The Global Translation Industry: How it is Changing

Translators are professionals who convert text from one language to another. The demand for translators parallels the original emergence of text as a form of human communication and the growth in the need for human communication in text form. As the demand for professional translators grew over the centuries, there developed a translation industry. All evidence of current trends shows that this industry is going to continue to grow in size. The reasons for this will be explored further below.

In addition to a growth in size, the industry will see the greatest evolution over the next two decades, possibly faster, because of the rapid development of a range of technological advances that make translation work easier and faster.

The role of globalization in the evolution of the global translation industry

The demand for translation is directly proportional to the demand for accurate communication between people who speak and understand different languages. Whenever people, as individuals, companies, corporations, small businesses, government departments and agencies, volunteer and not-for-profit groups, and other organizations wish to communicate by text they can only do so if what they want to communicate can be read and understood. Professional translators, as individual freelancers or as employees of translation agencies, make this communication happen.

There is no doubt that global communication has grown immensely in the last few decades, especially due to advances in communication technology the opening up of trade routes, and the removal of trade barriers. This growth in global communication is part and parcel of globalization, an important change in human society. Intimately tied to globalization is the demand for economic growth and the desire of once impoverished and marginalized nations to become wealthier and more modern. 

The advent of the internet and its widespread adoption around the world has meant that the desire to communicate between people of different languages can be fulfilled more easily. At the same time, technology by itself does not allow language barriers to be bridged. It is the work of translators themselves who make this possible.

The impact of new technology on the global translation industry

Traditionally, translators would be given a standard paper version of the text and expected to translate it as accurately as possible. This still happens in some places, but technological advancements have meant that traditional translation companies have quickly adopted whatever new technology became available as long as it made their work easier and faster. 

The first technological advances would have been the development of print and printers, typewriters, and then computers. Instead of laboriously reading written text (although this still happens), the modern translator reads printed text and usually it arrives by email attachment or Google doc through the internet. Computers allowed proofreading and editing to be much more efficient and faster than what the older technology was able to process.

The pace of change is ongoing and it is quite likely that the translation companies of say ten or twenty years into the future will look back at what is available today as redundant as typewriters or the humble pen may be regarded today.

The relevance of the technology of the future for professional translation companies

The main advances in technology which will shape the future of the translation industry are:

  • Improvements in translation software and machine translation. At present, human translators are still regarded as more accurate than the current level of efficiency that machine or automated translation can provide, but the gap is steadily being eroded. Machine translation is being used already by modern translation companies, but never used alone. The product of machine translation is always subject to rigorous amendment and proofreading by human translators.
  • The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will no doubt have the most far-reaching consequences for all human endeavors in the very near future, not just for the translation industry. The evolution and adoption of AI will be a double-edged sword. It may mean much faster translation times and even help to make mistakes and errors as well as editing redundant, but on the other hand, could mean that human translators will find themselves in competition with machines. The only thing that will prevent the loss of jobs in the translation industry may be the very growth in demand for translation itself.


Like any other industry, the translation industry has evolved over the years. The demand for the accurate translation of text is not going to go away in the near future, mainly due to globalization and the growth in the global economy. Although this should ensure a promising future, advances in technology, especially machine translation software and AI could reduce the need for human translators as the major part of the work is taken over by machines.


Likely Trends for the Translation Industry in 2020

2019 is nearly over and the translation industry is facing similar predictions to those proposed for the beginning of 2019.

The continued rise of machine translation and post-editing

Machine translations have started to have more of an effect on the translation sector in recent years. The key reason for this recently is the initiation of neural machine translation or NMT. Neural Machine Translation (NMT) is the method used to get machines to learn how to translate. So far, the results have been so promising that machines have managed to achieve state-of-the-art performance for some language pairs. Due to these results, there has been a boost in demand for post-editing machine translations. By 2022, the expected value globally of machine translations is likely to be at least $980 billion.

Transcreation is alive and kicking

Transcreation is creative writing combined with localization. A translator or language service provider takes on a client’s specific texts or content pieces for the purpose of using them as a marketing tactic for a brand. The translation that is created makes it appear as though it was naturally written in that language and not just an adapted translation created using the word-for-word basic translation technique. This technique is set to spread more and more and it really falls in the hands of a human translator, not a machine, at least, not yet.

Localization of subtitling and videos

Increasingly online video content is taking over as the most popular media. According to Cisco, when we reach 2021, 80 percent of all online traffic will be in video form. This means a rise in demand for video translations and translated subtitles. Around 85 percent of the social media’s video content today is played in the absence of sound which means there is a need for subtitling in many languages.

E-learning and webinar

By 2025, e-learning is expected to reach a value of $355 billion. It is likely that translations of e-learning platforms are likely to increase to match the increase in demand for e-learning. It is not just the language used on the website that will require translations but also the software used to engage the learner.

Localization and globalization

With the implementation of more and more broadband connections and an increase in the speed of the internet, localization and globalization are still going to be a key part of the translation industry in the coming year.
Overall, despite the advent of yet more translation technology there is still going to be a consistent need for human translators and translation services throughout the coming year and beyond as the requirements for translations haven’t yet reached their peak.