In-demand business languages for translators in 2021

A man in a black polo neck shirt sits beside a woman in a white blazer

The translation industry is a fascinating bellwether for business trends and economic forces. 

Given the recent volatility in the UK, relating both to Brexit and the impacts of the pandemic and lockdowns, we examined the volume of translations to look for patterns and changes that might tell us more about the future of the UK’s international commercial interests. 

Is Brexit changing where we do business? Has the pandemic dampened international expansion? Let’s find out. 

Table of contents

How has Brexit affected demand for translation languages?

We spoke to Tide member Jaquelina Guardamagna, founder of Translator in London, and The Translation People to develop a picture of the industry after the Brexit announcement. Both spoke of noticeable shifts in demand, with some languages rapidly gaining prominence, and others fading in popularity. 

For Jaquelina Guardamagna, the initial Brexit vote created a flurry of activity as people assembled applications for dual citizenship. Otherwise, the market remained optimistic about the UK’s trading relationship with the EU, and business activity carried on as usual.

“Overall, the pandemic changed the way we work, and the advancements in the digital platforms has given more opportunities for companies to move from local to global by relying on translation and interpreting services which help them make connections with new international buyers, suppliers, and distributors”.

Jaquelina Guardamagna, Tide member and founder of Translator in London

However, since the Brexit deadline in January 2021, she has noticed that UK companies are looking further afield for new opportunities, with a surge in demand for English to Latin American Spanish translations. UK companies appear to be angling for trade in Caribbean and South American markets, which value British expertise in fields like digital innovation, infrastructure, and environmental policies.

Alan White, business development manager at The Translation People, has similarly noticed a reduction in demand in translation for EU languages, and an uptick in more distant markets, including Burma, Indonesia, Macedonia, and several African nations (with Zulu and Afrikaans translations increasing). “This data shows that British companies are feeling more empowered to consider territories they may never have done before, which will continue to put the UK at the centre of global business.”

Figures from The Translation People showed that the 10 fastest growing business languages between 2016 and 2019 were:

The top 10 growing languages

The top 10 growing languages

In comparison, translations to French (+17%), Italian (+1.9%) and German (+1.8%) experienced minimal growth, while other languages – such as European Spanish (-5%) – saw decreases in translations in the same period. 

Conversely, the fastest decreases in translation occurred in the following languages: 

The top 10 declining languages

The top 10 declining languages

How has the pandemic affected translation activity?

Speaking about the impacts of Covid-19 on translation volumes, Jaquelina Guardamagna reported three major forces at play. 

Firstly, a drop in translations for tourism clients and events was offset by a rise in demand for healthcare, IT, and pharmaceutical clients. A second shift involved the move to digital events, as they saw an increase in demand for remote interpreting services to support webinars and virtual conferences. A third factor has been travel restrictions and new forms that travellers may require. For example, recent visitors to Argentina were asked to submit a declaration giving reasons for their visits, translated into Spanish. 

How can you navigate cultural differences when doing business abroad?

While firms like The Translation People and Translator in London can ensure you have the appropriate language in your communications, there are deeper cultural issues to navigate when you offer your products and services in new markets.

Of course, the world is wild and this blog is brief, so we can’t tell you everything there is to know about the variations in attitudes, beliefs, and practices in all 195 countries in the world.

However, we can offer a few of the broad cultural differences that might impact your next business endeavour. As Alan White puts it, “When targeting a new territory, it’s essential to be properly equipped from a linguistic and cultural perspective. Whether a business plans to have a workforce overseas, or to sell to customers there, individuals will more readily buy from and work with brands which are fully localised.”

Context requirements

In some cultures, including North America and much of Europe, people are happy to follow instructions without needing to understand the backstory, while people in Asia or South America may need to understand the context behind a request. 

Politeness and frankness

Are you forcefully blunt, or do you couch your statements in plenty of niceties? Some cultures value politeness more than directness, while others prefer to plainly state what they think and feel. Dutch and German people are famously direct, for example, while people in Japan tend to skirt politely around subjects.

Personal space

What influences our concept of personal space? Researchers believe it is influenced by climate, gender, and age. Another factor is where you grow up. 

Researchers in the field of proxemics – the study of human use of space – divide the world into contact cultures (South America, the Middle East, and Southern Europe) and non-contact cultures (Northern Europe, North America, and Asia). 

Studies show that the amount of personal space people prefer depends greatly on the nature of the relationship – with close friends and family typically allowed closer than strangers, for example. A few exceptions to this exist, such as in Hungary and Saudi Arabia where even loved ones are expected to maintain a degree of distance. 

Handshakes

Before the pandemic, when everyone thought swapping germs was fine, you may have needed to adjust your handshake technique depending on your co-shaker. While Northern Europeans like it fast and firm, people in Southern Europe and South America prefer to take their time and imbue the experience with more warmth. In other cultures, including Turkey and the Far East, firm handshakes are considered aggressive or rude. 

But this may all be moot if the pandemic puts a long-term pause on the handshake as a common business practice.

Where will you do business tomorrow?

These insights from the translation industry paint a picture of a changing business landscape. As the UK distances itself from the EU politically, we remain as close culturally and geographically as ever before. This means that the EU remains a natural trading partner, while our divorce agreement increases opportunities for UK companies to explore further afield. 

With a little understanding, and the right resources to help you communicate to new audiences, the world is your market. 

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Photo by Thirdman, published on Pexels

Kerstin Reichert

Senior SEO Manager and SME marketing expert

Tide Team

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