Seventeen years. That’s how long I’ve been working in the translation industry. It might seem like a long time, but when I look back, one thing that strikes me is how little has changed. The prevailing business models are exactly the same as they were two decades ago. The translation memory tools that I used as a 20-year-old college graduate and freelance translator are nearly identical to the ones that are used today. In most industries, as technology improves, costs go down – leveling the playing field, opening up access to more people, and even fueling the economy. That kind of change is positive and much-desired.
But let’s face it – this kind of wide-sweeping change has not yet reached the translation industry. The pace of progress has been slow.
For nearly five of those seventeen years, I worked in research, hopeful that perhaps with enough information about what was lacking in the market, more companies would seek to innovate and contribute something extraordinary to its development. I saw several technologies sparkle with possibilities, and always became especially excited about entrepreneurs eager to share new ideas and change the status quo. In the end, the change was minimal.
Yes, we’ve seen certain advances in translation technology, and other language technologies too. We’ve witnessed new developments with machine translation, even in language combinations that previously received little attention, such as Irish and Scottish Gaelic. We’ve seen nonprofits and others bring their services and information to the world through community-driven translation efforts. We’ve even watched as companies like Microsoft address an issue that is core to the cause – giving people the ability to create content in their languages in the first place – by launching Windows in languages like Cherokee.
But there’s one thing we haven’t seen yet – technological advances that impact the translation market at large, including the hundreds of thousands of professional translators out there. The vast majority of work in the $33 billion translation market still depends on the technologies of yore. Machine translation and crowdsourcing do not begin to touch most of the market activities yet. Judging from their growth rates for the past few years, it seems unlikely that either of these will disrupt the market anytime soon.
What will really change things? Solutions that affect not just a single participant in the translation supply chain, but all of them.
As an industry, we’re faced with a giant challenge. There is a vast amount of content out there to be translated, with more created every single minute, and it begs industry practitioners to think creatively and offer innovative solutions. It also beckons those of us who care deeply about the future of translation, as I do, to jump in and help address the challenge head-on. Research will remain critical for this industry, but what is research without development? It will take industry-wide participation to create the kind of shift we really need to make the world of translation a better place.
So, as of today, I’m joining a company on a mission to do exactly that. Of all the companies in the industry, I believe that Smartling is the best-prepared to truly push the industry to the next level.
As for exactly what that next level will look like, I encourage you to follow our blog (you’ll see me here quite often), message us on Twitter (@smartling, @jwelde, @natalykelly), and to stay tuned, because change is most certainly coming. I am excited to be a part of it.