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COVID-19 in Language Services: Early Considerations

25 March 2020 

COVID-19 has evolved into a global event impacting public health as well as the economy. These are uncertain times, and we don’t have all the answers, but looking at past major crises around the world, we can venture into speculation about some likely outcomes.

In conversations with LSPs, we have found players who have seen volumes double in the last couple of weeks while others have seen their business completely disappear, especially in the case of conference interpretation.

It is often said that In Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity (even though this is one of the most quoted language-related misinterpretations, it serves a good purpose here). Considering that one of the key characteristics of the language industry is that it has so far been impervious to crises, it is safe to assume that while some segments will see a drop in demand for language services, others will spike.

Below is a preliminary pass at what segments will see an increase or decrease in the demand for language services.

Increase Neutral Decrease

Healthcare and Medical

Software Localization

Travel and Hospitality

eCommerce

Public Sector

Conferences

Education/eLearning

Home improvement

Manufacturing

Media and Entertainment

Real Estate

Sports and Fitness

Business services

 

Building and Construction

Personal care and beauty

 

Retail

Financial and Legal

 

Recruitment

As a result of the quarantine efforts imposed all over the world, Virtual Interpretation Tools – once struggling to find a place in the market – stand to gain adoption and will find new use cases across the spectrum.

Linguists will adjust their service offerings by switching focus to the areas where there is increased demand. Conference interpreters can temporarily offer written translation services and join remote interpretation platforms.

The pandemic will have lasting effects on the way clients consume language services and will affect industry players financially until the pieces of the economic puzzle are reorganized. In the 2008 recession, companies had on average one bad month in the year. Let’s hope that the impact of the coronavirus is not much more significant.

Lessons from the past

Thirty years ago, in March 1990, after several years of hyperinflation, Brazil had a young new President who took office with a bang. Among several other measures, President Collor determined that 80 percent of all private assets be frozen for 18 months. Any balance above roughly USD 1,500 in today’s values could not be accessed by individuals and companies for a year and a half and would be repaid in 12 equal installments plus 6 percent interest.

In order to curb an inflation rate that had reached 84 percent per month, the government took drastic measures that affected 30 percent of the country’s GDP and took a toll on every individual and business in the country.

In a way, it was similar to the COVID-19 economic shock that we are all going through. The scale is larger, the areas affected are different, but here are some lessons from those challenging times:

  • Different segments have different levels of liquidity.  Some companies like gas stations and supermarkets have a daily influx of cash and are in a better situation than other businesses like law firms and construction companies from a cash flow perspective. The shutting down of non-essential activities will affect the market in uneven ways. 
  • Solidarity and tolerance go a long way. Everybody was affected, so it was easier to make new arrangements and change agreements that were made before the money was taken from the market. New rules were created among the parties.
  • Do everything in writing. Just as people are nice and easy when things are tough, they become forgetful and greedy when things go back to normal. Document your agreements with clients, suppliers, and employees to avoid unnecessary arguments and lawsuits later.

The new normal of COVID-19 will revolutionize the way we do business, but you can adopt some generic attitudes to contribute to the changes:

  • Wait. Don’t make impromptu decisions that you might regret. Things are changing so fast that what seems unsurmountable today might be solved by actions from other parties. So, wait until next week to make that tough decision.
  • Be generous. If you are in an advantaged position and have the privilege of being in an activity that is benefited from the crisis, buy more, pay more, hire more. The economy is a circle and what you do now will benefit you indirectly, too.
  • Do more with less. If you are in an area that is suffering, remember that this will pass. People have survived long wars and depressions that lasted years by adjusting and adapting. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, everything can be accommodated.

Did Plano Collor work in 1990?

At first, the economic package had an effect. From 84 percent, monthly inflation plunged to 3 percent. But nor for long. In June, it rose to 9 percent and, in the following month, returned to double digits: 12 percent. Per month, not per year.

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