Here’s the thing. I don’t know what the translation profession will look like in 100 years. Nobody does. People can guess. You can guess what it might look like. I can guess what it might look like.
And as fun or challenging as that might be, that won’t help you succeed as a freelance translator right now.
And that’s why we’re here, right?
We want to be successful. Not in 50 years. And definitely not in 100 years. Because by then we’ll be dead.
So, instead of talking about how the translation profession will have changed over the next 100 years, I’m going to speculate on something more near-term.
What Truths Should Translators Understand
to Succeed in the Next 10 Years?
That’s more like it.
In 10 years we’ll all still be around. Some of us will still be working in the language field, maybe the translation profession specifically. Some of us will be working in other areas, maybe still in something that deals with language, maybe not.
Either way, it’s good to know what’s on the immediate horizon.
If you can make an educated guess about what’s coming down the road, you can prepare for it.
You can set yourself up now to make sure that you’re learning those things that will give you an edge over the competition that is slower to adapt to the changes.
And by preparing yourself now for the future, you can better positioned to even shape the future of the industry.
All right, so on to the predictions.
Artificial Intelligence Will Improve
Machine translation will improve.
There’s no doubt about that. Anyone who thinks otherwise is setting themselves for a false reality. Machine translation is improving every day and with every new advance.
Now, it’s important as a translator to realize what exactly this means. First of all, don’t do what most translators do, which is dismiss all machine translation as junk, thinking that only a professionally qualified certified accredited degree-earning doctoral candidate native language speaker is the only person who should be translating anything.
Translators with that attitude are in trouble.
The reason being that they will always have a victim mentality and see any new advances to the translation industry as a personal affront to their way of life.
You know who else had that attitude? The people ridiculing Henry Ford for trying to bring the car into the mainstream in a horse/buggy heavy society.
Instead, the attitude we translators should have is one of figuring out how advances in machine translation can actually help us do our jobs faster and better, thus making us more money.
Translator input is necessary for near 100% correct translations. That is the way it will be for the foreseeable future. However, if we can have machines get us to 70%, think of how much work that will save us? How much time will we then be able to pursue other clients, other projects, other language work?
I for one think that’s a great position to be in.
“Social” Translation Will Continue to Get Better
What do I mean by social translation?
I mean crowd-sourced translation, where translation is done by the masses, especially on large projects with a community-wide interest.
Again, some translators ridicule this model of translation, believing that translation is a pie.
Once someone takes a part of it, that necessarily leaves less for themselves.
It’s not like that.
There will always be work. Translators just have to be creative in how they find it. What worked for translators in the 1990s is not going to work for translators in the 2020s and beyond.
We make fun of grocery stores that still don’t have self check-out lanes yet here we are lamenting the fact that the translation is moving on without our consent.
Social translations are great for what they provide. The most important thing is that they give the customer base itself buy-in to the project, which helps build up the project even more.
People want to feel like they are a part of something. You and I want to feel a part of something.
Even if we are freelance translators that work by ourselves, it’s still important that we feel like we belong. Humans are social creatures. We work alone but we thrive when we can feel connected.
So if crowd-sourced translations are going to get better and improve, what does that mean for us as freelance translators? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. But I’m sure there is something in there that I haven’t seen yet that maybe you do.
Just like with machine translation, the secret is to use that to your advantage, to help you become a more well-rounded language entrepreneur.
Translators Will Need “Other Skills”
And speaking of becoming more well-rounded, the absolute truth about where the translation profession will be in the next 10 years and beyond is this:
Translators will no longer be just translators.
That day is long gone and will never return.
Sorry/not sorry if that bursts your bubble but you needed to understand that sooner than later.
As a translator, a good part of your time every day or week should be focused on learning new skills. Your language skills are important, yes. I’ve talked multiple times about how we should be improving our target language, improving our second language, and even learning third and fourth languages.
That’s a no brainer for translators. We get that because that’s where our heart is.
But the thing that many translators forget (not you I hope) is that language skills will only get us so far.
We have to be just like any other profession out there. If an accountant is not learning about their craft every day, he’ll be obsolete in a year.
If a lawyer decides to not keep up with what’s going on in her industry, she’ll be irrelevant in a year or two.
Same with translators. We have to keep up with the changes in the translation profession.
We also have to learn new skills such as:
- Web design (starting with your own website)
- Social media analytics
- Video marketing
- Email correspondence
- Online teaching
Not all of these, mind you. Pick and choose. Figure out what you like, what will work in well with your existing skill set, and then move forward.
And there you have it. You want to know what the translation profession is going to look like in 10 years? 100 years? 1,000 years?
Good luck. Nobody knows.
But what I do know is that we have to progress as translation professionals. If we do, we will succeed.
P.S. Want to start your road to success now? Read my 40 Tips for Translators.