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Monday, March 29, 2010

Brave New World of Translation

No one disputes the fact that the translation industry is undergoing fundamental changes, which are affecting what we translate, the way do it, and the compensation we receive for our work.

The basic (interrelated) factors in these changes are
  1. Technology,

  2. Globalization, and

  3. Concentration of the Industry.

Technology—computers, CAT tools, and the Internet—has dramatically increased our productivity in the past decades, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. In a recent conference I attended in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Renato Beninatto, CEO of the consulting firm milengo, predicted that, while the income of translators will remain unchanged or will slightly increase in the coming years, the compensation per translated word will drop substantially. He foresees translators' productivity to rise to 30,000 - 40,000 words a day thanks to CAT tools, which will be free of charge.

Beninatto also foresees that the traditional model of translator-reviser will be replaced by machine translations edited by often monolingual experts.

Since the technologies needed for advanced machine translation can only be afforded by large multinational companies, individual translators and mom-and-pop translation companies will be increasingly marginalized and left with the crumbs of the market and with highly specialized translations such as literature and advertising, which are not susceptible to machine translation. While no one expects Shakespeare to be machine-translated into Quechua in our lifetime, most technical documents (which includes almost all non-literary texts) can already be successfully "gisted" by corpus-based machine translation. In many cases such "gisting" is adequate for the purpose; this is why quality will continue to be trumped by price for all but the most specialized translations where both accuracy and style are critical or where cultural adaptation, rather than straightforward translation, is required.

Do you agree with these predictions? How do you see our industry's future in the next few years and decades? How do you see your own role in this "brave new world of translation"?