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Of Localization, Interpreting, and “That Other Thing” Called Translation…
Posted by Nataly Kelly on June 22, 2011  in the following blogs: Supplier Business Issues, Translation and Localization
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Last week, more than 500 attendees flocked to balmy Barcelona for Localization World, a global conference devoted to the needs of those who make websites, software, and other products available in multiple languages. At the event, Common Sense Advisory hosted a colloquium that was attended by companies like Adobe, Disney, Oracle, RIM, Skype, and TripAdvisor, followed by a presentation on crowdsourced translation. We then rushed to an equally warm Washington D.C. to deliver a keynote address on technology for stakeholders at InterpretAmerica’s 2nd Annual North American Summit on Interpreting, where organizations like Amway, Cisco, the European Commission and the European Parliament were out in force.

As we noted recently in our blog post regarding our 2011 global market study and ranking of the Top 50 language service providers, the biggest players in the language services market are quite varied – they do not all compete for the same business. Similarly, language industry conferences do not always compete for the same attendees either.

Localization World targets a global crowd, and usually one that is tech-savvy. The event typically attracts hundreds of representatives from language service providers (LSPs) and an increasing presence of individuals from buy-side organizations. InterpretAmerica’s event is only in its second year, and in spite of its focus on North America, the organizers managed to register nearly 200 participants – including several from Europe and Latin America.

But where’s translation in all of this? When it comes to events for LSPs, the conferences that focus on translation – or even mention translation in their names – appear to be few and far between. Those translation-focused gatherings that do exist are targeted primarily toward freelance translators. For example, the FIT conference is coming up in August in San Francisco, and the American Translators Association will hold its annual conference – one of the largest global events for translators – in Boston in October. Both of these conferences include a smattering of language service providers and buyers, but the majority of their attendees are freelancers.

The contrast is striking – LSPs derive the majority of their revenue not from localization or interpreting, but from plain old translation. In fact, many of our survey respondents indicated that translation was still their fastest-growing service, in spite of the growth of sectors like translation technology, transcreation, and voice-over work. Even the futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that translation will remain a viable industry in the long term.

Translation is certainly an old profession. Is it becoming a stale one? Service providers and buyers don’t appear to see any need to dedicate an entire conference to the topic, even though these are the services they most actively buy and sell. As market researchers, we must point out this glaring void. Industry groups are happy to latch onto terms like “localization” and “language industry” and “globalization” while foregoing any mention of translation, which actually makes up the largest percentage of the language services market.

It’s easy – and popular – to conceptualize translation as just one small piece of the grander-sounding and broader-picture terms like localization, globalization, or language services, but in reality, more people make a living – and more companies earn their keep – from this most basic ingredient of the market. Not only that, but consider those individuals that are new to buying language services. They’re typing the word “translation” into their search engines. Guess which conferences they’re not finding?

In summary, Localization World has become one of the most popular events in the world for localization, the third-most-popular segment of the language services market. In the spoken language arena, InterpretAmerica is acknowledging the silos of interpreting and bringing them together, in order to represent the second-largest service in the market, interpreting, albeit only within North America. Which group, if any, will do the same for translation, the true giant of the language services market? We’ll be watching to find out.


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The Interpreting Marketplace
The Language Services Market: 2011
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