Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Translator shortages ‘no bueno’ for international brand expansions

By Augustin Prot, co-founder and CEO of Weglot

If you have tried to recruit staff recently, you will be well aware of the UK’s growing skills shortage. Finding a nurse, a builder, or a dentist can be a thankless task, while even in marketing digital skills are becoming harder to find.

To that list of elusive talents, we also need to add translators. The world of professional translation requires long years of study to achieve the fluency necessary to perform as clients expect, and an endless stream of content created by marketing professionals looking to expand brands into new markets is creating unsustainable demand for localisation services.

Mark Howarth, president of Iyuno-SDI, the largest media localisation provider in the market, predicts “an insane amount of demand” for localisation in the next 24 months. Localisation providers have gone from working in 60-plus languages a few years ago to 100-plus, with non-English content growing rapidly.

Reaching global audiences is a top priority for marketers, but many are struggling to connect. 65% of brands currently market internationally according to HubSpot’s 2022 State of Marketing Trends report, yet cultural differences (44%) and localization (43%) were two of the top three challenges when trying to adapt content for different audiences.

High demand, low supply

To further confuse the situation, the rise in popularity of international content on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ has led to an unprecedented global peak in demand for translators.

Last year Netflix reported that foreign language shows had seen a 50% growth in popularity since 2019. The so-called ‘Squid Game effect’ – named after the Korean drama that pulled in millions of viewers – comes from the need for subtitles or dubbed dialogue on a host of hit shows.

Viewers around the world are glued to languages which they do not speak, with Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, and NOW TV all in the same market for translators. If any one job description is most affected by international trends, translation would surely be in the running for the title.

All of these factors add to the shortage of human translators. For companies that are actively seeking to launch new product lines in territories overnight, plans are being put on hold indefinitely until demand slows and language barriers are overcome.

Taking the machine out of marketers

However, in the ever-evolving world of business technology, there is always change. It is now offering – in the area of translation at least – services that can bring down costs, increase speed and neatly sidestep the shortage of human translators.

Marketing departments are now able to kill several birds with one stone. Though many may not be aware of it, machine translation has evolved to the point where it can provide translation at massive scale, high speed and low cost, addressing some of the biggest challenges of translation – and international expansion – in one hit.

FELT Bicycles is one such company, using the technology to expand their marketing presence into four different languages. As a result, the businesses saved on time, resources, and costs while also seeing spikes in local conversion rates.

With the ability to translate entire websites, and to replicate updates to the original site on translated versions, machine translation brings a welcome alternative to the scene of growing costs and scarce skills that afflicts the market for traditional human translators.

For a fixed monthly cost, brands can add machine translation services to their website, allowing them to translate entire domains or to replicate changes to their sites in multiple languages in real time.

In sectors where speed to market is paramount, machine translations can give brands the pace that human translation is not always able to keep up with. And even in sectors where more nuanced messages are required, machine translation can pay dividends, by rapidly creating a first draft translation that can be fine-tuned by human translators if required.

Whether machine translation replaces, or streamlines existing processes, it never fails to add speed and scale to the translation process. With the once-in-a-generation economic pressures that businesses are currently facing, it might be the reduced costs that most impress new clients.