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A YEAR LATER: The Pandemic and the Language Services Industry

Almost a year has passed since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The virus cast a great deal of uncertainty as many industries have struggled to figure out what, exactly, this new normal looks like. Some turned to remote working as a means to maintain continuity of operations, but many more businesses, particularly in retail, restaurants, and hospitality were nearly decimated. The question we will attempt to answer this week is how the pandemic has shaped and changed the future of the language services industry?

The Impact on Translators

In mid-June 2020, the French professional association for translators, SFT (Société française des traducteurs), carried out a survey about the economic impact of the pandemic. Of the 526 participants, 57% of the respondents believed that the pandemic would result in a negative impact on their work. Of those 57%, 48% expected to have to take on a side job to make ends meet. Another 23% were considering training in another field, 15% were considering temporary suspension of their work, and 7% were thinking of permanently quitting or retiring.

While this is only one survey sampling the often overlooked translation community, it still provides some important and useful data. The results help to shine a light on the way the pandemic has affected their professional and mental wellbeing. The feeling of uncertainty of where the crisis would lead the overall economy caused many people to fear that they may lose their jobs and, subsequently, that they may have to change professions in order to make it out the other side.

For translators, working remotely is nothing new. It’s very common for a translator to work with multiple translation agencies, businesses, or other organizations from the comfort of their own home office. This natural work environment has made it somewhat easier for translators to adapt to the new way of working.

During the pandemic, however, most translators have had to consider different avenues to fill in for a possible drop in workload, despite the large number of medical and healthcare documents that now require translations.

Many language service providers (LSPs) themselves have also been able to quickly adapt to more remote work given that much of the administrative work of managing a translation business has, in many respects, been done remotely for years. While the pandemic has not caused translation companies too much stress in terms of operations, the drop in business from the commercial sector has hit many in the industry hard. Many of those who have survived (and thrived) are those who have a diverse client base including both public and private sectors.

What About Interpreters?

While the past year has been hard for translators, the global pandemic’s impact on interpreters has been particularly brutal. During periods of quarantine, face-to-face meetings are increasingly rare and international visits are almost impossible. Moreover, social distancing measures can inhibit ideal interpreting conditions. Not to mention, as a result of an almost total global shutdown, work for interpreters has been sparse, with events and conferences being canceled, or at best proposed. Other sectors that often rely on interpreters, like business and tourism, have also been pummeled and the outlook for interpreters in these fields has been bleak.

Like with many other professions, interpreters have had to adapt to this new reality and accept that old working methods need to change in order to best fulfill the new market demand. As a result, remote interpreting has grown exponentially over the last year. However, this growth has not been without its own challenges. For example, poor internet connectivity or microphone issues have created significant frustrations for both clients and interpreters. For remote interpreting to function seamlessly, you need to have the right equipment for the job, including, at minimum, a high-speed internet connection (which still does not guarantee the fastest connection speeds which have been hampered by a large increase of remote workers all needing high-speed access at the same time) and noise-cancelling headphones.  A quiet, distraction-free room to work is also vital, particularly for those interpreters who are stuck at home with restless family members!

Platforms like Zoom, Webex, and Teams have become the working ground of interpreters as they are relatively easy to use; however, these platforms are not as effective as the specifically designed interpreting platforms where interpreters can communicate with each other without disturbing the other participants of the call. At PGLS, for example, we have our own integrated, multi-function platform for remote interpreting, but our interpreters are also available for Zoom, Webex, Google Meets, and other such platforms, depending on the needs and preferences of our clients.

The Shift in Content

The global pandemic has definitely shifted demand in the translation industry. The decreased need for translations in some of the major industries like tourism and hospitality have left some lost. However, the upward movement in online shopping and services have given a massive boost to the eCommerce market, increasing the need for localized translation.

It is only natural, given the current climate, to expect such a shift in behavior. Normally, we would expect to see large aviation clients translating their marketing material, but that does not necessarily mean they will not be translating anything at all. They still have a need to engage with their customers (even if flights are still far from full capacity), such as getting messages out to their clients regarding the resumption of service, biosecurity protocols for current flights, or even future plans for Summer 2021 and beyond.

Nevertheless, as more people move to digital services and eCommerce continues to increase its market share, there will undoubtedly be an increased need for translation services to work with them. Of course, the state, local, and federal governments also have an increased demand for translation during this time and remain steady. So while it might feel like there is less demand in the translation industry, particularly for freelance translators and interpreters, the reality is that there is actually an increase in demand, albeit a shift in the types of content.

Contact us today to learn more about how our interpreters and translators can help you keep the lines of communication open during the pandemic and beyond. 

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PGLS – Every Word Matters

Based in the greater Washington, D.C. area with team members across the world, Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS) leverages nearly 25 years of language service experience to consistently deliver on-time, accurate, and personalized language service solutions to numerous companies and government agencies. Backed by our industry-leading processes and resources, PGLS offers Translation, Interpretation, Transcription, Language Training, and Localization in more than 450 language combinations.

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