The 2021 Nimdzi Interpreting Index: The Ranking of the Top 35 Largest Interpreting Service Providers

29 September 2021

Report by Sarah Hickey.

Information contained in this report

  1. Ranking of the top interpreting companies
  2. Watchlist
  3. How we create the Nimdzi Interpreting Index
  4. State of the intepreting market: A year like no other
  5. The three largest interpreting providers in the world
  6. Market impact of the pandemic
  7. Growth in the interpreting industry
    1. Market sized at USD 8.3 billion
    2. Top 35 companies concentrate 18.7% of industry revenue
    3. Gross profit margins for interpreting services increase
    4. M&A and investment
    5. New challenges in a growing market
  8. Geographies
    1. Where the largest LSPs are
    2. Where the money is
    3. The United States: the largest market for interpreting services
  9. What drives interpreting services
  10. Three types of players in the remote interpreting league
    1. Type 1: The pure-play VIT providers
    2. Type 2: The LSPs
    3. Type 3: Major video conferencing platforms
  11. Key trends and developments in the interpreting market
    1. Remote interpreting is here to stay
    2. Remote simultaneous interpreting is booming
    3. Interpreting goes mainstream
    4. Zoom: the de facto largest RSI platform
    5. The push for integrations with major video conferencing platforms
    6. The boom in telehealth
    7. Dawn of the multilingual meeting provider
    8. The battle for talent: A continuing challenge, enhanced by legislative changes
  12. AI: machine interpreting and CAI tools
    1. Machine interpreting
    2. Computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools
  13. What about sign language interpreting?
  14. What does the future hold
 

Ranking of the top interpreting companies

Chances are the information you came here for is the ranking of interpreting providers, which is presented in the table below. The ranking is based on revenue and lists the top 35 largest interpreting service providers worldwide.

Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

*United Language Group (ULG) and thebigword share the 6th position in our ranking. The interpreting revenue for ULG was verified after the initial release of the ranking. However, considering the company’s size and therefore impact on the market, we decided to include them in the ranking and our market calculations to provide a more accurate picture. ULG’s verified revenue is one decimal larger than that of thebigword but seeing as the latter company’s revenue was estimated by us, we consider them tied for the purposes of the ranking.

Notes:

  • (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

Watchlist

Interpreting service providers without a definitive revenue estimate

The Watchlist consists of companies that should be in the ranking but are not listed because they do not disclose, publish, or otherwise reveal their revenue. We provide visibility to such companies on the Watchlist to highlight their impact on the industry. 

The reason it is important for us to track these companies is that even though they might not compete for clients, they compete for talent and resources. They also represent opportunities for technology providers and investors.

The companies are listed in alphabetical order.

How we create the Nimdzi Interpreting Index

During the course of this market analysis, Nimdzi uncovered interpreting companies that have previously been invisible in market reports because they do not participate in surveys and are reluctant to disclose their revenue. Nimdzi has employed an investigative approach and invested hundreds of hours into intense research, data collection, and analysis in order to present data that have previously been unavailable.

We are very proud to offer broad access to our data. This ranking is offered to all who are interested. No paywall. No strings attached. Localization buyers, investors, savvy job seekers, and analysts are welcome to use this document, just don’t forget to reference Nimdzi Insights, LLC, as the source. Interested parties are free to reach out to us directly should they have any questions.

Below is a summary of the methodology used for the Nimdzi Interpreting Index.

  1. We concentrated on identifying LSPs with USD 4 million or more in revenue, with the assistance of in-country experts. In most countries, there are only a few providers of this size, and it is impossible for them to hide from local competitors because they hire staff, take part in requests for proposals, and employ a large number of translators. Once we identified the relevant LSPs, we researched information that could help us make more accurate estimates of their size and talked to the management directly to verify our findings.
  2. We’re listing interpreting revenue only, not overall language services revenue. In comparison to The Nimdzi 100 which provides a ranking of the largest language service providers (LSPs) in the world, the Nimdzi Interpreting Index focuses exclusively on the interpreting market. It can be difficult to identify individual revenues in external sources of information, such as annual reports, press releases, and stock listings. This is why we made the effort to reach out to businesses directly to talk about their interpreting services and the revenue obtained from these services.
  3. The interpreting market is extremely fragmented — and in several ways. One, there are different types of interpreting (e.g. medical, conference, legal), as well as different modes (e.g. simultaneous vs consecutive, onsite vs remote). This is why we have included an overview of the core interpreting business of each company in our ranking and on our watchlist. Two, there is an abundance of smaller companies on the interpreting market. Many of them did not make the list, even though together they might make a significant contribution to the market.
  4. We use data from the latest fiscal year for each company. This means the numbers for some companies will not reflect 2020 calendar year revenues. 
  5. Our definition of interpreting services includes: onsite interpreting, video remote interpreting (VRI), telephone or over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI), conference interpreting, sign language interpreting, video relay services (VRS), equipment rental for interpreting, and related services.
  6. Growth rates are calculated in USD. 
  7. We use average annual currency conversion rates to US dollars, published by the Internal Revenue Service of the United States for each day of trading in 2020.

