What is the size of the translation industry?

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

The good news for translators who worry the technology may, one day, replace human translators, is that only parts of the translation job can be automated at the moment. Despite huge advances in technology, machine translation enables us to perform translation faster or is used for gisting, but not for final professional publishing. It is not expected that translations will be entirely automated in the near future.


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

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

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

 

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What does the "Translation Services Industry" mean?

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

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

Typical translation services provided by the sector include translating documents (translation of paper-based documents or translation of digital documentation), software translation and website translation (known in this industry as "localization"), i.e. the translation of a website's information 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 elements like local cultural and linguistic traits or different keyword trends, and generally using translation as a sales tool or for marketing purposes.

Growth in the Translation Services Industry

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

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

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

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

Machine translation and other computer assisted translation software will learn and get better and better in the near future, resulting in more efficient and precise translation services. Higher efficiency 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 published at the same cost or for even cheaper.

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. With migration to Europe, the United States calls for translation and interpreting services. As companies take products overseas and run multilingual marketing campaigns from their home base, the need for translation services is being 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 the costs being driven downwards.

The arrival 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 annual 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 export rates and higher availability of 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 translation.

Machine Translation

However, an increasing number of computerized translation tools, especially free online tools, seem to be threatening to reduce the market share for translation companies and 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 up the translation process. We work with our clients to provide them with the most accurate and professional translation services 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. Here is one of our presentations at Localization World 2013.