bases are hosted internally. That way agencies protect their knowledge and gain a competitive advantage. New technologies assure that the systems can process almost every file format, while the user-friendliness and intelligence of the systems can be improved continuously.
The online tools have an extra benefit in that they can be built modular. As soon as a demand for a particular feature arrives, it can be implemented. Online CAT tools therefore offer translation agencies more flexibility. At the same time, they allow translators to work on the go, although then an internet connection is required.
This trend has its benefits for translators too: they are no longer required to buy expensive licenses for CAT tools and they can work almost anywhere as long as they have an internet connection and supported web browser.
Nevertheless, they need to get used to many different interfaces and their technologies and rationales, not to mention the dozens of user accounts they need.
The expectation is that many more translation agencies will introduce their own systems. Smaller agencies will rely on traditional CAT tools or on cloud systems, but bigger agencies will invest in their own systems, and will sometimes even to lease them to other agencies.
Another trend that has been evolving for some time is post-machine editing (PME). This technology makes use of algorithms and existing translation memory entries to generate translations on the fly. The SDL software makes a distinction between “readable quality” and “publishable quality”. With new technologies rising and prices dropping, translation agencies and multinationals are exploring this new technology to get their translations faster and cheaper. Machine translation still requires editing, but there are more and more companies pressing their translators and editors to lower their prices for so-called PME, even though the quality of machine translations is sometimes so bad that a whole new translation is required.
Machine translation is to some extent a threat to translators, but it offers opportunities as well. Translators can dive into the world of PME and be among the first specialists. That way, they can assure themselves of loads of new jobs in the near future. In the decades ahead, machine translation is expected to replace a fair amount of conventional translation work, but the total number of words to be translated will not decline.
PME requires the use of CAT tools. To be able to offer PME services, translators should therefore invest in CAT tools and related knowledge. As the demand for machine translation will grows, translators should now take the opportunity to invest in tools and knowledge to stay ahead their competitors, and to guarantee the same high quality in machine translation as in traditional translation. Moreover, although machine translation is expected to cut prices drastically, it promises a higher daily volume, which can fairly compensate for the lower rates.
The global economic depression and the rise of new technologies, such as machine translation, together with the rise of new translators who offer their services for prices far below average, has led to increased pressure on prices. In future, this pressure is can be expected only to increase.
Bigger translation agencies have already adopted a price-cutting approach and smaller translation agencies are following, sometimes pressed by the bigger agencies that outsource jobs to them. In some situations, this means that long-standing clients almost suddenly require you to lower your prices. In other circumstances, they require you to lower your prices for a particular project or for a specific client. In some cases, this might be compensated by an increasing amount of work, but nothing is guaranteed.
There are roughly three options for translators to anticipate this trend.
The first is to stand pat and refuse a request for a new price. This can lead to respect from your clients, who will not make similar requests in future, but to less work from the client as well.
The second approach is to agree on discounts for particular projects or clients. In this case, translators can be added to a pool of dedicated project members. Nothing is guaranteed here either, but, in some cases, the translators will be compensated by much more work or get no projects at all from that client. The latter offers them the option to fill their time with other projects.
The third option with this emerging trend is to dive into new trends and technologies. By being an early adopter of new trends, translators can stay ahead of both clients and other freelancers. This can offer them new interesting and challenging projects as well as better prices or compensation for lower prices from higher output.
In 2015, time seems more valuable than ever. All those technologies that have made the translation industry more efficient and cost-effective have their caveats as well. Clients, especially those who know what translation agencies can offer, but also others that do not, increasingly want to have their translations back as soon as possible. They rely on agencies to send out their projects to several translators and expect to receive an outstanding translation quickly. Agencies therefore sometimes become pushy managers who are unsatisfied when translators cannot meet the deadline. For translators it can be difficult to turn down projects because of a long-standing relationship or for fear of getting less work in the future.
However, quality should be top of the list for translators. Turning down projects can be very difficult, but all projects should be agreed on reasonable terms. To continually accept jobs that, from a reasonable perspective cannot be completed within the time proposed, eventually leads to lower quality and even shorter deadlines. Sometimes turning jobs down can be for a greater good in that it tells agencies and end-clients that their wishes sometimes simply cannot be achieved. That can lead to longer deadlines, higher quality and a better status for translators too.
Nowadays all self-respecting translation agencies demand that their translators possess CAT tools. With CAT tools, they can offer cheaper but more consistent translation than without them.
A major caveat of the reliance on CAT tools in general that there is less demand for problem-solving skills from translators and translation agencies. Projects are turned down when CAT software seems to be unable to handle the files. Moreover, deadlines are missed when the CAT software generates a corrupt file.
The future will require many more problem-solving specialists and technical experts, as well as the constant release of fixes for software and online translation environments. All of which will add visible value to the online environments.