State of the interpreting market: A year like no other

2020 was a year like no other before it. More or less overnight, the global COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it. Suddenly, everything pivoted to the virtual world. This new situation came with many challenges yet also triggered innovation and created many opportunities. We have seen a significant increase in digitalization on all levels of society, accelerated growth in industries such as telehealth, ecommerce, and e-learning, and a spike in demand for any kind of technology that enables remote work and life — including remote interpreting. Indeed, while it may have, at times, seemed like life came to a halt, communication in fact carried on, because if ever there wasa need for global cooperation, it was now. And cooperation across nations can only be successful if it is facilitated by multilingual communication.  

Over the past 18 months, governments and international organizations across the globe have come together to discuss the latest findings about the virus and what safety measures should be implemented. Scientists from different countries collaborated to develop a vaccine — faster than ever before in human history. Citizens of all language backgrounds frequently needed to receive updates about the current state of affairs. Healthcare professionals had to communicate with their patients but reduce the number of in-person visits. Businesses moved to remote work but continued to serve their international clients and work with their global teams. All of this translated into a significant spike in demand for remote interpreting. 

Although remote solutions had long been making their way into the interpreting market, before March 2020, the majority of interpreting assignments happened in person. In the 2019 edition of the Nimdzi Interpreting Index, we still called remote interpreting “the new kid on the block.” However, since the onset of the pandemic, remote interpreting has come to the rescue of the interpreting market, which was one of the most heavily impacted segments within the wider language industry. As a result of the boom in virtual interpreting technology (VIT), we have seen the emergence of new platforms, new features, and integrations of remote interpreting technology with major video conferencing platforms, as well as large investments from outside the language industry. 

Given this whirlwind of events over the last 18 months, it was high time to take stock and examine the state of the interpreting industry. This report analyzes the latest trends in interpreting (services and technology), separates the wheat from the chaff, provides an estimate of the size of the global interpreting market, and aims to forecast what the future of interpreting will look like. Put simply, this is the go-to guide for anyone looking to provide, sell, buy, or invest in interpreting services and interpreting technology.  

It is worth noting that this edition of the Interpreting Index heavily focuses on VIT (although not exclusively), for the simple reason that remote interpreting has been the theme in the interpreting industry in the last year and a half.  

 

The three largest interpreting providers in the world

First things first, let’s talk about the top providers in our ranking.

LanguageLine Solutions, CyraCom International, and AMN Language Services have made it into the top three positions of our ranking. If we consider that AMN Healthcare acquired Stratus Video (now AMN Language Services) in 2020, this means that the top three leaders in interpreting have retained their positions from the last ranking we published in 2019.

Although all three companies reported impressive revenue figures, at USD 587.1 million in revenue, LanguageLine Solutions is miles ahead of its competitors in terms of size. To illustrate:

  • The number one in our ranking is more than twice as large as the next two companies combined (= USD 283.3 million).
  • LanguageLine Solutions’ revenue exceeds the combined revenues of the next eight companies in our ranking (= USD 554.6 million).

The company reached a record high of USD 587.1 million in interpreting revenue in 2020 (USD 618.0 million in total revenue) — an increase of more than 30% over the last two years, which was largely organic. LanguageLine Solutions has long positioned itself as the leader in remote interpreting in the healthcare sector in the United States, so when the demand in this field increased due to the pandemic, they were well set up to meet it. As a result, the company increased its overall revenue by close to USD 90 million during a time that provided challenges for many of its competitors. 

That being said, the next two in line fared very well, too. CyraCom International reported a total interpreting revenue of USD 163.6 million for 2020, bringing their growth rate up to 16% over the last two years. AMN Language Services reached an estimated USD 119.7 million from interpreting services in 2020, which is an increase of close to 20% from the interpreting revenue Stratus Video reported for 2018.

What makes the top three interpreting providers so successful?

