Globalization: How has it affected the translation industry?

October 13, 2014 | | 1 Comment

By Maeva Cifuentes

Globalization can be spoken of in many contexts: international trade, culture, the media, products, and finally, language. However, the concept on its own is broad and its definitions may vary depending on the context. As the name suggests, it means the movement from local to global. Through the reduction of barriers, such as time and distance, space has been dematerialized, and information has become accessible with the simple click of a computer mouse. The last remaining barrier to overcome, language, has become much more obvious and necessary to remedy. As Michael Cronin, an expert on globalization and translation, contends, translation “is a constituent, integral part of how the phenomenon both operates and makes sense of itself.” The relationship between globalization and translation is thus circular. Opening up the pathway for international trade wouldn’t have been possible without translation; likewise, as the world globalized, the demand for translation grew significantly.

So what has changed in the translation industry itself with the growth of its demand? For one, subject-matter specialization has become much more important. Thirty years ago, those occupying ‘elite’ translation positions would work with many languages and in many fields of specialization. Ask any accomplished translator or translation agency what the most important thing a translator needs to succeed (apart from the basics: knowledge in two or more languages, excellent writing skills, research and communication skills), and they will all tell you the same thing: subject-matter specialization. With businesses working on an international scale, many documents require extreme accuracy and entail considerable risk. A mistranslated doctor’s report could result in a person’s death and a mistranslated financial report could result in losses of thousands or even millions of dollars for the concerned business.

With the rise of the demand in translations and the growth of technology, developers have created means for simple, general translation that would eliminate the need for a human translator in simple subjects.  Machine translation (MT), such as Google Translate, may thus be a risk for non-specialized translators. On the other hand, MT is typically used for finding the gist of a text or understanding a simple message, or by agencies (about 10% of translation agencies!) who do not have the budget to pay translators for a huge project. Nonetheless, agencies and translators who are unwilling to compromise quality and who contract with clients that need accurate, specialized and well-written translations tend not to use MT technology. Thus, as a result of globalization and technology, translators now occupying ‘elite’ positions are those who are highly-specialized.

Globalization has also greatly increased the pool of avatranslation-studies-lp-bannerilable translators. Clients and translation agencies are now able to outsource their documents throughout the world. While translators used to work in-house, virtually all translation work can now be done from behind the computer at home. This means translation work can be contracted from anywhere in the world. This may be a source of concern for some translators fearing being undercut by others working in lower wage countries. Nonetheless, the technology that provides the possibility to outsource has done nothing but provide more means for translation and provide the demand as well as the supply for those means.

It’s an ironic circle, if you think about it. International trade required the use of translation. With translation, globalization became possible, which in turn brought to light the language barrier, thus driving the demand for translation. Outsourcing should be more of a blessing than any type of concern for translators, since it is what gives them the possibility to work from home. As to how it will continue to affect the industry, we cannot know. However, as we saw above, trends suggest that we will have to develop focused specializations to compete with machines. Our fears of being replaced by MT will only materialize when technology developers manage to create artificial intelligence. All we can do is work hard while we wait and see.

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Category: Business Translation

About Alpha Omega Translations: Alpha Omega Translations specializes in providing foreign language solutions to all industry sectors. Our services include multilingual translation, multilingual website development, localization, interpretation, transcription, editing, glossary development, desktop publishing and design, writing, publication management, and marketing communications. View author profile.

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