What is the size of the translation industry?

How big is the translation services market? Which are the most demanded languages? What trends can we identify in the translation industry? In short, what is the size of the translation industry? We will address these and other questions in our "Knowledge" section about the translation industry.

The good news for translators who worry about the technology may one day replace human translations is that only parts of the translation job can be automated by now. Despite huge advancement in technology, machine translation is an enabler to do translation faster or used for gisting, but not for final professional publishing. It is not expected that in the near future translations will be entirely automatic translations.

The increase in the demand of professional translation services is high. Taking English as the source language, the demand for frequently translated languages such as French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish will remain particularly strong. The most widely used Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean will also remain in high demand. Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages will rank in a third position.

In the 21st century, companies and governments must communicate and publish regularly (often in several languages) with existing and potential customers, business partners, even employees working in other countries. This has shielded the translation industry and has turned it in a refuge from economic downturns.

Despite downwards pressures because of worldwide recession, demand has actually grown steadily in the past few years. For example, multilingual online publishing has provided a tool for many SMEs to enter previously untapped markets.

What is it meant by "Translation Services Industry"?

Under the name "translation services", we find an industry which includes companies that

  1. translate written material, and
  2. offer interpreting services from one language to another (this includes companies that provide sign language services for the impaired)

Typical translation services provided by the sector include translation of documents (translation of paper-based documents or translation of digital documentation), software translation and translation of websites (known in this industry as "localization"), i.e the translation of information in a website into languages for use in other countries with a different subdomain (es., fr., jp., or /es, /fr, /jp), for SEO, local product presence, etc.

Localization also takes into account local cultural and linguistic traits, different keyword trends, etc., generally using translation as a sales tool or for marketing purposes.

Translation Services Industry Growth

It is a fact that the translation market is not heavily affected by recessions.

However, it is a very fragmented market, with spot number 1 claimed by military contractors and the Top 100 firms ranging from $427M down to $4M according to studies by Common Sense Advisory, a translation industry think tank which estimated the size of the industry to be $33.5 billion in 2012. 

According to a report by  IbisWorld, translation services are expected keep on growing and reach $37 billion in 2018. The United States represents the largest single market for translation services. Europe is a close second and Asia is the largest growth area. Currently, business is generated from the government and private industries alike.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, the translation industry is expected to grow by 42% between 2010 - 2020.  The most important reason for this growth is globalization.

Machine translation and other computer assisted translation software will learn and get better and better in future resulting in better translation services and efficiencies. Higher efficiencies will be based on

  1. the translators side, resulting in faster and more reliable translations.  Companies applying machine translation technology efficiently will be clear winners.
  2. companies paying less in the future for the same amount of translation work. More content will be able to be published at the same cost or cheaper cost.

Industry Analysis & Industry Trends

There is a proven correlation between multilingual Internet presence and online publications and revenue.

The translation industry has experienced growth despite worldwide economic instability since 2008. Migration into Europe, United States calls for home translation and interpreting services. As companies take products overseas and can run multilingual marketing campaigns from their home base, the need for translation services was driven upward.

Industry clients will continue to be price, service and quality conscious. Globalization and an increase in immigration will keep the industry in demand for the coming years despite downwards cost pressures on the service.

The advent of machine translation technologies should partly address the lack of qualified, professional translators coping with ever increasing amounts of data.

Industry Report - Industry SWOT Analysis Chapter

This industry is estimated by IBISWorld to have recently moved from the growth phase to the mature phase of its industry life cycle.

Since the 1990s, the Internet has provided a platform for growth. Many industry operators have built tools to capitalize on this. In the 10 years to 2018, the forecast is for translation services to increase at an annualized rate of 4.7%, compared with global GDP growth of 2.1% during the same period.

Industry operators are facing increased competition from overseas service operators and companies that have their own in-house translation departments.

Technical Translations

Technical translation services and translation of related documentation is expected to grow as a result of manufacturing changes, higher exports and higher availability of more devices, from more sophisticated automobiles to electronic gadgets.

Pharma and Medical Translations

Small and medium Private industries find it easier to reach international markets. This increases the need for translation services to bring their products and services to new, potential customers. If we disregard the US, the medical and pharma industry is experiencing rapid growing in Latin America, Canada, and Europe. As a market, Asia-Pacific is now the fastest growing segment overall with a growth rate of over 14%.  All this is good news for the translation industry and the translation companies that specialize in medical translations.

Machine Translation

However, an increasing number of computerized translation tools, especially free online tools, seem to be threatening to reduce the market share of translation companies and also freelance translators.

Pangeanic, as a professional translation company, has the unique advantage of being a leader in the development of machine translation technologies designed to speed the translation process. We work with our clients to provide them with the most accurate and professional translation service for their unique needs.

With the proliferation of free translation tools like Google Translate, translation has become ubiquitous, but multilingual translation and publishing remain a technical job. Regular users of translation services are aware that the logic and reasoning skills we as human beings are capable of bringing to their projects cannot be matched by computer programs.

Machine translation is an enabler, a productivity enhancer. Below follows one of our presentations at Localization World 2013.