I think I knew when I went to write this post that it would have to be the last one. Every year in December or January I write a piece for the New Year that either looks backwards or forwards or both, but this time I felt no enthusiasm for it. Last year wasn’t a good year for me, workwise. I’m hoping this year will be better, but I can’t say I’m confident. And, more importantly, I’m finding it harder to come up with new and relevant things to say about translation and the business of being a freelance translator. For that reason, I’ve been thinking for a while that the time might have come to bring this blog to an end.
I’m not retiring or giving up: I’m continuing with my business and with the never-ending search for new clients and new opportunities. Nor am I giving up blogging, and I’m hoping to have some good news about that in the very near future. I may also still have observations to make on translation. If I do, they will probably appear on my LinkedIn page or in the Standing Up group on Facebook, of which I remain an admin. I’m also thinking about whether there’s anything I can usefully do with almost ten years’ worth of blog posts.
To sign off, I’d like to make a few predictions based on my years in the translation business, my experience of the current crisis (I don’t think that’s too strong a word), and recent conversations with various colleagues. This is what I think is going to happen over the next few years although not necessarily at the same time for all language pairs. Those of us working from big languages into English will feel it first (and in many cases we’re already feeling it).
- There will be fewer freelance translators. Everyone knows there is less work about than there used to be. My work is certainly down on previous years, even if it hasn’t reached the “falling off a cliff” situation some colleagues are reporting. Every day now, I read about someone else leaving the profession, and some of those people are going to be a very great loss to translation. But there’s no doubt in my mind that in future this business is simply not going to sustain as many people as it used to.
- More translators will be part-time in future, combining translation with other jobs, such as freelance writing work or part-time employment. This is already beginning to happen as translation incomes fall.
- The majority of the remaining work will be at the top end of the market or in areas where added value is required. Translation experts have been saying for many years that the premium market was the safest sector. Certainly, my advice to younger translators is the same as people like Chris Durban have been giving for a long time: go where the risk is. That means choosing areas where the quality of the translation is crucial to the client, because that’s where AI is least likely to be trusted.
- Freelance life will get tougher as feast and famine periods become more acute. This is also already happening. One of my early blog posts talked about the importance of taking holidays without your computer. That was in the days when I was busy working cheaper and I could happily turn down jobs and shut up shop for a fortnight because I knew there would be plenty about when I came back. But as work becomes scarcer, albeit better paid, and as retaining clients becomes ever more important, it’s impossible to contemplate a complete break just in case that big, important job comes along while you’re away. I now always take my computer with me.
- The golden days of the big translation conferences are over. However much we enjoy them, I expect to see them shrinking and perhaps disappearing over the next five years or so. Most ordinary translators simply won’t have the time or money to spare to spend on tickets, travel and accommodation and CPD will increasingly be online, which has already proved its workability during COVID.
- There will be a client backlash against AI. It’s actually very poor at translation and writing, its output is dull and it makes things up. As some colleagues have noted, it takes more effort for a human to work with its output than for them to start from scratch. And it is also being grossly overhyped. Last week I saw an agency advertise a job for an editor of AI output working in any language. Apparently new “AI tools” would make this possible. This is clearly tosh. No-one can ever edit in a language they don’t know well, whatever supposed “tool” they have available. Any client deluded enough to use such services will clearly end up with their fingers not just burned but thorougly charred.
- There will therefore be a rebound of work at some point. Those of us who remain in translation can expect to see these remorseful clients returning to us to fix the mess they’ve made with the machines and to continue working with them in future, at least on their more critical texts. The two big unanswered questions, on which everything really depends, are when will that be? And how many translators will be left to help when that time comes? If it’s not too little, too late, this rebound and the reduction in our numbers may provide some of us with a reasonable living in future.
With no apologies for honesty, as always, it remains only for me to say that I’ve enjoyed writing this blog for the past decade and to thank you, my readers for your attention and your comments. Good luck in whatever you decide to do in the future, whether that’s translation or something completely unrelated. It’s been a pleasure.