Will technology kill the translation industry?

Google’s long game appears to be world domination – not only does it dominate online search, it’s leading the way in driverless car, artificial intelligence, and robot technology. And let’s not forget its Android operating system and Project Fi, a service that could change the way we use and pay for mobile data.

Google_Translate

It’s also looking to become a game changer in modern languages with Google Translate offering a simple way to switch phrases from one language to the next – it’s essentially a language calculator – so could technology be about to kill off translation industry?

Technology and translation

Google Translate not only offers a written translation service, speak into your smartphone in any major European language and an app will turn your words into another language, either in text form or as a slightly disconcerting electronic voice.

Not to be left behind, Skype, the internet voice and video-call service, looks set to try and emulate this by offering a similar service, albeit in just English and Spanish for the time being.

And they won’t be the only tech and communication companies looking to push the envelope – but can technology advance quickly enough to  seriously threaten the translation business?

Tongue-tied technology

Technology will certainly be a huge help to anyone travelling abroad for business or pleasure as it can get to grips with the basics of foreign languages, but it’s unlikely it will make a huge dent in the translations industry, certainly where business translations are concerned, as tech can’t currently cope very well with the minutiae of foreign languages and local dialects.

And if you’re doing business abroad, and dealing with complex contracts and legalese, a rough understanding is not enough.

The translation industry generates revenues of around $37 billion (£24 billion) through interpreting and software localisation, the revision of websites and apps for use in other languages, and so the best efforts of Google and Skype are unlikely to threaten this too much – that’s not to say they won’t try.

How the translation industry uses technology

The translation industry is no stranger to technology, and far from replacing human translations, tools such as Translation Memeory (TM) –  which has been around since the 1980s – helps companies keep up with the burgeoning demand for high-quality translations and speed up repetitive work.

And Machine Translation (MT), such as that used by Google and Skyps, is the next logical technological progression, and so it’s up to the industry to embrace the tech and use it to co-ordinate work so human translators can be taken away from the more mundane jobs to concentrate on more specialist work.

The world of translations is ever increasing – where Europe was once dominated by French, German, Italian and Spanish, EU bureaucrats now need to be conversant in as many as 24 languages. And while Chinese, Korean and Japanese were once the only languages that mattered in the Asian market, so Vietnamese and Indonesian are becoming more prevalent.

And globally translation is no longer a simple case of switching either to or from English.

So it seems the traditional translation industry has nothing to worry about for now, not least because following experiments with content-management software, the search giant decided to, in the words of a former Google executive,“decided to focus on easier stuff, like self-driving cars.”

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