Language in the news

Let's take a look at markets - their size, potential, components and rankings - and speculate about the role of freelance interpreters. Along the way we visit some ideas on how language shapes the way we think, a new gadget, and paying attention to enhance quality of life.

The Language Market in Europe

The European Commission recently sponsored a study on the language industry in Europe.

(Disclosure: I've always had trouble with the term language industry, which inherently seems to be dominated by big companies whose power is predicted to increase. But assume for now that it reflects a reality: does that make me (a non-company) a language industry worker? I would be happy with the classification if it carried with it the right to unite with my peers to better protect our lot in life. But alas, in a world in which individuals and small companies find it difficult to compete, we are denied that right in the name of competition!)

A Europa press release says "The study... covers translation, interpreting, localising and globalising, subtitling and dubbing, language technology tools, multilingual conference organisation and language teaching. It puts EU-wide turnover at EUR 8.4 billion (2008). This is set to increase by at least 10% annually... This is one of the highest growth rates in EU industry."

You can go straight to the full study here. Some salient quotes:

"The EU institutions spend around €1bn on translation and interpreting every year, representing about 1% of the EU budget or €2.50 per citizen." (EurActiv)

  • The combined turnover of the 15 biggest translation companies in the world represents 10% of the world market and 50% of the market for translation companies (p. 24)
  • Market consolidation represents a threat to small businesses and individuals: the high production capacity reached by the big companies cannot be matched... increased monopolization of the market can be expected (p.24)

More on markets

"This article aims to address the state of the translation industry in Eastern Europe, so from here on in by high cost countries I mean those in Western Europe and the by low cost countries I mean those in Eastern Europe." See How Eastern Europe Fits into the European Translation Market on Omniglot.

"Globalization... will provide the GILT sectors (Globalization, Internationalization, Localisation and Translation) with an enormous boom. The European Union of Associations of Translations Companies (EUATC) assumes that the translation market will observe an annual growth of approximately five percent during the next few years." What does that mean? See The Translation Market in Ten Years' Time - a forecast at Tecom. 

One estimate put the Chinese translation market at 2.5 billion USD in 2005. Read about some of the bumps in the road: "It's a simple truth that translation should be done by professional translators... But we translators have to fight very hard to convince the public and the client of this truth." More about The Translation Industry in China on the Translators Association of China website.

Further to the south, the Business Standard of India reports that "(T)he $500-million language translation sector is poised for big growth as more and more multinational companies are setting up shops in the country."

And yet more... rankings

Photograph by Luigi LuccarelliCommon Sense Advisory, "an independent research firm committed to objective research and analysis of the business practices, services, and technology for translation and localisation," offers statistical information on the global market. Anyone can view report abstracts, but you'll have to register to read full reports, and some content is available only to subscribers.

Their 2008 ranking of translation companies shows that the top 25 players now control about 24% of the global market. The tables are organised by company name and country (US and UK-based firms still dominate).

Freelancers Voice Their Views on the Economy gives some space to practitioners. "When asked about their financial situations, more than half of the language service professionals surveyed described things as 'satisfactory' (53.1%)." (The other half can be seen in the photo.)

Global Watchtower seems to be allied with or a part of Common Sense Advisory, but I couldn't find any information on the exact relationship. They use a good Bob Dylan quote at the top of the page, but it's still mostly about big business rather than the common woman.

The scams keep coming

We had $50 lunches for American troops; now we have $390/hour video relay services (VRS) that didn't really exist. "VRS was first launched in Texas in the mid-90s as a way for the deaf to communicate via telephone," explains an ars technical report. From CBS: "26 people from seven companies in eight states were indicted... for stealing more than $50 million from a government fund that provides video interpreters...for the deaf and hearing impaired."

The world isn't flat but there is an Edge

"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves," is what Edge claims to do.

Check out How does language shape the way we think? by Lera Boroditsky. "Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity."

Loos language

I've always wondered what it would feel like to walk into a bathroom/toilet/lavatory and really feel that I was going to the loo. No, this is not about bathroom humor, but nostalgia for something I knew only from books and movies. Thanks to Roger Cohen for taking me back to where I've never been in his NY Times piece Loos and Language. Good ending, Roger.

And while in the country

Many have been lamenting the state of foreign language know-how in the UK. Even the House of Lords has debated the matter (scroll to column 807), with dire predictions that "(A)nglophone Britons will become one of the most monolingual peoples in the world." Read more on Timesonline: Modern Languages or - "What's French for entrepreneur?"

Japan/France vs China/USA?

I love it (really): take a quote from a movie and then examine the scene as if it were reality. Follow James Fallows in The Atlantic, first with Ivory Coast = France = Japan, in language habits at least, and then the follow-up in Language politics: Germany, Japan, Côte d'Ivoire.


Richard W. Sonnenfeldt, chief interpreter for American prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials, recently died at the age of 86. "Mr. Sonnenfeldt, at the time a US Army private who had helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp, was plucked out of an Army motor pool to be chief interpreter, recognized as a rare native German speaker who had a firm command of English," points out this Boston Globe obituary.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt published an autobiography - Witness to Nuremberg. "By the time he was 18, Sonnenfeldt had grown up in Germany, escaped to England, been deported to Australia as a 'German enemy alien', arrived in the U.S., and joined the U.S. army." (From an introduction to the book on goodreads.)

Prototype of retinal imaging device for translation

It's not ready yet but a version is expected in 2010 for use in transmitting operating instructions to factory workers. "NEC's gadget is designed to interpret foreign languages and project a translation onto the retina, making it possible to have a conversation without an interpreter." Read more (and see a photo) at PhysOrg.

Multitasking? Doesn't exist!

"In Rapt, acclaimed behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher makes the radical argument that the quality of your life largely depends on what you choose to pay attention to and how you choose to do it." From Penguin.

From a NY Times article: "Multitasking is a myth," Ms. Gallagher said. "You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it's either this or it's that."

Read an excerpt from wowOwow.

Recommended citation format:
Luigi LUCCARELLI. "Language in the news". December 14, 2009. Accessed October 22, 2019. <>.