How Has Covid-19 Impacted the Language Industry
The translation industry may not be the primary focus of this website, but it is indicative of how the global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the language service industry as a financial and business sector. Translation agencies working in traditional offices and people working as live interpreters and public speakers, have all suffered greatly due to the global coronavirus outbreak. Conversely, their online counterparts offering video interpreting and remote translation services have been in a unique position to gain from the global Covid-19 pandemic. There is much to be learned about the economic impact based from the experiences of these translation agencies and other language service companies. When all of the data is compiled across the full spectrum of language service providers, there is much to learn from what has transpired due to the ongoing global medical crisis.
For better or for worse, the global Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world. This is every bit as true in the language industry as it is everywhere else. Still, while some businesses have been detrimentally impacted by the current coronavirus crisis, a number of services offered by the language service industry have been able to prosper. Although others in the language services industry have had to make some major adjustments, they can still rise to an enviably good position.
The following data was compiled based on resources from many different areas. Much of the data came directly from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other electronic health records and even some more speculative information has been gleaned from numerous agencies, including European language service providers and in some cases, their regulatory agencies or other governmental bodies directly related to the language industry.
There are many aspects of the language industry that have incurred both gains and losses in regards to business during the global Covid-19 pandemic. This, by necessity, calls for at least some speculation in regards to future trends, though the sources of the information used herein, such as the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies, often conduct surveys within the language industries, lending more credence to anywhere that mere speculation may be utilized herein.
Table of Contents
Which Language Services Have Suffered From Covid-19 and Why?
Self isolation and social distancing are the primary factors in the decrease of business and industry virtually across the board. In some areas, full quarantine measures have been put into place, reducing the ability of traditional offices and other focal points to open at all, much less to resume business as normal.
The Centers for Disease Control has put together a host of events that should be canceled in order to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus and to reduce the potential for an extended lock down. Among those industries that will be negatively impacted are language teachers, language testers, live interpreters, some language artists and virtually any language specialist who works in a traditional office environment.
This is a very striking and telling observation, most notably in regards to medical interpreters. It would seem logical to presume that virtually all medical interpreters and translators would be called into active duty when their services are so directly related to the ongoing battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. Such however, has not proven to be the case, especially in terms of live interpretation services.
The same odd occurrence can also be in regards to court interpreters. It is difficult to imagine that all of the courts would shut down, yet live court interpreters are seeing a substantial reduction in work. Translation services in the United States, in accordance with Supreme Court rulings, are not provided by the court systems, so this is not a major concern even during the Covid epidemic.
However, translators in other areas, especially those working in more traditional office locations have been adversely impacted by both social distancing and government-mandated lockdowns and even full quarantine measures in some locations.
This same impact has been noted in regards to language teachers who work in more traditional classrooms. At the same time, language testers, especially those conducting standardized language testing for large classes of students, have seen their work either greatly reduced or shut down altogether.
Both translators and interpreters who are dependent on the travel and tourism industries will also see a major decrease in their workloads as travel plans are put on hold around the world. This extends into both the retail and service sectors where language specialists including translators and interpreters are often integrated into the permanent staff.
There is no doubt that the language services industry has been hard hit. Fortunately however, there will always be both a need and a demand for many of the services provided. However, in order to continue, there is going to be a need to adjust the more traditional aspect of language services. In order to start down the right path, the best point to start with seems to be looking at those sectors in the language services industry that were not adversely impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic, and then to determine why.
Which Language Industries Have Gained and Why?
According to an Adobe blog article, which has its own research, marketing and analysis arms, online shopping and other ecommerce venues have increased exponentially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. So what does that have to do with the language services industry? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. Some professional language service providers do not see the connection. What does ecommerce have to do with language services? A lot, at least for those who hope to come through the current global medical pandemic in better shape than they were in when it began. Do you still remember the beginning part of the article?
Those translation agencies and remote interpreting services that already had a digital presence and were not trapped in traditional offices, experienced an overall industry growth. This has continued even during the height of the crisis, which does not seem to have peaked yet, at least not at the time of this writing.
These translation agencies were strategically positioned and able to increase their share of the market value because they were not in a position to be adversely impacted by the need for isolation or deprived of work due to social distancing.
This is especially true in regards to medical interpreters and medical document translation specialists. Across the world, medical translators and interpreters are working post haste to quickly and accurately translate literal mountains of data and make it ready for global distribution.
