Are translators still needed?
This is a worry for beginning translators.
Obviously, this is a valid worry because you don’t want to start a career or try and earn money with your second language if there isn’t going to be any demand for your skills.
Evolution is not Obsoletion
Remember that next time you ask: Are translators still needed?
And that is that just because something evolves does not necessarily mean that it is becoming obsolete.
Let’s look at some examples.
Being an author.
Remember when Amazon started selling ebooks? Tons of people thought that the era of the printed book was over.
That authors were going to disappear and that nobody would be able to make any more money by writing books.
The exact opposite happened.
Instead of authors losing out, Amazon opened up a way for more people to write books, become authors, and earn money from their writing.
Amazon took away the gatekeepers to the profession. It evolved but most certainly did not become obsolete and is now bigger than it has ever been in the history of the world.
It is similar with vehicles and driving.
I remember when I was a kid that there were people talking about how cars and driving would become obsolete because of technology.
That has definitely not been the case.
Sure, companies like Uber and Lyft, along with driverless technology, have changed the landscape of driving (and will continue to do so), but vehicles have not become obsolete.
In fact, I read a story recently about how the advent of Uber and Lyft in New York City has actually increased traffic; not lowered it.
The vehicle and transportation will continue to evolve, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s unlikely that it will become obsolete any time soon.
This has been repeated over and over in all sorts of industries.
Now sure, some professions have become obsolete but for the most part, evolution is the rule, not the exception.
So what does this have to do with translation?
Well, as I’ve mentioned previously, naysayers in the translation industry have decried the state of the industry as well as its future trajectory and what it means for translators.
I do not agree.
The translation industry is evolving, and will have to continue to evolve, in order to remain relevant. But again, evolution is not the same as obsoletion.
The Evolution of Translation
The translation industry has evolved over the years.
When I first started over 20 years ago, the internet was at its infancy and there was no social media (I know, crazy!).
Marketing for example, relied on word of mouth, the yellow pages, and cold phone calls and visits to potential clients.
There were less translation agencies back then and so it seemed that most of the translators I knew did the majority of their work for direct clients, not for agencies or middlemen.
Not only has marketing evolved, the actual methods used for translation have changed as well.
Believe it or not, translators used to translate with a typewriter or a super basic word processor on the computer.
Desktop publishing was limited to those people that had the powerful equipment needed to do it.
And if you needed to rely on help for knowing how to translate something or better word a piece of information you were drafting, you had to call friends on the phone.
There wasn’t any ability to look up stuff like that online or simply chat with someone online or over the phone about any pitfalls or troubling spots in your source document.
Later on, automatic translation research started to gain traction and translators thought they were all going to be out of a job in five years.
Oviously, that didn’t happen.
Instead, new translation technology made translators’ jobs easier not harder.
Of course, those that didn’t embrace it made their own lives harder.
But those who did realized that they could become even more successful and productive translators.
The Future of Translation
The translation inustry will continue to evolve.
It’s not a question of if, it’s merely a question of when and what.
Nobody will what changes will happen but as a translator, the best you can do is to prepare yourself for any types of changes that might come along.
And if you need to get prepared, focus on this:
- Add more specializations to your translation portfolio
- Learn a third or fourth language
- Don’t shy away from technology
- Set up a website
- Learn how to use social media to market your services
In addition, every translator should pick up additional skills that he or she can use along with their language skills.
Learn photography and video skills.
Pick up a course on copywriting.
Understand how to do desktop publishing.
Write books about the translation industry or your areas of expertise that can benefit other translators.
There are lots of opportunities out there for translators that can help you evolve instead of becoming obsolete.
But you need to start now. If you wait too long, there is a real danger that you might become obsolete, even as the industry evolves.
P.S. For more information on how to evolve as a successful translator, you need to read my book.