More and more agencies are creating handoff packages that include the actual files as well as translation memories and term bases. Those packages can drastically speed up the time to translation, but require some knowledge as well. As soon as there is an error or compatibility issue, the translator cannot continue his or her work and needs to come back to the agency for help.
Nowadays many agencies have their own in-house specialists who only create packages and help with issues – a new job in the world of translation.
More responsibilities for translators
The translation landscape is becoming increasingly complex as new technologies and software products emerge, and many companies use sophisticated programs to create documents that need to be translated. Many project managers lack the flexibility to cope with that, and are also feeling the pressure of time and budget constraints. The bigger translation agencies have their own specialists to handle complex issues like formatting. Smaller agencies try to compete on price and deadline, and know that they need to cut their prices and shorten their turn-around times in order to win jobs and clients. Those jobs and clients, however, bring their own constraints. Project managers increasingly try to forward those issues to their language professionals. It is a common request to translators that they deliver their translations in exactly the same as, or an even better layout, than the original file. In many cases that is not a problem, because CAT tools do a lot with that. However, sometimes agencies even demand that translators deliver in a publishable or ready to print layout. However, translators often do not have the knowledge and software tools to fulfil those requests.
In order to deliver quality translations, translators should focus on their core business: translation. Of course, they can work with a visual designer, or try to improve the formatting of files, but the primary responsibility is on the translation agencies, even more because they often charge the clients for those services while not compensating translators for them.
In almost all industries, the cloud is becoming more and more important. And indeed, the cloud has many benefits. It often speeds up processes and offers access to technologies and tools that are otherwise unaffordable or that demand some specialism. The biggest advantage, however, is its omnipresence. Translators and agencies can access their files everywhere and at all times.
However, some translators do not see the disadvantages and dangers of the cloud. Who manages the cloud and who can guarantee the confidentiality of your and others’ intellectual property when you have contracted that you will never share documents with third parties? The cloud can offer great advantages but only when used with due diligence and utmost care.
In future, translators should be careful when deciding to use the cloud, but can glean the benefits as well, such as the possibility of working wherever they are.
Online project management
The translation agencies that demand that translators to fill out Excel forms and Word documents are in decline. More and more companies are introducing online project management tools. Those tools offer them opportunities to manage their workflow more efficiently and dynamically. In the most advanced scenarios, they offer possibilities for online invoicing as well. A major advantage is the existence of one uniform platform that offers access to everything. However, when personal details need to be updated, translators need to visit several different online environments with their own user accounts. A single protocol for all online project management environments would be a great addition that would simplify the lives of all translators.
Online invoicing and self-billing
Many online project management environments offer the possibility for online invoicing. This will reduce the burden of creating invoices manually, and simplify the invoicing process for translators. However, online invoicing requires translators to come back frequently to check whether they are allowed to invoice their project. In some cases, that will take weeks to months, and in the worst scenario, they cannot invoice at all. To invoice different agencies, they furthermore need to log in to as many systems as there are agencies. When they invoice, an invoice showing the recipient’s letterhead is created.
A relatively new concept is the concept of self-billing. To cope with the huge number of invoices that they receive, and to lower accounting costs, companies introduce the “self-billing method”. In this method, translators do not need to create an invoice at all: instead, companies will manage the amounts due and pay them after an agreed-upon period. Afterwards, they can send an overview of the amounts billed. This concept simplifies the invoicing process for translators even more. However, there is little opportunity for translators to manage the invoicing procedure. Translators, furthermore, do not know exactly when to expect their money because they do not know what term the translation agencies use. Often the agencies take several workdays after delivering the project before starting the invoicing period. That can lead to confusion and to longer payment terms than agreed earlier.
The internet is everywhere, especially in the world of translators and translation agencies. Thanks to the internet, translators can get more jobs and more clients. And in turn, they can lookup difficult terms and concepts via search engines and special terminology sites. A system like ProZ.com’s KudoZ offers translators the possibility to ask their questions without embarrassment, while other translators can improve their standing or show their expertise easily.
Translators, however, should beware of the drawbacks. In some cases, they are not at all allowed to ask questions via the internet. Moreover, sometimes asking a question can undermine a particular translator’s expertise. The openness of the internet makes it easy for agencies to find out whether translators are indeed are experts or not. Besides that, the wisdom of the crowd sometimes turns out to be no wisdom at all. Translators should therefore be careful in using the crowd, and should rely more on their own expertise and term bases than on public information.
In conclusion, we can say that our industry is moving at a fast pace. In order to secure business for the coming years, translators should try to adapt quickly and to invest in knowledge and expertise. At the same time, there should be a consensus that some tasks, like formatting, are simply beyond the scope of translators. Of course, they can offer that service as well, but in many cases not at the level of quality demanded by (end) clients. Furthermore, translators should be compensated for extra services. Luckily, many software developments offer translators the chance to increase their daily output together with their linguistic quality and service. In the year to come, translators can show what they are worth. They can benefit from these and many other new developments to secure their business and position as well as the image of the industry as a whole.