To answer that question, it is worth taking a quick look at what all three companies have in common:

  • They are all based in the United States, the largest market for interpreting services in the world.
  • They all focus on remote interpreting — a service line which requires less organization and manual intervention and where gross profit margins, consequently, tend to be higher.
  • They all focus on interpreting in the healthcare sector —  a segment, which is huge in the United States, due to legislation that guarantees language access.  
  • All three have their own proprietary remote interpreting technologies — mostly over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) and video remote interpreting (VRI) platforms. In addition, AMN Language Services and LanguageLine Solutions also have their own hardware (tablets that are set up on little stations that can be rolled around the hospital and which were also used in vaccine centers in the US during the pandemic, so that people could request a video interpreter at the click of a button).
  • All three businesses, almost exclusively, focus on interpreting services. LanguageLine Solutions and CyraCom International derive about 95% of their revenue from interpreting. For Stratus Video it used to be around 99% of their revenue, prior to the acquisition by AMN Healthcare. We estimate that only about 5% of the revenue of AMN Healthcare is derived from interpreting services. However, this is not due to a decline in interpreting revenue but rather because AMN Healthcare is a much larger company (USD 2.4 billion in total revenue for 2020) that predominantly focuses on healthcare staffing rather than language services.

Market impact of the pandemic

Although at this point in time, the industry is rather focused on turning the page after the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room — especially since this elephant is hugely responsible for the majority of trends that emerged over the past year and a half, and which will be examined in this report. It is important to look back and see how the pandemic changed the interpreting market in order to understand where we will go from here. So before we get into the specific trends and look ahead at what’s to come, let’s do a quick recap of the last 18 months.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the first wave of lockdowns spread across the globe in March 2020, somewhere between shock-induced paralysis and running around in panic, it seemed like the entire interpreting sector was hastily trying to figure out what to do next. Businesses which predominantly focused on onsite interpreting experienced significant revenue losses during March and April 2020. Not only did they have to move their own business online — which meant pivoting to work from home operations, finding a suitable remote interpreting platform, training the interpreters on remote work, and much much more — but they also had to help their clients move their operations online. Because if the client’s operations are not set up for remote work then even the best remote interpreting platform won’t save one’s business. So, during these first few months of the pandemic, interpreting providers with large onsite operations saw an accelerated downturn and revenue losses of up to 70 percent. 

On the other side of the spectrum, VIT companies and language service providers (LSPs) who already had remote solutions in place emerged as the clear winners of the pandemic. Here, people were also running around like chickens with their heads cut off, but for completely opposite reasons: they were too busy (a good problem to have). Providers operating on this side of the industry reported record growth over the last year. Especially the demand for VRI in the healthcare sector and remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) for various types of multilingual online meetings and conferences has gone through the roof, and VIT providers in this space have been busier than ever. For one RSI provider, demand has increased by almost 3,000 percent since the onset of the pandemic.   VIT providers have significantly expanded their teams (and are continuing to do so), with reports ranging from 400 to more than 1,000 percent increase in staff since March 2020.

Prior to March 2020, remote interpreting was largely regarded as a solution in search of a problem, and although the technology existed, in the majority of countries a much higher percentage of assignments were performed onsite (roughly 80/20 split). However, once in-person events and gatherings were forbidden or restricted, remote interpreting stepped out of the shadows and became the solution to the problem.

Growth in the interpreting industry

In 2019, we estimated that the global interpreting market reached USD 7.6 billion. In 2021, this is what the ranking tells us about how the industry has developed since:

  • The data indicate that, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest interpreting providers reported significant growth over the past two years. The combined interpreting revenue of companies comprising the top 35 positions in 2020 (effectively 36 companies) rose 17.8% compared to the combined interpreting revenues of the top 33 listed in 2018 (note: the addition of three more companies in this year’s ranking is contributing to this growth figure). 
  • The combined revenue of interpreting companies comprising the top 10 positions in 2020 rose by 20.7% compared to those from the last edition of the Nimdzi Interpreting Index, based on 2018 revenues.
  • While more than half of LSPs in our ranking reported varying degrees of growth, it cannot be denied that some providers in the interpreting industry were negatively impacted by the pandemic. In particular, smaller providers that focus on onsite interpreting were hit hard. This is reflected in our ranking in two ways: 
    • Of the companies that we classified as predominantly focusing on onsite interpreting, only 30% had positive growth between their financial years 2018 and 2020. In comparison, more than twice as many (67%) of the companies classified as focusing on remote interpreting, or remote and onsite interpreting, saw a revenue increase from interpreting services between 2018 and 2020.
    • The lowest position in this year’s ranking confirmed an interpreting revenue of USD 4.1 million, as compared to USD 4.7 million for the company in the lowest ranked position in 2019.

