Diversification in the Language Industry


When Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1859, he forever changed the view that the natural world was an ordered system that had existed as-is for countless years and would remain immutable until the end of time. “Survival of the fittest” became a basic axiom, not only in biology, but also in other spheres of human endeavor.

The business world in particular has embraced this principle, and its imperatives currently rule the vast majority of commercial ventures, from multinational corporations down to the small shops on Main Street. This philosophy, combined with the rapid pace of technological advancements, planted the seeds of a revolution in the ways we buy and sell goods and services, and therefore, in the way we work. Language professionals are at the forefront of this “adapt or die” world, and while there are still some who cling to the notion that no change is required, most recognize the need for rethinking their current approach to doing business if they want to continue to thrive in this new environment.

Nicole Y. Adams’ book Diversification in the Language Industry (NYA Communications, 2013) aims to shed light on this situation, and most importantly, provide some possible solutions to those who want to stay ahead of the wave that is sweeping our industry. As she notes in the opening chapter: “It is prudent to have a risk management strategy in place, and diversification certainly lends itself to this purpose.” The book is structured in six sections covering 35 themes and case studies. To illustrate each theme, Adams has collected an impressive 50 presentations and interviews with individuals who found a way to branch away from the traditional model and forge their own unique paths. The breadth and scope of profiles is fascinating, and includes such luminaries as Pritam Bhattacharyya (founder-teacher of Wordsmith University), Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca on Twitter), Corinne McKay (author of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Thoughts on Translation), Alejandro Moreno-Ramos (creator of the Mox comic strip) and Lori Thicke (founder of Translators without Borders).

The first chapter of the book is dedicated to explaining how diversification should be viewed in the context of the language industry. It is essentially a risk-reduction strategy whereby you add services, products, customers or markets to your offer. The end goal is to differentiate your offering from all the other providers by identifying a niche and slowly developing the skills related to it. A recurring theme in the presentations in this book is that this development often occurs as an accidental by-product of a professional evolution, rather than as a concerted effort to achieve a certain position. The stories of the professionals also highlight the fact that specialization is a very viable path for differentiation, and therefore — paradoxically — diversification. As Nataly Kelly notes in her interview: “Diversification is a good sign … translators are the new blacksmiths, because that field diversified and led to many other professions — welders, mechanics, engineers and so on.”

The rest of the book proves that Kelly’s analogy is correct by presenting the profiles of a wide array of language professionals who have embraced this new paradigm, with each chapter being dedicated to a certain type of diversification. These chapters are broken down into themes, each one starting off with a lengthy and detailed profile of an individual who exemplifies that theme, written by that individual. When a theme is especially popular, the profile is followed by a shorter interview with another professional.

Five categories of diversification are detailed in this book. Linguistic diversification refers to expanding from translation to closely related services, and covers post-editing of machine translation, subtitling, transcreation, online language teaching, interpretation and so on. Extralinguistic diversification involves developing new areas of entrepreneurship for your existing business, such as project management, blogging and social networking.

Passive diversification is the process of turning your personal knowledge or expertise into a product clients can buy without consuming your time, such as continuing professional development or online training courses.

External diversification is achieved by offering services for other language service providers, thus filling a gap in their business or linguistic skillset: teaching and public speaking; multilingual desktop publishing and optical character recognition; and so on.

Distinctive diversification is a catchall category for any activity that isn’t covered by the other types of diversification, yet still remains connected to translation in some way. Adams provides four case studies in this section: Mox’s Blog, a comic strip; Translator Pay, which enables clients to pay language professionals in another country without any exchange fee; Translators without Borders, a nonprofit organization; and Rainy London Branding, identity branding for service providers.

The sheer variety of individuals Adams was able to contact in creating this book signifies that whatever path you are considering taking, you will find at least one example that tells you the background you need and shows you how it can be done. For this reason alone, her book is a great source of motivation for any professionals who want to take the bull by the horns and position themselves as valuable and respected experts in their field. Nora Torres nicely summarizes this sentiment on page 147 of the book: “There are many other diversification options out there; just open your mind and heart to them, and fear not the future.”