Posted by: patenttranslator | October 29, 2011

Is It Possible To Predict Future Trends in the Translation Business?

One reason why the movie “Three Days of the Condor” became something of a cult classic is that it predicted the invasion of Iraq in 1975, 28 years before this horrible war in fact happened. The film tells the story of a CIA analyst (played by Robert Redford) who reads books, all kinds of really strange books, and then feeds plots from these books into a computer to look for information about future conflicts that may be about to happen anywhere in the world. (Incidentally, isn’t it interesting how the description of the job of a freelance assassin, who is played in the film by Max von Sydow, could be easily applied to the job of a freelance translator? (mutatis mutandis, of course).

As the movie shows, trying to predict the future can be a dangerous thing. But not to try to do that would be probably even more dangerous. Could somebody have predicted for instance the influence that Internet would eventually have on the economy in general and on the job market in particular 25 years ago? I think so. Some people who did just that created brand new businesses that are thriving today (for example Google and Netflix). And many companies that could see only the present went out of business (for example Blockbuster and Borders).

I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t see the future any more than anybody else can. But because I have been in the freelance translation business for close to 25 years now, I can try to propose some ideas on the future of technical translation on this blog.

I think I can “predict”, for example, which languages will be very much in demand in the field of technical translation to English. Although only a few years ago, I was translating almost exclusively Japanese patents to English, I am now translating at least as many German patents every month as Japanese patents. In other words, if I did not know German, I would have a lot of free time on my hands, which would not be that bad, but I would probably not have enough money to pay my bills, which would be really bad.

I think that technical German will continue to be very much in demand in the future. Although the demand for technical translations from Japanese is not as strong as it has been a few years ago, I don’t think that a relatively strong demand for translation from Japanese will disappear any time soon. For one thing, while it is possible to become really fluent in a European language such as German in about 3 to 5 years, you should plan on studying the language for at least twice as long if your first language is English and your chosen language is Japanese.

I also see a very strong demand for technical translation from Chinese and Korean. While I know a few translators from Chinese who are native English speakers because along with Japanese, this is a language that the English speaking world has been interested in for many years, there are very few Korean translators out there whose first language is English. I think that the strong demand for competent technical translators from Korean to English that I see now will continue for a long time.

I could also try to speculate about other languages and other translation fields, but it would be pure speculation and conjecture. All I really know is technical translation because that is what I am doing. But I wonder, was financial translation affected by the crisis on Wall Street, which grew into a worldwide crisis, and if it was affected, in what way? And what will be the effect of the Occupy movements on financial translation? Now that the whole world seems to hate the banksters – and for good reason, they did steal our money to pay themselves record bonuses and now it’s back to business for them as usual – will the bankers now need more or fewer translations?

I think I predicted correctly 36 years ago when I changed the language combination that I was studying from Latin-French to Japanese-English that it would be easier to make a living with my new combination of languages. That was not a very difficult guess to make, although obviously, I had no idea back then that one day, I would be translating patents for a living.

While many people are predicting now that patent translators will become extinct very soon because patents can be translated with machine translation, the people who make these prediction don’t really know anything about technical translation.

As just about anything that is on Internet becomes accessible on tablets and cell phones, more patents will be translated with machine translation. In fact, I think that machine translation of patents will become a routine for paralegals, patent agents and patent lawyers. But this routine will only weed out patents that do not really warrant a real translation that can be obtained only from a human translator.

My prediction is that the net result of instant availability of Internet on current and future portable devices, coupled with instant availability of machine translation, will be an increased demand for translation of patents by experienced human translators who charge a lot of money for what they do.

And why is that most people seem to be saying the opposite of what I am saying?

Well, I don’t know why. Probably because these people don’t really know much about translation. But I do know that they are wrong. As Faulkner said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And the future is not unknowable. Only really hard to predict. And usually, most people who are trying to do just that are completely wrong.


  1. […] the original post: Is It Possible To Predict Future Trends in the Translation Business … Share […]


  2. Here’s our prediction as it relates to the future of the #translation business:
    The way businesses relate to translation providers (MLP and freelancers alike) and interconnect their operations with them is about to change. Here are the details.

    – Any size or type of language service provider will be able to really collaborate from their own online environment with anyone they want both inside and outside of the industry.
    – The ability to manage contacts, projects, tasks and communications in a completely integrated way will become extremely easy to everyone and you won’t need to constantly enter all the data to keep it updated. B2B interoperability will be an out-of-the-box experience for all.
    – Clients outside of the industry will be able to log into their regular project management tool and start a translation task for their language provider, select the relevant language pairs, upload source and reference files or just copy and paste the text they want translated in a matter of seconds.
    – You will just get an email with their request and an option to accept or reject it right away. Then go online and see that task as a new project from where you’ll be able to create additional tasks for yourself, your colleagues, external providers or your client itself.
    – But beyond that, language providers will soon be able to request, receive and manage other services like Interpretations, copyediting, proofreading or voice recording.
    – A new marketplace will be born bringing new opportunities for business that will bring language buyers and providers together in a completely innovative way.

    This is the future we envision and you can give it a try today by requesting your beta account for free at

    Then, you can stay on the platform for free if you will only be receiving tasks from clients or don’t need to add employees with its Light Edition. Have fun being Flowficient!!

    Follow us at Twitter @b_communities


  3. Thank you for your comment.

    However, I too am a language provider (as well as a freelancer) and I will definitely not engage in any of the interesting activities that are described in your comment.

    Things may work the way you describe it to some extent in some translation fields (probably mostly for low added value translations), but not in high added value fields, such as literary translation, financial translation or patent and medical translations.

    The robotic approach is really not suitable for these and other fields. But I am sure that many translation agencies, which you call language service providers, will jump on the bandwagon of this corporate model in the hope of making mucho dinero very quickly.

    I think that his approach, which is based on maximizing efficiency of management without much regard for real knowledge on the part of the translator, will result in really poor quality of the translations obtained in this manner.


    • We’re not really talking about mechanizing the way translations get done at all. What this platform will enable is for a better management of the relationships between service providers, their clients and their peers.

      Not much of a difference whether the translation projects themselves have to do with literary work or freezer manuals.

      Would be interested in knowing what made it sound like this process could become robotic.



  4. “While many people are predicting now that patent translators will become extinct very soon because patents can be translated with machine translation, the people who make these prediction don’t really know anything about technical translation.”

    I do.

    “Very soon” is about 4 to 5 years away, not tomorrow.


  5. “Would be interested in knowing what made it sound like this process could become robotic.”

    Everything in your description sounds robotic: view an option – accept or reject, create a task, click and click again, interface for additional services….

    I don’t think your platform will work in the real world.

    “Not much of a difference whether the translation projects themselves have to do with literary work or freezer manuals.”

    That is just silly. I don’t think you know much about the translation process. You need specialized knowledge to create a successful business model for translation, not a new software package.

    But I wish you good luck anyway.


  6. […] on Non-Literary Texts and Style Fraser’s Phrases: Five Mild American Words The British Find Rude Is It Possible To Predict Future Trends in the Translation Business? Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce: Effective Language Management Shifting Trends in the New […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: