Are the lines between translation and interpreting beginning to blur?

Facebook has long had an interest in written translation — the company even patented its community translation technology. However, they surprised many people last week when they announced the purchase of a speech translation technology company. The fields of translation and interpreting are often viewed as separate and distinct. Yet, they have a history of creeping into each other. As technologies evolve and audio and video content becomes more important than ever before, the merging of these two areas is important to watch.

In fact, in the September issue of The Linguist magazine, Smartling’s VP of Market Development, Nataly Kelly, writes about the fact that in the past, translators often used speech dictation to speed up their work. History repeats itself, as today, some translators are using dictation software as a productivity tool, since customers are increasingly prioritizing speed of delivery.

The article highlights many important facts, including:

  • Of the 6,000-7,000 languages in the world today, just 2,261 have writing systems. All of them, except the signed languages, have a spoken form.
  • Most professional translators have an average output of around 2,500 words a day. That is around 312 words an hour or 5.2 words per minute.
  • A normal rate of speech is roughly twice as fast as typing, so you can deliver twice as much content via spoken language as you can via written language in the same amount of time.
  • Video, the most efficient online communication method, is experiencing tremendous growth. Online video now accounts for more than half of all mobile traffic – and 69 percent of traffic on some networks.

The article points out that communication trends are changing all around us with technology, so it’s natural that the fields of translation and interpreting are evolving as well. So many communication methods exist today that instead of replacing one method with another, translation and interpreting professionals have more options and opportunities to use their skills in varied ways.

Perhaps it’s time to take a more comprehensive approach to multilingual communication — and to stop viewing speech, text and visual information as completely separate entities.

About Team Smartling

Smartling is a software company with the mission to make the world’s content multilingual.