Coronavirus and the Translation Industry

The State of the Translation Industry Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe, economies are taking a nosedive with a global recession now unfolding. People are spending less, businesses are closing, and domestic and international traveling restricted. But what does that mean for translation companies, and to be more precise, the entire translation and language service industry?

Translation companies are catering to global industries. These industries are already experiencing unprecedented losses comparable to that of the Great Recession. Is demand for translation services drying up? What does this also mean for translators and other language professionals such as interpreters?

What is the 2019 novel coronavirus?

The 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a new variant of the coronavirus. This is a family of viruses in which the common cold and flu belong to. It’s been argued the virus came from a bat in a wet market located in the city of Wuhan, China. Studies initially said that bat consumption was the initial mode of transmission. Further studies argue that there must have been an intermediary host such as the pangolin since the Wuhan wet market is known to sell and serve wild animals.

Nevertheless, within the first month in Wuhan, the virus has spread exponentially at an alarming rate. This prompted the Chinese government to issue quarantine and lockdown measures across the country. Foreign countries issued travel advisories and banned flights to and from China. China has managed to contain the virus due to its mass testing and aggressive quarantine and lockdown measures. But local Chinese industries have taken a big hit. China is the world’s eminent manufacturing hub. As such, businesses around the world have taken a dive due to the massive interruption to the global supply chain.

Despite China’s commendable efforts in controlling the virus, it has already made it in other countries. As of writing, Worldometers is currently displaying over 340,000 cases worldwide, over 14,000 deaths, but also over 99,000 recoveries. Europe is now the epicenter of coronavirus cases with Italy bearing the brunt of coronavirus cases and unfortunately, fatalities. Scientists predict that the worst is yet to come in Europe and the rest of the world. This was made evident by China’s months-long experience in trying to flatten the curve of infections and fatalities.

How Has the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacted the Translation Industry?

Due to the suddenness of the coronavirus outbreak, there are no concrete statistics as to how much the translation industry has taken a hit. However, the translation industry’s resource centers such as Slator have recently published an industry analysis. It states that the majority of the translation industry and its language professionals are largely shielded from the crisis. This is due to the fact that most translators already perform their duties at home through cloud-based platforms. Also, language services are particularly essential during global crises.

With many companies and institutions across the globe just starting to implement telecommuting schemes, one could say that translators are already ahead of the curve. In fact, for specific translation services such as document translation, marketing translation, and medical translation, translation companies and language service providers are expected to see a surge in demand for these services. Also, with increased communication between Chinese researchers and entities and their foreign colleagues, it’s fair to say that there is an exponential demand in Chinese language pairs such as Chinese to English, Chinese to Japanese, Chinese to German, and so on.

Some language pairs such as English to Spanish might experience a nosedive depending on the translation niche. But with coronavirus cases already rising in the US, especially in multilingual cities and states, perhaps we might see an increase in demand for English to Spanish and Spanish to English language pairs in both translation and interpretation services. With countries that have large immigration populations such as the US, it is imperative that all members of the multilingual public are well-informed and be inundated with the latest information and advisories.

Document Translation Industry

For document translation services, the demand is coming from diverse entities from governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc.; essentially all entities who need to disseminate information, advisory bulletins, and internal communication collateral to multilingual audiences. This is especially true for multilingual cities and communities across the US and Europe. These places have large populations of immigrant and multilingual families.

Marketing Translation Industry

For marketing translation, the demand is mostly coming from e-commerce businesses and businesses that are planning to go online. Moving their operations online is likely to increase their chances of survivability as the crisis continues to hammer the global economy. However, the overall impact of the coronavirus towards the e-commerce industry as a whole is mixed. You’ll find out why later in the article. Let’s just say that not a lot of people now are looking to indulge in conspicuous spending such as getting their hands on the latest gadgets and apparel.

Medical Translation Industry and Medical Interpretation

The demand here is inherently coming from medical research institutions and healthcare institutions. The complex and highly infectious nature of the coronavirus means that researchers and health professionals across the globe are doubling their efforts to uncover the true behavior of the virus. They’re on the race against time. They need to expedite development and testing of a possible vaccine. However, it will take many months before clinical trials yield any results.

It will take many months more before it will be cleared for mass production and global distribution. But this unprecedented level of global collaboration between researchers could not be possible without medical translators. Medical translators ensure global researchers are up-to-date with the latest findings.

As for medical interpreters, their services are particularly noteworthy and in need during these trying times. They have to work alongside frontline medical professionals. Not only are they needed in hospitals but in critical areas, particularly borders, airports, and ports. Every individual must provide honest and complete information of their travel history and symptoms. Medical interpreters ensure that nothing is lost in translation in these critical areas.

On-Site Language Services

It’s too much to say that the entire translation and language service industry hasn’t taken any hits. Some services are inherently experiencing a severe drop in demand, particularly on-site language services such as interpreting services. Conferences and large events are being cancelled for the next few months across the globe. Many conference and event interpreters have to face the impending reality of no work for the time being.

