Europe's Language Industry in 2003
Europe must have one of the world's most heterogeneous language markets. It includes segments in which people speak one variety of today's dominant English tongue, a scatter of alert, culture-conscious speakers of languages with a few million speakers such as Danish, Dutch and Catalonian, a country such as France with a strong tendency to legislate language usage, and a mix of both Latin and non-Latin scripts.
It also has a substantial immigrant population speaking languages from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Arab world, a multilingualism policy at the EU of making all legally binding information available in the languages of the Union's citizens, and a smaller group of equally heterogeneous countries and languages - from Latvian to Bulgarian - on its eastern marches who a decade ago had Russian as a grudging lingua franca and who will soon be setting their clocks by Brussels time in an enlarged Europe.
Although most of these countries/markets boast a complete set of business and trade support associations, from Chambers of Commerce to Translator Associations, there is as yet no viable umbrella organization or dedicated market research agency for the language industry capable of collecting and synthesizing useful figures on the state of play within the GILT space. And we can safely bet that no such body will emerge in 2003. Which means that we have no real multi-year idea of the size of individual locale markets, or of inter-locale and outward localization volumes in this region. But for what it's worth, there is every reason to think that, as usual, the global market for translation in Europe will grow by 10%...
In a downturn, there is naturally pressure on prices among big localization buyers, as there is in any business service market. The general perception seems to be that as a rule, US buyers are far more nervous about the future than European purchasers of translation services, despite the ominous signs of economic decline in Western Europe.
In 2003, we shall see further evidence of nails being hammered into the coffin of the once-dominant IT model of localization. Smart suppliers have already diversified into other sectors - the medical sector is still growing - and are building new customer relationships to explore the best approach to servicing these vertical industries. In general, the year will show that large-scale users of GILT services have by now identified the kinds of workflow problems and pricing options available in the industry. And they probably realize that if they want quality, then localization has a cost. By year's end, we should have moved on from the recent obsession with rock-bottom prices, and replaced it with a better model of real ROI.
At the same time, Europe is a powerhouse of nimble, close-to-the-customer micro-suppliers of GILT services who will continue to respond to the constantly growing business need for fast turnaround work over a variety of projects ranging from software, through marcoms to the publications department, and which can include rewriting, repurposing, video and film subtitling and other related services. If there is a further slowdown on the big project market, we can expect to see the industry's larger suppliers attempt to move into certain segments of this traditionally fragmented, yet lucrative non-IT market.
The user base for translation tools has grown steadily in recent years, in keeping with a gradually expanding range of product suppliers and features. More and more independent and small-agency players are now equipped with translation memory and terminology management in order to respond to the call from large suppliers for fast delivery in any format. The trend will continue in 2003, and should accelerate by the fall of 2003 as updated versions are shipped, and fuller comparative product information circulates to new targets.
At the same time, many agencies, large and small, have invented their own project management and workflow systems due to a lack of appropriate off-the-shelf solutions. This may change in 2003 as one or two tried and tested robust solutions offering full support make their way through the market in versions tailored for different size segments. Process review and upgrade may top the agenda for mid-market and larger suppliers during the year. And by year's end, we may even see blueprints for complete translation enterprise resource software emerge. However, if there is to be net growth in this field, smaller suppliers will have to appoint a dedicated software engineer to the core team, capable of handling all forms of GILT productivity technology.
The best of current translation and localization training courses naturally include a strong tools module, but we may see a critical point at which practicing translators are unable to plug themselves effectively into the distributed business infrastructure without engineering skills that go beyond aligning bitexts or the like. Which in turn might offer an opportunity for developing further training courses in mid-market scale project management, drawing on best practice from around the region.
Machine translation should benefit from the economic downturn by providing carefully customized solutions to very large buyers who are trying to consolidate and automate the complexities of multilingual customer relations management. But the fear is that projects in this field may remain just... projects, due to cold feet at senior management level.
Everyone knows that because they require consensus and testing, standards resemble tortoises rather than hares. Certainly there is far more information circulating about who is working on which standards in a variety of domains, from linguistic resource exchange to e-business enablement. But 2003 will probably bring no more surprises in this respect than any previous year, even though the good work will go on with greater intensity.
The fact is that XML is still more buzz than business, and the language industry will continue to be faced with a profusion of mainstream document formats from buyers of GILT services. The smart supplier will know how to handle all these, or hire the skills to do so.
Europe is possibly unique among global regions in using public money to fund research and development into new or more effective methods to boost content localization. As part of the more general eContent program launched in 2001, that covers new ways of leveraging public information sources and examines such issues as copyright and venture capital funding, the action line devoted to eContent 'customization' as the wording has it includes a couple of GILT-friendly projects that should produce some interesting results in 2003.
The most localization industry-relevant eContent project is EEEL, for Excellence in European eContent Localisation, lead managed by IBM Business Services in Belgium, which is using highly detailed case studies of localization buyers to build a training model for best practice in content localization. The ultimate aim is to provide better knowledge for those taking decisions at C-level. Initial findings should be available by the autumn.
One major conference worth keeping an eye on in 2003 is the Controlled Language get together to be hosted by the European Association for Machine Translation and the Controlled Language Applications Workshop in Dublin in May. Although still largely R&D-driven, this field highlights issues that go far beyond technicalities.
In particular, efforts towards plain language drafting in the law, clearer web-writing, shorn of the marketing-ese that can raises barriers to cross-locale understanding, and more stylistically normalized and easier-to-access technical documentation could all benefit from authoring resources that can now be shared online in various interesting ways.
The bulk translation advantages of controlled language text have long been known. But getting the message across about clear writing in all languages in the many vertical industries that could benefit from it is a long, slow process. A pity, then, that so far none of that eContent funding is going into an innovative test bed for controlled language authoring in an appropriate domain. There are still eleven months left, though...
Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
15 January 2003, Volume XII, Issue 1.1.
Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider: www.localization.org, LISA: www.lisa.org)
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004
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