UK Language Services Industry Overview & Outlook
The United Kingdom (UK) is the world’s second largest language services market, according to a 2019 report from the Association of Translation Companies (ATC). Globally, the entire language services industry was estimated at a value of £35 billion in 2018. Companies in this sector include language translation and interpreting services for all industries, information distribution methods and content types. The complex and rapidly evolving business area has become increasingly competitive as the demand for translation and interpretation continues to expand and more providers enter the marketplace.
In the UK alone, there were estimated 1,600 language service providers in 2018 with a combined annual revenue of £1.35 bn. Year to year, the biggest of these companies have been growing at astounding double digit rates of 20-40%. The UK national language services market growth average last year was 13%. ATC’s survey was comprehensive in that they surveyed several large language service companies, multiple mid-market level translation agencies and many small and specialist foreign language companies.
Global Trends Impacting Language Businesses
The industry’s growth explosion can be attributed to several factors, but the most impactful include:
- Increased availability and use of technology: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine translation have made translation and interpreting services more efficient, but human skills are still needed to ensure accuracy, tone and cultural appropriateness.
- Greater need for localisation: To communicate effectively across growing international audiences, content needs to be translated and localised to specific target groups. Dialects, cultural differences, idiomatic expressions and local policies vary significantly between countries and regions that speak the same language.
- More global mergers & acquisitions: The new buy-to-build or purchase to grow business models has required communications and contracts across national borders and languages more than ever before.
- Upsurge in the digitalisation of content: Gone are the days of a single paper company brochure in one language. Websites, including social media profiles, email campaigns, e-learning, video and live streaming and even video gaming, necessitate content to be created and updated continuously in multiple languages and media formats.
- Growing demand for interpreting: Increased international collaborations, information sharing and government contracts have meant more conferences and meetings among individuals speaking multiple languages. Without professional language interpreters, these communications would be stalled or significantly impaired.
Language Industry Outlook & Challenges
The ATC survey states, “While we continue to be optimistic for 2019, we do believe growth will be more conservative at 9%. This conservative view stems from political and market instability as represented by Brexit, increased nationalism, and ongoing global competition in trade.”
In addition, the challenges below may require agencies and freelancers to be more creative and specialised in how they provide services to their target market clients.
- Increased competitive pressure: As the market demand grows, so do the suppliers entering the market. Consumers will have more providers to choose from at every price point and competitive differentiators will be harder to establish. Even loyal clients might be tempted to “shop around”.
- Need for automation: Advanced technologies have become the norm and a basic cost of doing business for most language service providers. The ability to meet tight deadlines and overall speed of production are now key market requirements, not competitive advantages.
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