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South-to-South Trade: Is the Translation Industry Ready to Support It?
Posted by Vijayalaxmi Hegde on December 28, 2011  in the following blogs: Interpreting, Translation and Localization
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International trade has been changing directions. While trade used to work primarily in a North-South direction, there has been an increase in trade happening within the Southern hemisphere for some time now. This has happened because of various reasons – for example, the Northern economies have shrunk, Southern economies have opened up and achieved greater integration within the world economy at large. According to the World Bank, this trend only stands to continue. But is the language services industry prepared to meet the resulting changes in demand for translation?

When it comes to translation, the development of South-to-South trade holds much potential, but it also poses many challenges:
  • Companies are not prepared for less common language pairs. South-to-South trade gives rise to language pairs that many language service providers (LSPs) have not dealt with before. Translation firms in developing countries may have already faced projects in Chinese<>English, Hindi<>English, Portuguese (Brazilian)<>English, and so on. But, they might not yet have recruited sufficient talent for language combinations like Hindi<>Portuguese (Brazilian) or Afrikaans<>Russian (see “Translation Vendor Management,” Apr11).
  • Pivot languages are far from ideal. When we wrote about a similar situation happening with respect to China’s growing economic presence across the globe and especially in Europe, we found that English still serves as a pivot language. This was mainly because of a shortage of translation professionals for important combinations like Chinese<>French and Chinese<>German (see “For European-Chinese Relations, English is Pivotal,” Nov09). The result? Translating everything twice cost nearly double the price and reduced quality.
  • Many countries still lack mature translation markets. If we look at the Indian language services market or that of Brazil, it is obvious that there is plenty of room for growth. India has a ratio of one LSP for every 1.18 million people and Brazil is only slightly better at one LSP for every 885,321 people. Compare this to the United Kingdom, which has one LSP for every 40,365 people (see “The U.K. Language Services Market,” Oct10). But it is not just the shortage of resources that plagues LSPs in emerging economies: In India, buyers treat translation as a last-minute pain; most LSPs are small and shy away from technology use (see “Translation as an Emerging Profession in India,” Oct10).
  • Technology still needs to catch up. Even technology that’s currently in the market may not be geared to handle the new language interactions that will be sparked by South-to-South commerce. Machine translation being developed in India or for Indian languages is geared to handle English<>Indian languages or between Indian languages (see “Machine Translation for Indian Languages,” Sep11). But how about converting Hindi into Chinese directly through machine translation (see “Trends in Machine Translation,” Oct11)? What about simply launching a translation management system tool in some of the important languages of India? That will surely take some time. Meanwhile, translation between such languages will continue to be costly and slow.
As we’ve written before (see “The Language Services Market: 2011,” May11), international trade is a major driver for the language services market.  If you work for a translation services or technology company, start taking steps now to ensure that your business can support language combinations resulting from South-to-South trade.


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Keywords: Ethnic / domestic multicultural markets, High-demand and low-demand languages, Interpreting, Language policy, Localization, Translation

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