Given the urgent need for people to serve as both medical interpreters and medical document translation service providers, it is difficult to believe that any of these people would currently be unemployed. The same could be said for the virtual army of translators and interpreters who work in the United Nations, dealing with global crises on what seems to be a daily basis.
The coronavirus outbreak did not subside merely because everyone sheltered in place. Likewise, the other global crises that occur all too regularly, never subsided just because the vaunted halls of the United Nations were closed. In what is little more than an interesting point of trivia, even the smallest of meetings within the United Nations require not less than fourteen interpreters to participate in the meeting.
These fourteen live interpreters are just the minimal requirements for any live meetings that take place. Once the meeting is over, the minutes of the meeting and any resolutions will then have to be translated into nearly two hundred languages. How did an organization like the United Nations adjust while its offices and global facilities were closed due to the ongoing medical crisis?
The freelance language service providers have certainly seen an increase in competition online, but this would not be a major concern for those that are already firmly established within their respective industries. The United Nations likewise, already had a strong digital presence and moved most of its operations online, including those services demanded of talented language specialists from around the world.
As tragic as the Covid-19 outbreak has been for virtually all of us, the ability of these translation agencies and other language service providers to increase their gains, has provided the entire industry with some insight about how to continue their business interests by digitizing, localizing and focusing on areas where there is now more than ever, a great need for their services.
What Can the Language Service Industry Learn from Covid-19?
Professional orators are successful only in part due to their mastery of linguistics or their “gift of gab” as it were. In terms of online language service providers and other ecommerce markets online, they have become masters of what is more commonly known in the digital world as “localization strategies”.
At its heart, localization is all about learning to speak to people in their own language, using words and expressions near and dear to their hearts, citing local references and establishing a personal connection, even with literally thousands of people in the audience. Localization strategies are the means by which one can establish a more global presence online, making a direct, emotional and personal connection with the audience.
At the heart of localization is translation, though this is only a single portion of a much larger localization equation. Whoever thought about translating English into English? Seriously.
Just think about this for a moment. Do you drink pop? Maybe you prefer a cola? Perhaps where you live they have sodas? The local vernacular, colloquialisms, expressions and other linguistic characteristics will be different in virtually any location, and even then, often divided by age groups as well.
Think about back when you were still a small child, and using all the same “cool expressions” that your friends used, but that your grandparents failed to understand. It is not just public speakers and other orators that have these skills.
By definition, those involved in the language industry generally have an exceptional mastery of their language. As such, digitization in the digital age really should not be such a major stretch. However, the use of localization strategies to increase the influence or business online, needs to extend and reach out at a very personal level.
These localization skills are necessary for translators and interpreters, but they will also greatly benefit other language service providers as well. The teacher helping others to learn ESL or other online courses may benefit from having a better understanding of the cultural norms and even cultural taboos of their students.
How often has someone wondered aloud how a copywriter can successfully command millions of dollars for a single page of text? The successful copywriter is successful because they have mastered the art of localization and touched both the heart and the purse strings of the people who consume their words.
While not every language service provider will have the need, much less the ability to match the pedantic linguistic mastery that the successful copywriter has, it should still be a benchmark for serious consideration. This is especially true for those who, unlike the aforementioned remote video interpreters, have not yet completed establishing their presence online.
Digitization of the Language Service Industry – Linguistics Online
The digitization of the language industries may be a disturbing trend to some and appealing to others. The technological revolution is no longer the stuff of science fiction, but a very harsh reality in the here and now. If there is anything at all to be learned from the global Covid-19 pandemic, it should be the importance of a well-established presence online.
This however, is not necessarily a bad thing and can provide far more benefits to everyone from the small business owner to anyone else providing language services online. Rather than being seen as a challenge for those within the language industry, the technological revolution should be viewed as an opportunity to establish a more global market for your services.
If there are any hazards in moving businesses from within the language industry online, it is the ease by which one can get trapped in a “comfortable rut” and settle for less than they are worth. This can be especially true for those moving into the world of freelancing online and relying on the freelance job sites as a sole means of looking for work.
While it should not be expected that you will be capable of establishing your presence online and becoming rich overnight, you will need to be careful and avoid some common pitfalls in the digital world.
As the self-isolation and social distancing continue under the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, more and more people are being forced to move online in order to continue earning a living. This is just as true as it was for the translation agencies and online teachers mentioned earlier, and for other people just now seeking out opportunities for working in the language industries online.
