Technology, a growing demand for content across global geographies, and a trend toward voice and video are all having an impact on the translation and globalization space. Demand for translation services is growing and shifting, says Michael Stevens, growth director at Moravia. “One of the biggest trends that has surprised me … is how fast demand has snowballed for localization services over the phone, as well as for video interpretation,” he says. That demand has likely been driven by the growth in webinars, online events, and other two-way digital communication methods.

“From a broader perspective,” says Stevens, “the growing demand for interpreters is clearly a byproduct of the shift from digital print communications to an increasing preference for more voice and audio content in general.”

The Translation & Globalization Year in Review

Translation and globalization are big business—and the field of service providers comprises some big and growing businesses, says Matt Arney, co-founder and CEO of TranslateNow. 2017 saw some massive movement among large companies in the space, he says. “Large players, including Lionbridge, Pactera, LanguageLine [Solutions], Welocalize, and soon TransPerfect, have all either been sold or merged with others in the past 15 months. Key acquisitions include life science companies—Luz, Foreign Exchange, Corporate Translations—and many smaller deals,” he says.

But smaller businesses have a place in the market as well. “Lots of startups in tech have emerged, including countless marketplaces and hybrid MT [machine translation] tools,” says Arney. But, he adds, “Large companies like Thumbtack, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Upwork have attempted to enter the translation space mostly for cheap, one-off projects.”

Technology companies, says Arney, “are finding it hard to exist in an industry that doesn’t like to buy a lot of software. Research groups place the total translation services spend in the $40 billion range, while technology (i.e., tools, gizmos, online translation sites) does less than $200 million collectively.” Some technology firms, he says, are migrating from software to service. He points to Smartling as one example of this: “Smartling is the latest to do so having raised $63-plus million and is likely feeling pressure to bring in revenue, so they launched a services division.”

According to Smartling’s Vice President of Marketing, Juliana Pereira, the trend toward providing services has a different origin: “Smartling’s offering of language services came from organic customer demand. As our customers grow their business and have needed to expand into new languages and markets, they turn to Smartling to help them provision language services for those languages.” 

“Continuous delivery has been a popular theme throughout 2017 as more and more companies embrace agile principles across the enterprise,” Pereira adds. “For years, agile has been considered practically a religion in tech circles. Today, it is being applied across all business functions, including content creation and marketing activities, as a means of delivering content and messaging more quickly to end users and customers,” Pereira says. The localization and translation industry is also embracing agile in order to continuously deliver new translations and localized content to global audiences. “To compete in a world that values speed to market for products, services, information, and messaging, ambitious companies find that being nimble, shortening release cycles, and iterating quickly are paramount to driving global business,” Pereira says.

Data management and quality measurement for translation are top challenges for content and localized content in general, says Pereira. There are, however, solutions coming to market that can now help to solve these data and measurement challenges. Pereira points to Smartling’s announcement of its Quality Confidence Score (QCS), which uses machine learning to predict the likelihood that a translation will be a good one. 

Craig Bloem, founder and CEO of LogoMix, is on the customer side of the translation relationship. In 2017, he says, his company “greatly increased the amount of content we translated.”

A Look Ahead at Translation & Globalization

In 2018, says Arney, a slowdown in the U.S. economy is likely to positively affect the translation industry. “Companies will seek to boost declining revenues by aggressively expanding to new markets overseas,” he predicts. “We saw a similar trend in 2008 during the last major economic crisis.”

Balancing demand with budget may see more companies bring some of this talent in-house, says Bloem. “We’ve seen more small businesses translate their websites, but in 2018, more small businesses will begin to produce and translate educational content. Because of this, translators and foreign-language copywriters will become more an extension of a marketing team, rather than an outsourced vendor,” he predicts. “To manage a smooth process, it’ll become more important to build strong working relationships with these resources. The goal will be to build a global content team—not just find a transactional translation vendor. This may result in an increased use of freelancer platforms like Upwork and WriterAccess. WriterAccess has added a translation feature for this exact reason.”

Demand for translation is heating up for certain southeast Asian languages, says Arney. “We believe there will be a big push towards southeast Asian languages like Malay, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. These emerging economies may be boosted by China’s large Belt and Road initiative.”

Additionally, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have been hot topics throughout 2017, says Pereira; they’re likely to continue to be a focus in 2018. “One of the most talked about technologies in the content localization space has been machine translation using neural networks and other forms of AI,” she says. “Great strides have been made with machine translation for decades, although several recent improvements and developments in neural machine translation and adaptive machine translation are providing potential for many more compelling applications.”

Localization will also remain top of mind for marketers in 2018, says Stevens. “As content continues to go more digital, knowledge of international digital localization strategy is much more critical than ever before. Whether companies have the resources internally or they prefer to partner with an external provider, content marketers need to know how to manage a wide range of localization issues, including how to optimize search internationally, how to bundle language-related devices for multiple markets, how to drive cost-effective and efficient ways to manage multilingual communications, and, most importantly, how to measure the success of multinational digital communications,” he says.

One key impact here, he says, is neural machine translation (NMT). “Even though NMT is still in its infant stages commercially, it’s gaining momentum because of its ability to automate translations more easily between languages that have virtually nothing in common, like, for example, Finnish and Chinese,” Stevens says. “Google, Microsoft, and Baidu are just some of the major companies that have already switched to NMT for their translation engine. It’s a major step forward in translation technology that’s already having a major impact on language localization processes.”