However, not all is lost. Interpreters can still render their services online through remote interpreting. Remote medical interpreting is expected and has already seen a surge-in demand as the health crisis continues to unfold in countries across the globe.

How Has the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacted the Global Economy?

The majority of the players of the translation industry are operating as is. However, a huge chunk of the global economy is taking a massive hit mimicking the times of the Great Recession.

Manufacturing and Global Shipping

Since China is the world’s largest exporting country, the temporary closure and reduced outputs has significantly disrupted the global supply chain. Many businesses from small, medium, to global enterprises depend on Chinese manufacturers. China seen a drop in manufacturing along with South Korea and Japan. South Korea has the 2nd highest number of coronavirus cases before China. Along with China, South Korea and Japan export complex goods such as electronics and automobiles.

black sail ship on body of water
Translation Industry – Logistics; Photo by Albin Berlin on

However, this trend has now reached Western countries as production lines of non-essential goods are closing. The losses have been so great that some are not expected to recover once the pandemic dies down. In tandem with reduced demand and with ports and air freight now prioritizing the delivery of essential goods, the ripple effects are now wreaking havoc across the global economy.

Global E-commerce & The Translation Industry

Governments are mandating that malls and businesses that depend on foot traffic shut their doors for now. One could imagine that ecommerce businesses are having a field day right now. Indeed, there has been a surge in online purchases for essentials such as food, toiletries, cleaning products, medicines, and consumer medical devices (ex. Face masks, thermometers). In fact, much of online purchases right now have been focusing on essential goods as e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon expediting their deliveries.

working macbook computer keyboard
Ecommerce & Translation – Photo by Negative Space on

But small to medium e-commerce businesses that have less essential goods in their inventory are now struggling to stay afloat. This is partly due to drop in-consumer demand. The disruption in the global supply chain also means that many e-commerce businesses, as with global companies, can’t restock their inventory. To add fuel to the fire, logistic companies across the globe are scaling down. Some are even temporarily suspending their services as their workforce is highly susceptible to virus transmission.

Travel, Tourism, and Entertainment

Statisa’s latest report predicts that the global travel and tourism industry will decrease by 17%. This is an estimated $500-$700 billion loss in 2020. The tourism industry across the globe is taking a severe beating. Countries have banned non-essential travel to stem the spread of the virus. Countries ahve also limited even domestic travel. As of writing, millions of jobs across the world are at stake, and that’s just the tourism industry.

beautiful calm clouds dark
Translation & Tourism – Photo by Pixabay on

Airlines, cruise lines, bus companies, taxis, and the rest of the global transport industry is now grinding to a halt. As travel bans between and inside borders extend for who knows how long as of writing, the global transport industry will continue to take huge losses with some even expected to close their operations entirely.

How Has Everyone’s Daily Routine Changed So Far?

Quarantine and even lockdown measures have brought about unprecedented levels of changing in our daily routine. Many companies across the globe are now implementing telecommuting schemes. Some are allowing employees to bring home company equipment such as personal computers to continue their operations.

Schools have closed for at least a month in most countries. Many teachers are slowly but surely adjusting their syllabus to be compatible with online learning schemes. But it’s also a broad statement to say that work-at-home and online learning schemes are always effective. Many are struggling with isolation. Some students and parents are even complaining that online learning isn’t really productive.

Some experts are even arguing that such abrupt changes will last for many years. Companies now realize how much of their operations can and cannot be serviced remotely. This pandemic might bring about long-lasting changes to the global economy. It could change how people work, and to people’s lives even with the pandemic gone.

What Can Translators Do During the Crisis?

For many translators, it is business as usual. Quarantine and social distancing measures having no effect on their daily routine. As for their work life, many translators specializing in specific language pairs and translation niches. Particularly medical, document, and marketing niches will be expecting an increase in demand for their services. With accurate multilateral communication being more essential than ever, translators are now the bridge. They are connecting the entire globe together in these trying times.

Now is also the perfect time to hone your language skills and further immerse yourself in study in ways you never had the chance to do before. All in all, make the best of your situation as quarantine measures continue. Stay up-to-date with the latest industry news. You might even find a new calling by specializing in medical translation and medical interpretation.

Weathering the Storm: Final Takeaway

It’s no secret now how much the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the global economy and the very way our lives continue. Be that as it may, the translation industry is now in an unprecedented position to redefine their company objectives and seek out new opportunities.

As with many other businesses, now is the perfect time to look for new opportunities and expand their services to other translation niches. “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” so they say. In trying times such as this as a translator, it’s best to find avenues wherein one can expand their skill set. A chance to exploit new opportunities to better position themselves as the global economy and the demand for translation services recovers.

Guest Author: Laurence Ian Sumando is a freelance writer and passionate learner of languages. He has lived and schooled in three countries. Laurence hopes to be fluent enough in his handful of languages for it to become a valuable asset in his planned career in diplomacy.

P.S. If you want to learn more on how to become a successful freelance translator, be sure to check out my free and paid books and courses.
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