Translation and Language Industry Observations

Translation is a big business. According to the localization industry research firm CSA, the global market for outsourced translation services in 2017 was US$43.08 Billion.  That’s a lot of money! Nearly every business in the world needs translation services. Whether you are a restaurant owner who needs to translate your menus, an airline that needs to translate it’s in-flight safety videos or a chemical company transporting chemicals to another country-you need professional translation services for your business. Many private individuals will also require translation services at some point. This includes professionals who wish to relocate to another country, hospital patients who were treated abroad and people involved in divorce proceedings.

Once you have realized that you need professional translation services, you can start looking for a suitable translation agency. But there are thousands to choose from. A daunting task no doubt. How should you start? This post will try to help you sift through the noise and find the right translation agency for your needs.

High-End Translation Companies

The biggest companies in the world, like the Fortune 100 companies, will need a high-end translation company. These companies include Transperfect, Lionbridge, Welocalize and SDL. These and other large LSPs (Language Service Providers) have the resources to carry out large scale deployments of product releases, global Internet sites, software releases and social network campaigns.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Facebook maintain a presence in every country in the world. So when they release a new product or update an existing one, they will need to localize and translate the materials in as many as 100 languages at the same time. This requires the deployment of a massive team of hundreds of translators, editors, project managers and software engineers.

Such efforts also require very advanced technological capabilities: such as integration with internally developed Content Management Systems (CMS), use of online translation aids and content sharing by many people at the same time. Only translation companies with significant resources can work at that level. The annual localization and translation services budgets for these companies will run in the millions of dollars.

Industry-Specific Translation Companies

Some types of translation requires advanced specialization and in-depth capabilities in not only the translation work itself, but in other aspects of the work in general.  This includes translation companies that specialize in patent application filing, in medical device translation, aerospace industry and automotive industry translations. So if you work for an auto company (like GM), there are companies that specialize in translation of the car owner manuals, assembly instructions, parts maintenance and such.

In today’s translation industry there is a consolidation of companies, and  many of the industry-focused companies have been acquired by the big LSPs. For example, Transperfect acquired a company named Crimson Life Sciences in 2005, integrated its activity into its own operations and re-branded it to Transperfect Medical Device Solutions.

If you are working for one of the leading companies in one of these areas (e.g. Boeing, Medtronic, Pfizer, Ford Motor company), chances are that you will be in touch with one or more of the large LSPs mentioned previously. Here too the budgets will run in the hundreds of thousands or even millions annually. If your budget is less than that, your best bet is to find a small of medium sized LSP with relevant industry-experience. That should narrow down the field considerably.

Language-Specific Translation Companies

Single language vendors (SLVs) are companies that focus on one language, or the languages of a specific geographic region. For example, Sandberg Translation Partners specializes in the Nordic languages like Swedish and Danish. Or Middle East Localization, a translation company that specializes in Middle-Eastern languages like Arabic and Farsi.

These companies tend to market their services in the relevant countries in which these languages are used most; or to other LSPs that lack the resources in that specific set of languages. If you are running a multiple language translation project, chances are that one or more SLVs are being used without you even knowing it.

Local Translation Companies

These companies are throwbacks to the translation agencies that were dominant 40 years ago. Before the age of the Internet, translation companies would advertise in the Yellow Pages and the local newspapers to local businesses. They would provide a full range of translation services from restaurant menus, to immigration papers, legal court documents and other business documents. In large cities like New York and Chicago, the local translation companies sold their services to the large companies located in that city. Because email and the Internet did not exist, much of the work was physically delivered in hard copy. Obviously being local gave you a big advantage.

Even today with email and everything, being close to your customers can be of significant importance. Some customers, like private individuals, want to visit the shop in person. Some papers still need to be notarized and delivered in hard copy; and even though Fedex can get to any location in the USA within 24 hours, being local gives some customers that warm, fuzzy feeling that they need to do business. One of the biggest translation-related terms in Google search is “Translation Services near me.”

Interpretation Companies

Some language providers specialize in on-site interpretation, simultaneous interpretation and phone interpretation services. LanguageLine Solutions provides interpretation services over-the-phone (OPI) when needed by hospitals, courts or in video conferences. CyraCom International, Inc. is an company that provides over the phone and video interpretation services. Some companies provide simultaneous interpretation to venues like the UN where a speakers words are translated in real time and delivered on headphones. These interpretation companies will have a large staff of interpreters as well as the equipment needed for this kind of work.

Website Translation Companies

Publishing a website in multiple languages requires both language expertise and technological capabilities. Many companies offer website translation services. But there are companies that specialize in translation of websites and that have made this their predominant line of business. Examples include MotionPoint and Smartling. (owned by Transperfect) is one of the leaders, if not the biggest, in this area. Here too, the Fortune 100 companies are going to be using one of the large LSPs or one of the large website translation companies.

If your budget for website translation services is not in the hundreds of thousands at least, you will need to find a small or medium size translation company. Try to find a company with relevant experience, a company that has IT people that can oversee the integration of the translated content in the CMS that your company is using.

Online Translation Companies

These companies are the best option for when you need quick delivery of documents like a contract, a technical manual, a consent form, web content or a marketing brochure.  These companies provide an instant online price quote, online payment and fast online delivery. The prices will be considerably lower than those offered by the medium to large LSPs. And there is no minimum budget required to work with these companies.  Some of the online translation companies include OneHourTranslation, Gengo,, Straker and GTS Translation.

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1 Comment

  1. I could not agree more when you said that you would need technological capabilities and language expertise when you want to publish a website in multiple languages. This sounds like a helpful tip for website owners that also cater to clients outside the country. I could imagine how they could consider hiring a translation company that has good reviews and has the right capabilities to ensure that the project is going to be completed accurately.

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