“If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. But if I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”
-Willy Brandt, former German Chancellor
It’s true that English is the world’s lingua franca. It’s also true that English is the fastest-expanding language of all time, thanks in large part to entertainment and online exports in English. English has become so dominant in the business world that major global corporations have switched to English as their primary or even exclusive operating language. So why are translation and interpreting needs still trending up?
The answer is simple: there’s still incredible value in being able to cross language barriers. While prevailing wisdom suggests companies should adopt a single internal language, and English has been the increasingly favored choice, there is still a wealth of opportunity- or for service industries, a desperate need- in bridging language gaps. What’s more, those opportunities appear to still be on the rise, which means companies need a reliable, consistent language solution in order to be competitive.
Why Do You Need A Dedicated Language Solution?
The most obvious reason to seek out a language solution is that companies are increasingly entering the multinational space. The entertainment industry has been there for a while now, with sports leagues like the NFL and NBA testing international exposure and the film industry green-lighting sequels to movies that bombed in the states, provided strong overseas sales. Now, however, barriers are increasingly falling away across the board, so that even industries like insurance are devising plans to go more global.
And why not? A multinational outlook provides potential new consumers and new talent that are well worth taking advantage of. This is especially true for businesses that can perform the bulk of their work or sales online, as other languages are catching up to English in internet-user saturation and internet-user share. As of 2017, English-speaking internet users made up for only 25% of internet use. See the graphic below for a full breakdown, according to Internet World Stats:
Companies that market online will need translation services, as well. Video is a positively booming trend in online marketing, with over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. According to a Cisco report, video is expected to make up 80% of all internet traffic this year. Facebook alone accounts for 5 billion video views each day, and yet, stunningly, 85% of those videos are watched on mute. This makes translated and/or subtitled video content a major opportunity for marketers with access to specialized language skills.
What If My Company Isn’t Global?
Language diversification is happening at a torrid pace within the States, as well, with Spanish and Chinese experiencing particularly strong growth. From 2010 to 2015, 50% of U.S. population growth has come from Hispanics. Spanish speakers make up 38 million of the U.S. population and rising, while Chinese speakers number approximately 3 million. An estimated 20% of Americans speak another language at home, and a full 8%- over 26 million Americans- are limited-English proficient.
Equally relevant is the increased buying power held by these non-English-speaking groups. According to a study from the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Hispanic buying power is up to $1.4 trillion annually, an increase of 181% since 2000. Mexican-Americans, specifically, made up nearly $800 billion of that power. Asian-Americans are experiencing similar growth, up 222% from 2000 to a total of $891 billion. (For reference, the entire American market at the time of their study totaled $13.9 trillion.)
All signs point to those shares increasing. At the time of the study, 35% of the Hispanic population was under the age of 18, while non-Hispanic whites have seen their contributions to population growth steadily decline. Household shares for Hispanics have improved, as well, with 48% of Hispanic households exceeding $50,000 a year versus just 33% in 2000.
A Language Solution For Your Company
Although more and more companies are acknowledging their own need for a language plan- both internally and externally focused- many are finding the effort to create a solution within the confines of their own company daunting and prohibitive. Two years after Japanese tech giant Rakuten’s famous switch to English- in which even the cafeteria menus were changed to English overnight- its employees had made scant progress, despite the looming threat of demotion. The company had expected that its employees would make the effort to learn the new language on their own, while the employees were expecting company support.
Company support did finally arrive for Rakuten employees, in the form of e-learning, classes, and tutoring, but those all represent a significant cost to the company. That brand of full-scale undertaking may not be what most companies are willing to stomach, and that was just done to facilitate just intra-company communication.
The overwhelming solution, according to a Language Flagship report for the US Department of Defense, has been for companies to outsource their interpretation and translation needs to third-party companies. (Full disclosure: ACS is one such company.) It appears that trusting the expertise of a dedicated interpreting company, and paying fees for the privilege, is significantly more palatable- or perhaps simply more possible- than committing a substantial up-front investment of time and money to establish an in-house option and bring it up to a competitive industry standard.
Is Your Solution Sufficiently Skilled?
This need for third-party language providers is especially true for smaller, regional-level companies with less available capital. Such companies are finding they can no longer get by without some form of language services. This is part of why the US Bureau of Labor expects interpreter and translator jobs to continue growing at an above-average rate.
Unfortunately, not all translators are created equal. Particularly special skill sets or training are needed in addition to language skills. This is particularly true in service industries like healthcare, insurance or legal assistance, where a failure to understand nuances in the field can open the door for misunderstandings, poor customer service experiences, and in worst-case scenarios, fraud or injury.
For instance, a 2012 Boston-based study examined 57 limited-English proficiency interactions and found 1884 errors, 18% of which they deemed would carry clinical consequences. That’s 339 errors with potentially harmful repercussions, or six per patient.
When the study broke down the interactions based on experience, the numbers were stark. Interpreters with over 100 hours of experience only had 2% of their errors bear any clinical significance. That number jumped to 12% for interpreters that had some experience, while ad hoc interpreters had 22%. Reliance on ad hoc interpretation is a practice that hospitals have endured criticism for, and it appears rightly so- when doctors worked without any interpreter at all, their rate of clinically relevant errors was only 20%.
In medicine, such errors can be fatal. A Florida teen died when doctors incorrectly interpreted intoxicado as “drunk” rather than “poisoned,” and administered incorrect treatment. Studies have shown that when a language barrier is present, patients receive less preventative care, don’t take the medications that they are prescribed, and are more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice.
Insurance and Legal Interpreting
It’s not often that legal or insurance translation have those same life-or-death stakes, but that doesn’t mean you should choose unskilled interpreters if you work in one of those sectors. For one thing, both fields handle sensitive materials- documents with identity information, confidential recordings, contracts and more- that should be handled by interpreters whom clients can trust to keep that information secure.
There are other material and opportunity costs beyond security that go along with hiring interpreters who are unaccustomed to working in your field. For instance, ACS has a team of interpreters with insurance training that our clients find much more preferable to work with than their previous companies because they are comfortable with the terminology, pace, and content of a claims recorded statement. Because of this, adjusters find they do not need to explain language or go back-and-forth with the interpreter to make sure their questions return the expected information.
Interpreters who are trained for insurance are also better at keeping the conversation on-topic with the limited-English speaker, are more comfortable with interview protocol, and in the case of our interpreters, work from a landline in a quiet setting for clarity and consistency on the audio. Also, since our interpreters are employees and not subcontractors being paid by the minute, they are incentivized to get you off the phone as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Companies are increasingly realizing that they need a dedicated language solution that goes beyond just having a few bilingual employees. Interpreters and translators who are already familiar with your line of work in addition to their language skills are an invaluable asset for any company, and one whose importance is continuing to grow. They remain incredibly expensive to create from scratch, however, so finding a third-party company that you can trust will remain the bedrock of most companies’ dedicated language solution for the foreseeable future.