Report written by Hannah Leske.
Simultaneously the smallest continent and one of the largest countries in the world, Australia is a country like no other, as is its language services industry. On the one hand, Australia has one of the highest proportions of immigrants in the world, with more than a quarter of all Australians having been born overseas. On the other hand, it is an incredibly isolated country that shares no land borders with other nations and, despite having no official language, English is by far the dominant and de facto language in Australia’s public sphere and is spoken at home by roughly 4 out of 5 Australians.
Existing Nimdzi publications indicate that Australia and New Zealand combined host just 3.3% of the top providers in the global market, and account for just 1% of global revenues from clients. It would appear that the local market represents but a drop in the ocean compared to Europe, North America, and Asia… the question is, then, why?
This report aims to shine light on the largely unresearched market and provide an in-depth resource that can serve both buyers and providers in the language services industry.
Despite Australia’s long history of immigration, English commands a strong hold over everyday communication in Australia. For the vast majority of English-speaking Australians — few of whom will master a second or third language in their lifetime — the need for translation or interpreting in their communities is rarely considered. Indeed, the English-speaking Australian community at large has limited awareness of the professional translation and interpreting industry. It’s a very different story for Australia’s First Nation or migrant populations who, of course, have a more acute need for language services.
We know that multilingualism is rarely a key driver for language services, and Australia’s societal underappreciation for foreign languages may go some way toward explaining why the language service industry is so much smaller than in other regions. So what, then, motivates the provision of language services in Australia?
Equal language access is reasonably well regulated by both federal and state governments. Such legislation often extends to government entities and service providers rather than private businesses, though. As such, the largest demand for language services in Australia is in the public sector. State or federal government departments even own a number of language service providers (LSPs), and the vast majority of LSPs service the government in some way. This demand comes primarily from healthcare, social services, nonprofits and NGOs, and the legal sector.
In the private sector, demand typically comes from large, multinational companies with overseas clients or customers. Local regulations for private-sector vs public-sector language service provision mean that private-sector work can more readily be handled in-house or outsourced to international LSPs. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.
We have compiled a ranking of the largest Australian-based companies that participated first-hand in Nimdzi research or published financial data publicly, according to their 2022 revenue.
|Rank||Company||Revenue (AUD million)||Revenue (USD million)||Note||Main business|
|2||Multicultural NSW||86.3||59.8||FY||interpreting, healthcare|
|3||Ai-Media||59.8||41.5||FY||translation & localization, government, education|
|4||ONCALL Language Services||55.1||38.2||e||government, interpreting, translation|
|5||TIS National||48.0||33.3||FY||translation, interpreting, government|
|7||Expression Australia||16.1||11.2||FY||sign language interpreting|
|8||Translationz||9.2||6.4||v||interpreting, translation, healthcare, legal|
|9||2M Language Services||6.9||4.8||e||interpreting, translation & localization, government, mining, defense|
|10||Interpreting and Translation Centre||6.6||4.6||FY||translation, interpreting, government|
(FY) fiscal year, figures for the latest financial year (verified with financial reports)
(v) verified, data provided by companies
(e) estimated revenue, based on extensive industry research
While Australia does host several companies with revenues greater than AUD 20 million, this is the exception rather than the rule. Our research suggests that the average revenue of Australian LSPs was just under AUD 5 million in 2022. It’s also important to highlight that not all revenue is generated domestically. In fact, Appen generates less than 5% of its revenue in Australia.
Interestingly, several of the largest providers in Australia are those owned by local government bodies. In the above ranking, four companies are publicly owned: TIS National is part of the Australian Department of Home Affairs, while Multicultural NSW, LanguageLoop, and the Interpreting and Translation Centre are owned by the New South Wales, Victorian, and South Australian state governments, respectively.
The average growth rate for Australian LSPs in 2022 was 20%. The below table ranks the top 5 LSPs by fastest growth in 2022.
|Rank||Company||2022 Revenue (AUD million)||2021 Revenue (AUD million)||Growth rate (%)|
Many Australian providers (particularly privately owned companies) report that growth in this market requires a concerted effort. Most tenders are issued by state governments and are not national contracts, so the value is smaller, and providers need to win multiple notable contracts to see considerable progress. LSPs can win similar contracts across different states, but local providers are often preferred, giving an advantage to companies with a business address in the awarding state.
Nimdzi research has shown that translation is typically the largest piece of the global language services pie, but in Australia this isn’t the case.
Not only that, but community interpreting — which is a secondary interpreting service at best for many global providers — is the bread and butter service for most Australian LSPs.
This is strongly influenced by Australia’s legislation and funding. Hospitals and courts, for example, have a legal requirement to ensure access to information so interpreters must be available when required. In fact, court hearings will be adjourned if no interpreter is present. Put simply, most government tenders prioritize interpreting services over translation services, and funding is more consistently channeled to these solutions. As such, interpreting contracts are more widely available, and providers have an easier time selling this service.
