From Aesop to modern-day business gurus, the importance of associations and a unified voice has been stressed upon for centuries. In fact, Rabindranath Tagore went on to call it the “eternal wonder.” This particularly holds true in the context of the Language Industry that is witnessing unprecedented changes in terms of technology adoption and business strategies. Just ahead of the EUATC Annual Conference in Madrid this April, we got in touch with Geoffrey Bowden, Secretary of the EUATC, to talk about the language industry and the importance of associations.
Could you tell us a little about the importance of having an association in an industry and the disadvantages of not having one?
I have been working in and around associations for nearly 40 years now and I think it is incredibly important for industries like the language industry to come together because sadly, not everyone understands the importance of languages in the affairs of the world. Language and good communication are required to collaborate and resolve problems in all industries, which is why I have always described the language industry as the lubricant that keeps international trade and diplomacy moving.
So, for an industry of this size and importance, an association plays a very pivotal role. LSPs may encounter barriers on an individual level but it is very difficult to make any headway without a group. So when LSPs come together as an entire sector and begin talking with one voice, people making the laws and creating bureaucratic barriers tend to take them more seriously. Associations also work as mutual support societies where, when you come under the umbrella of a neutral organization, you put aside commercial rivalries and actually discuss areas of common concerns to develop solutions.
Other than this, associations also help create and train the next generation of linguists through collaborations with universities. They also gather statistics, engage in research, talk to governments, help to develop frameworks and standards. For example, the EUATC created its own language standard. This went onto be used as the basis for the European standard EN15038 which is now being used as the foundation for the creation for the new ISO standard for language services globally. If a company chooses not to be a part of such an umbrella organization, it is left to fend for itself and cannot benefit from all these advantages.
Could you tell us the current situation of LSPs in Europe? Are they apprehensive about the future owing to the rise of MT, M&A and the fact that translations as we knew them are changing?
Yes there is a lot going on that is changing both the language industry and how the linguist works. For the moment, some companies are choosing to go down the acquisition path to keep up with the changes which has forced smaller companies to think of newer strategies for survival.
No industry stays still. Companies are watching and being more cautious. With the advent of AI and NMT, the changes can seem rather daunting and threatening. But market research about pricing and commissioning undertaken by associations and organizations is helping companies stay ahead of the game in these times of dynamic change. It helps them identify the need to tool up and buy in skills. Lastly, more and more international collaborations between LSPs across borders are helping companies stay ahead of the curve. Collaboration, for me, is the name of the game.
Could you tell us a little about the theme for this year’s EUATC annual conference, “Going International? Is there any specific reason for choosing this theme this year?
Well, a lot of LSPs are actually option to go international. Companies realised that many European countries are high cost centres due to wages and office costs. Moving to lower costs centres such as the former Soviet-bloc countries would enable them to provide the same services more cheaply. So when the world is truly shrinking, people are becoming more creative about how to go international for remaining competitive and expanding their businesses through increased collaboration or off-shoring their services.
Secondly, LSPs are looking at growing markets such as India and thinking about how they can capitalize on the growth. When markets and trade links with other economies grow, so does the need for language services. Established LSPs in one country see opportunities for expanding internationally to give a certain depth of service, to create a network to provide a global service. So the world is truly shrinking and we thought it was important to capture this international flavour of the world in the EUATC’s conference this year.
Do you think the European market for language services is saturating?
There are indeed more and more players in the market that provide services at lower costs but I don’t know if I would call that saturation yet. Yes, when you get a group of LSPs under one roof, they often complain about pricing pressures. And the client always wants the translation yesterday! Companies need to find a way to stay relevant by defining themselves in terms of specialisation or quality. Otherwise they will struggle to survive. The increasing competition also means that companies need to pay more attention to details and invest more in smart marketing. Markets will always find a level and companies will either survive or struggle based on how they keep up with the new technology and trends.
Do you see India as a potential market for LSPs?
It is definitely one of the fastest growing economies in the world. And when the country wants to trade with the rest of the world, there is always a need for language services. And when the Indian economy grows so powerfully, a lot of other countries want to trade with the country. Even though 10 percent of people speak English in India – some 125 million, it is still vitally important to speak to the people in their own languages if you want to sell effectively. In such situations, it is often a better idea to hire linguists based in India to ensure translations are delivered using current terminology and idioms. I do believe though that the presence of a national level body or an association of the leading translation companies in India would change the Indian market radically by developing criteria and standards to prevent the saturation of people who will undercut and damage the industry.