The Future of Translation

“Oh, you’re a translator… Can’t computers do that now?”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard this more than once in recent years. Long discussions about whether computers will replace human translators, crowdsourcing, and whether we should specialise or diversify our skill sets all suggest that the future of translation is looking a little… well… ambiguous.

But really, as translators, ambiguity is what we thrive on! It is the ambiguity of language that means that computers won’t, at least for the foreseeable future, completely replace human translators, any more than they could replace many other professions. Nevertheless, I do think that computer literacy and use of translation software are becoming essential for new translators, as most agencies ask for knowledge of at least one TM system. Engaging with new technology is one way to stay at the front of the pack for the future.

The ambiguity of the translation profession itself also allows us to develop our own interests, whether this is specialising in one particular field, or diversifying to include other skills such as DTP or SEO, something which I think will certainly become more common in years to come. Do you have any interests you could capitalise on? I’m currently following a Coursera class about pharmacy in order to strengthen my knowledge in that field, and will be having a think about other skills I could learn in order to offer more services in the future, like transcription.

The future? Probably not...

The future? Probably not…

Crowdsourcing of translations is a somewhat touchy subject for professional translators, and one I’ll hopefully write more about soon. While in some well-publicised cases, crowd sourcing is being used rather than professional translation services, it is certainly not viable for most businesses, and if what you are providing is a service, rather than a commodity, I don’t think crowd sourcing is really an issue.

I really think it’s an interesting time to be coming into translation, and I’m sure that adaptability is going to be a very important characteristic of future translators.

I’m really interested in hearing other people’s opinions on this – where do you think translation will be in 10, or even 20 years? Will we have been replaced, or will we have adapted our services to keep up with technology and the demands of modern business?


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