The split between translation and interpreting demand is rumored to be more equal in the private sector. However, this is difficult to verify. Not only are private contracts less accessible, but their work is more frequently managed in-house, which is less readily captured by Nimdzi’s research.
The Australian market is almost like its own bubble within the global industry. Not only does Australia represent a small share of business for global providers, but global demand for language services appears to have little bearing on local LSPs. This is because most Australian providers are primarily active in the local market: data show that just under 95% of all revenue is generated by customers within Australia. A measly 3.3% comes from North America, and just 1.8% is from clients in Europe.
Within the public sector, the buyers and the end-users of language services are rarely the same parties. While governments typically fund service provision, end users are commonly Australians with limited English proficiency (primarily immigrants or First Nation Australians) or tourists. In the private sector, the individuals or corporations that buy translation and interpreting services are usually also the ones who receive the benefits of the services, although end-users may also be their customers and clients.
Demand is highly influenced by end-user demographics, so it should be no surprise that the most-demanded languages are those of Australia’s largest immigrant populations: Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Punjabi, and Greek, to name a few. French is also frequently requested, despite not being as widely spoken as a first language — it is often a second or third language for immigrants from African countries and is occasionally offered when no linguists are available in these mother tongues.
As we’ve already spelled out, one of the Australian government’s most important roles in language service provision is funding. Federal or state governments offer tender invitations, usually open every three to five years.
These contracts are awarded to several providers (usually five or six) with no ranking or preference system. Every provider has equal access to the customers within the contract, and customers choose their preferred provider from the panel. The clients can even switch providers for each new assignment if they wish. This contract type promotes healthy competition between approved providers and ensures that no single provider can form a monopoly with just a handful of large contracts, but it can be trying for providers. After all, you’re only as good as your last project, and you’ll be kicked to the curb if you don’t perform.
The government has been receptive to language service provision (especially community interpreting) over the years, but their primary goal is to fulfill legal requirements for the lowest price possible. This often results in price pressure for providers, which is ultimately felt by linguists, particularly because the industry is largely unregulated.
Linguists in Australia almost always work as contractors — usually for multiple providers — and there is no industry minimum wage. Translators typically earn reasonable salaries, but multiple providers have come under heat recently for their interpreter compensation models. A full-time equivalent interpreter often takes home less than the average Australian and sometimes only a fraction more than minimum wage. It’s now begun impacting the market, putting stress on local supply chains.
It’s important to highlight that several LSPs are challenging this industry trend, resetting their interpreter rates to reflect the value of the role. We only hope that others follow suit and that interpreters are soon compensated more competitively. Several parties are working toward a standardized national minimum wage for translators and interpreters, but, for now, it’s still a dream.
Australia has several associations that go to bat for providers and linguists.
Translators and interpreters worldwide need to prove their linguistic competency before entering the fray, but every country has its own certification requirements. Most linguists in Australia hold a diploma or advanced diploma in their chosen profession, but even that isn’t always enough to secure work. Linguists who want to work in the public sector — and remember, the bulk of the work is in the public sector — also need to become certified by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, commonly known as NAATI. NAATI certification assesses education, training, and ongoing professional development to ensure that linguists’ skills are up to scratch. Recertification requirements were also introduced recently. This move was unpopular with many linguists (some of whom refused to get recertified) but has been hailed as a welcome and necessary development by many LSPs.
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and these requirements aren’t always realistic. Formal training solutions often lag behind real-time demand for specialized roles, and the language services industry is no exception: NAATI testing is not always available for new and emerging languages, for example, yet linguists are still needed. At the end of the day, LSPs are encouraged to select NAATI-certified linguists wherever possible (and required), but other certifications are accepted when necessary.
Quality assurance aside, the requirements for NAATI certification also go a long way toward protecting the Australian language service industry. It’s no secret that the cost of living is high in Australia, so wages are naturally higher than in many other countries, especially neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Without the local certification requirements, there would be very little to stop LSPs from outsourcing translation or remote interpreting services to linguists in countries with lower labor costs. This is not the purpose of NAATI-certification requirements, but it is a side effect.
Of course, the system is not impervious to loopholes. International linguists are well within their rights to seek NAATI certification — it can be obtained remotely — so there’s no reason they can’t compete on price after gaining accreditation, but, at least so far, this hasn’t been a common occurrence. Providers, on the other hand, are not afraid to work the system: while the formal requirement for all government translations might demand a NAATI-certified translator, providers can cut costs by outsourcing the bulk of the work to overseas linguists, then engage a certified proofreader to tick the compliance boxes.
