Good linguists are always in great demand. There are certainly many different approaches to vendor managers’ never-ending task of finding them. “We wanted to take a closer look at this process and surveyed LSPs worldwide to gain some insight into their hiring processes for linguists,” said Kaarel Talvoja, CEO of Textum Translations.
Overall, the job market is quite positive for interpreters and translators. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects their employment rate to experience growth of 24% between 2020 and 2030, which is a much faster than average growth rate compared to other occupations. While this means linguists might be able to find jobs easily, it doesn’t make it any easier for LSPs to hire them.
Problems Finding Linguists
According to our survey, the majority of LSPs feel that their hiring processes are efficient, yet the top four challenges related to hiring a linguist are simply a matter of finding a linguist:
- 68% find it challenging to find a linguist with a good price/quality ratio.
- 54% of respondents say it’s difficult to find linguists for specific subject areas.
- 51% said it was difficult or very difficult to find a linguist specializing in health and medicine.
- 46% have a hard time finding linguists who meet all their requirements.
As an LSP, you can probably relate to those findings in one way or another. However, according to our survey, there’s an even bigger elephant in the room when it comes to the challenges faced by LSPs.
The Ups and Downs of Machine Translation
The survey ended with a couple of questions on the challenges LSPs currently face and possible future issues. These answers were most surprising.
We asked whether LSPs used linguists for machine translation post-editing, and a full 80% responded positively. While this in itself may not be the most surprising finding, it was the next one that got us; when asked about the biggest challenge related to MTPE, nearly 70% responded that simply finding linguists who are ready and willing to do MTPE is the greatest challenge.
This got us thinking — 80% of the survey’s respondents use machine translation while 70% of respondents struggle to find linguists to edit machine-translated texts. It’s unsurprising, then, that 62% of respondents predict that machine learning and AI-related issues will be the biggest challenges that will face the translation industry in the future.
The second biggest challenge facing the industry according to respondents? Finding linguists who are ready and willing to work with machine translation.
According to a recent report by Mordor Intelligence, the Machine Translation market was valued at USD 153.8 million in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 230.67 million by 2026. Demand is increasing for several reasons:
- Growth in emerging economies means businesses are looking for new customers overseas.
- Businesses want to offer their goods and services in as many languages as possible.
- Companies desire high-speed, cost-effective translations.
Furthermore, the quality of machine translation has vastly improved over the years, making it a viable option for many types of translation. The catch, though, is that MT still can’t do everything a human translator can. Recent research from Memsource and Charles University in Prague states, “Contrary to current results, translating from scratch was not significantly slower than post-editing.”
Why Don’t Linguists like MTPE?
So, what is one of the reasons why it is so challenging to find linguists willing to work with MT texts? LSPs assume editing will be faster than translating from scratch and consequently offer lower rates. Yet translators know that the quality of MT output varies depending on the MT engine used, language combination, subject matter, etc, making it hard to predict how much time they will need to spend revising. Indeed, our survey seemed to confirm this as 42% of respondents said they had a difficult time estimating the linguist’s time and cost for MTPE, and another 33% said MTPE is not as efficient as it seems.
A review of several recent posts on the ProZ forums shows the issue with MTPE from the perspective of the linguists. Most translators seem to find post-editing of machine-translated text to be at least as time-consuming as translating from scratch and often more frustrating due to the quality of the text they’re required to deal with. This surely has to do with the engine the LSP has chosen to use while carrying out the machine translation. However, when using interactive MT, when the linguists can help control input during translation or when editing while machine translating, then there were indeed time savings.
Surprisingly, less than 40% of LSPs cited degrading source text quality to be a challenge facing the translation industry. With the increase in AI-generated texts, most linguists have probably had the experience of working with these types of source texts. While AI text generators are improving, they lag in terms of quality. Linguists would be quick to point out that poor-quality machine translation often goes hand-in-hand with low-quality source material.
If LSPs struggle to find linguists to do MTPE, then they will need to examine their expectations (and those of their clients) more closely. Some texts might be ideal for MT, depending on the subject matter, complexity, and purpose. Others will require more skilled translation. MT is a tool, not a shortcut to time- and cost-savings. Therefore, building a good relationship with your linguists, based on respect for their time and skills, will help you come out ahead of the pack when hiring.
Effects of Covid On the Translation Industry
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the translation industry. Besides the decline it caused for in-person interpretation, the pandemic brought about the need to communicate health and medical information quickly and accurately worldwide. The LSPs who responded to our survey said that the areas of Health and Medical were the most challenging for finding skilled linguists, which makes sense, considering the high demand for their services.
The cancellation of in-person appointments led to an increase in Telehealth services across the board. After the initial spike in Telehealth services during the pandemic, usage levels have stabilized at more than 38x higher than before the pandemic, according to a recent article by McKinsey. Telehealth visits account for approximately 13-17% of office and outpatient visits across specialties.
With an increasing percentage of Telehealth visits, there has also been an increased demand for video remote interpreting (VRI). There are benefits to VRI, compared to over-the-phone interpreting services, including the fact that interpreters can read facial expressions, leading to fewer mistakes due to misinterpretations. Plus, VRI is less expensive than in-person interpretation and can be carried out from the interpreters’ homes. As technology improves, VRI will likely be the preferred form of interpretation for all types of medical visits and specialties across the board.
Are You Ready?
From our survey, we can see where language service providers and the translation industry in general, are struggling; they use machine translation but have a hard time finding linguists to work alongside them and have trouble meeting the demand for linguists who specialize in health and medicine.
But as we can see, these challenges are not one-time bumps in the road, they are here to stay. LSPs must be ready to meet them head-on and adapt their businesses to overcome these obstacles.
What Can You Do To Prepare?
As over 2/3 of our respondents said, finding linguists with a good price/quality ratio was challenging, so this is a good place to start. It will be the job of LSPs to educate their clients on the pros and cons of machine translation and to use it strategically, rather than automatically as a way of promising cost and time savings and then struggle to find linguists to carry out the post-editing.
As we’ve said before, relationship-building goes a long way. If you do find quality linguists, work hard to keep them on your roster. Most translators and interpreters are freelancers. You won’t see them in the office every day, but if you keep them in the loop as to what’s happening at your company, what projects might be coming their way, or just reaching out to check in, you’ll find you’ll be able to count on them to work with you more regularly.