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About the Language Industry

The market for outsourced language services in 2011 amounted to some 22.575 billion Euros (Common Sense Advisory) – not counting the services of in-house translators, foreign language correspondents, etc. Of the worldwide language service providers, 58.07% are located in Europe and 17.71% in Western Europe (a roughly 4-billion-euro market). The language industry was the only sector that experienced uninterrupted growth during the financial crisis.

Language services comprise much more than just “translation” – which essentially consists of transferring a written text into a written text of another language. Other services include interpreting – that is, translating the spoken word, either in person or on the telephone – and localization, which involves adapting language to correspond to certain aspects of individual countries or even regions. The types of text also differ greatly from one another; after all, a financial report is not the same as the menu navigation in a software program, and German movie subtitles do not have to match the exact words that are being spoken on screen.

The specializations of those pursuing this profession are just as diverse as the types of materials needing to be communicated in another language. The range of translation service structures extends from international corporations all the way to the individual freelancer in front of a monitor at home.

Even the European Commission as the largest “buyer” is stretched to its limits, as it documented in a study last year: The problem is not the fact that translation appears to remain largely unseen. Rather, it’s the implication that translation – in particular human, professional translation – is an unnecessary evil that doesn’t warrant the expense (Euréval: Contribution of Translation to the Multilingual Society in the EU). Machine translation services, such as those offered by Google and the like, are also doing their part to make the translator disappear from the public view. Of course, professionals recognize the shortcomings of such services, knowing that the premise “fit for purpose” essentially just means “good enough.” And when viewed from the perspective of “what kind of translation is ‘good enough’ for my purpose,” the flood of work brought about through internationalization, globalization and the World Wide Web is trimmed down to a manageable level.