One of the easiest traps to fall into online, most especially for freelancers, especially freelance writers, transcribers and virtually any language work that does not require a university degree, is relying on the freelance job sites in order to find work. Granted, there are some diamonds to be found on the freelance sites, but it will take some serious digging. If you just scratch the surface, you will likely come up with nothing more than a little dirt under your fingernails.
It is very easy to discover work online using the freelance job sites, but most do not pay very well. This is equally true for authors, translators, interpreters, voice-over artists and even professional speakers. Many of these sites are inundated with less than professional language specialists, most of whom are quite willing to undercut your rates and make it very challenging to earn money online with your language skills.
A more proactive approach, focusing on your individual skills and actively seeking out more well established markets may be a better way to begin looking for language related work online. This is just as true if you are only seeking to supplement your income until the global medical crisis subsides or whether you are fully digitizing your entire portfolio and continued work efforts.
Using the freelance sites is fine, but be careful not to rely on them as your sole source for seeking out new markets for your language skills. A comprehensive approach to earning a living online revolves around your ability to establish a meaningful online presence. This should include a website, social media accounts and a YouTube or other video channel, and perhaps an audio campaign for podcasts as well.
In order to establish these more efficiently, it will be necessary to learn a little more about how to use other language skills and marketing principles, including translation, localization and globalization online.
Translation, Localization and Globalization for Language Industries
The first step to moving online is to create a website. The language of the website itself should be focused on the larger, more general language. Despite the vast differences between English as it is spoken in the United States, the United Kingdom and in other areas of the world, the language used on the website can be broader and more general, with less of a focus on website localization.
The website is your store front and serves to get people in the proverbial door. Once they are inside, the principles of localization become more important. After your fans, customers and clients are inside, you may find it beneficial to offer more localized attractions, focusing on whatever it is you may be using to monetize your website.
The “influencer” markets are generally relegated to podcasters, video marketers and social media marketing. It should be noted however, that these are not restricted markets, but are equally important for anyone seeking to establish a more viable presence online. All of these methods are viable means of increasing your online presence through a process commonly known as multi purposing.
Video marketing is one of the most popular means of marketing online. Offering video translation or transcription services is one way to begin earning money almost immediately, though your efforts should not end there. Video translation or transcription services can be used to increase the ease with which your videos can be found, and will actually serve to increase viewer participation. How?
Closed captioning files are easily uploaded with the videos. In fact, it is easy to upload numerous closed captioning (or srt) files with the video, in different languages. Since these srt files are searched and indexed by the search engines, your videos will be more easily discovered and be put in front of viewers more often. That alone is not enough however.
Your personal videos can also be converted into slideshows that can be used in multiple locations, further increasing exposure and influence. The audio portions of the video may be separable and used as podcasts. These podcasts, through the use of transcription services may then serve as articles to be posted on the website as articles.
If you are an author, even if you have self-published, chances are good that your book will be translated into different languages. Translation services will allow you to post snippets of your books on foreign language websites, including forums and other gathering places where potential customers are still anxious to interact directly with the author.
While it may not seem an ideal solution, even someone new to the world of writing can approach existing influencers online, offering transcription services to these people in order to expand their reach. Furthermore, this opportunity to directly interact with the potential clients or customers, also offers some great opportunities for a little creative marketing research, and thus, being able to follow the money no matter which way the industry trends may be moving.
Why The Language Service Industry Must Change Under Covid-19
The revelations about the full extent of the global Covid-19 pandemic have had an amazing impact on how we live, work and play. For as long as self-isolation, social distancing and even full quarantine measures remain in place, one of the few viable options remaining productive at work within the language industries, seems to be the digital world online.
Initial estimates were for a lock down that would last for mere weeks. This quickly turned into a month and then more. There are some projections from places like New York City, forecasting an ongoing lock down that will last for as much as six months with some experts calling for a couple of years in isolation or quarantine.
After the current medical crisis ends, there is no indication that life will ever go back to normal as we used to know and understand life. Even authors, interpreters, translators and other language professionals who have long worked from home are undergoing changes in this day and age of the coronavirus outbreak.
Fortunately, there are ample opportunities for the people already well established in the language industries to continue working and being productive and contributing members of society. It remains imperative however, that the focus be on establishing a very real and meaningful business presence online.
The alternative is underselling our services, undercutting our rates and an increase to the already rampant suffering caused by the Covid pandemic not only within the language industries, but throughout the world.