Research suggests that most language service providers use regular automated scheduling systems and translation management tools. However, adoption is lower than the global average, and end-users in particular have traditionally been reluctant to embrace technology solutions. Prior to 2020, end-users in Australia’s more technophobic states were resistant even to OPI solutions, and remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) was widely perceived as a threat before it suddenly became a lifeline.
To be fair, it appears that the interpreting industry has come along in leaps and bounds since the first COVID-19 lockdowns. Buyers had no choice but to accept remote solutions and, once providers ironed out the kinks, many end-users came to tolerate the technology as well.
OPI and VRI are quite widely accepted these days: OPI is used almost exclusively for remote healthcare interpreting, while VRI is commonly used for courtroom interpreting. RSI is also becoming more and more common.
Of course, there is still a strong preference for onsite services when available, and we don’t expect this to change in a hurry, although providers report that remote onsite jobs are becoming harder to fill as interpreters become less willing to travel sizeable distances. So far, buyers have been mostly willing to resort to remote interpreting if onsite listings cannot be filled, but it will be interesting to see if attitudes change.
Moving forward, RSI is expected to continue increasing its market share, particularly in the newly remote and hybrid corporate world. Board meetings and conferences, which may not have historically involved language services, are now open to these solutions.
Not only do interpreting tools seem to be an established part of the Australian localization scene these days, Australia has also produced several world-leading technology solutions of its own, which have held up against international competitors. Companies such as Appen and Interpreter IO have had significant success globally, for example.
When it comes to translation technologies, the same cannot necessarily be said. Adoption of translation tech tools is still relativelylow — many Australian translators are allegedly yet to engage with even computer-assisted translation tools! Naturally, no one can agree on why this is the case. LSPs cite resistance from end-users, while others argue that providers need to be doing more to educate clients. We don’t imagine that technology use will remain low forever; providers do see potential for technology to help cut costs and compete on a global scale, and end-users will undoubtedly come around… eventually.
Enthusiasm for a career in interpreting seems to have waned in recent years. National enrollment and completion of interpreter- and translator-related qualifications are the lowest they have been since 2017. There are a plethora of factors that contribute to this trend, but the high training costs and low salaries almost certainly have an impact.
LSPs have noticed, and several companies have invested in their own training courses. Many are free, and some even offer credits toward NAATI certifications. Providers may not benefit financially from these services, but long-term benefits include stronger supply chains and higher-quality services.
As much as providers are happy to do their part to further the industry, several individuals note that there might be space in the market for an independent national body that can really take charge of monitoring the ebb and flow of supply and demand so that supply chain issues can be better foreseen and the effects mitigated. Currently, no such body exists in Australia.
Australia is a vast country, and roughly 28% of the population lives outside of the major metropolitan areas. Servicing these communities can be challenging, especially when interpreters are required on short notice. Even urban areas can be caught high and dry if the supply of language experts is low.
There is a huge opportunity for remote interpreting services to fill these gaps. However, stable internet or telephone coverage is critical. At the moment, internet access across regional Australia is patchy, but initiatives such as the Mobile Black Spot Program — aimed at improving remote telecommunications services — give hope that this problem may be solved very soon.
Not only that, but Australia is a long way from anywhere else in the world. As a result, it has traditionally played host to far fewer international conferences, meaning that local interpreters have always had a smaller pool of conference interpreting jobs. Now, with the new dawn of remote conferencing, we expect to see more opportunities for Australian linguists to participate in conference interpreting from afar.
Right now, Australian LSPs and linguists are sheltered by local certification requirements and ingrained habits that see most companies automatically hunt for providers and suppliers within the country’s own borders. The truth of the matter is that many are not well-equipped to face the highly competitive global market. Translators in particular are protected from potential price undercutting (by way of international outsourcing), and domestic supply chains would likely be decimated if these protections were removed, particularly as global trends show an ever-increasing shift to low-cost labor.
That said, the rise of technology and automation may well increase the efficiency and scalability of local players enough to see them truly compete on the global stage in the coming years. Only time will tell!
The Australian language services market is unlike that of any other country in the world. It is still maturing and has a lot of ground to cover before it can be compared side by side with the European or North American markets. We see a great deal of potential, though, and it will be particularly interesting to observe how local providers and linguists integrate with the rest of the global industry over time.
The language services industry is a diverse space by its very nature as its primary purpose is to connect people from a vast number of language and cultural backgrounds. Communication is at the core of all human interactions and where there is a need for communication, there is a need for language services.
Remote interpreting solutions have been both in development and in use for a long time now. However, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, uptake was slow. The onset of the pandemic changed this drastically, and, ever since, it seems that the growth, innovation, and investment in this field has been unstoppable. Once considered an afterthought or sub-par alternative to onsite services, remote interpreting has stepped out of the shadows to become the key to continuity of business and care in many industries.
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