Growth by ranking segment

Source: Nimdzi Insights

Market sized at USD 8.3 billion

Considering the data from the top 35 (effectively 36) global interpreting providers, the survey for this report, as well as numerous interviews with market players of all sizes, we are confident that the interpreting market continued to grow in 2020. This growth is both despite and because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the industry saw a steep decline in revenue from onsite interpreting but experienced a hockey stick growth curve in the field of remote interpreting — a development that also opened the door to new clients. 

Taking all of this into account, our estimate is that the interpreting industry reached USD 8.3 billion in 2020 and should grow to USD 8.8 billion in 2021. Considering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8 %, the industry would be valued at USD 11.0 billion by 2025. 

Source: Nimdzi Insights

When calculating the addressable market for their services, commercial providers should limit the opportunity to 60% of the total figure. Firstly, not everything is outsourced, as a significant portion of the overall volume is performed by in-house teams on the buyer side. For example, large institutions like the European Union and the United Nations, as well as some hospital systems, work with staff interpreters as well as freelancers rather than LSPs. Secondly, the market size calculation includes revenues for both interpreting companies and their suppliers, i.e. a part of the revenue is counted twice.

Top 35 companies concentrate 18.7% of industry revenue

Although consolidation continues, the interpreting market is still predominantly made up of many small companies and one-person operations. The companies in our ranking accounted for just 18.7% of the overall interpreting industry in 2020 — a rise of a mere 1.4% from 2018. Adding in the Watchlist, all 66 large interpreting providers tracked by Nimdzi accounted for 33.0% of the interpreting market in 2020.

Source: Nimdzi Insights

In absolute figures, the 66 companies tracked by Nimdzi earned about USD 2.7 billion in their latest fiscal years. The top 10 companies were responsible for 44.2% of that total.

  • USD 1.21 billion in the top 10
  • USD 0.34 billion in the next 25
  • USD 1.19 billion approximately on the Watchlist 

Despite ongoing consolidation at the top, the industry is still predominantly made up of companies smaller than USD 4 million.

Gross profit margins for interpreting services increase

Nimdzi has been tracking the evolution of gross margins tied to both interpreting and translation services for a number of years and they have remained relatively stable over time. Average gross margins for translation are in the 40-50% (a well-run LSP would have gross margins in the high 40s), while in interpreting it has historically been between 30-40%. However, in 2020 we have seen the gross margin range for interpreting widening, to 30-50% depending on the company. It is reasonable to assume that this increase is tied to the boom in remote interpreting services, which generally enjoy higher profit margins. This is because the scheduling and management for remote interpreting assignments is generally far less time-intensive than for onsite assignments and there is also no need for travel costs. 

What this development shows us is that interpreting is becoming a more profitable service. However, the data also show that translation still remains the more profitable line of business.

Source: Nimdzi Insights for ALC Industry survey, 2021

M&A and investment

The growth in remote interpreting did not go unnoticed and soon attracted investment from outside the industry. In the last 18 months (spring 2020 to autumn 2021), the following technology providers in the interpreting space received significant funding:

What this tells us is that investors believe that remote interpreting is here to stay and that there is growth in the area of remote multilingual meetings and consultations. This is not only a validation for VIT providers and LSPs in this space, but also for the interpreters who sit at the heart of these operations.

But investment was not limited to the tech players. A number of LSPs received funding from private equity (PE) firms. Most notably, Europe’s largest interpreting company, thebigword, partnered with Susquehanna Private Capital (SPC) in August 2021. Not long after, in September 2021, SeproTec Multilingual Solutions, the largest interpreting provider in Spain, announced that PE-firm Nazca Capital had become its majority shareholder. The sizes of both deals were not disclosed.

What this shows is that the interpreting market is starting to attract businesses from outside the traditional realm of language services. This trend is further confirmed by mergers and acquisitions in this space. For instance, as previously mentioned, AMN Healthcare — a multi-billion dollar company in the healthcare staffing industry — acquired Stratus Video in February 2020 (rebranded to AMN Language Services). The acquisition and subsequent integration of remote interpreting services into AMN’s telehealth platform happened just in time for the pandemic, which gave the company a competitive advantage once lockdowns hit. In a similar deal, UpHealth — a telehealth service provider — acquired Cloudbreak Health in June 2021. The acquisition of Cloudbreak allowed UpHealth to integrate remote interpreting services into their platform, thereby expanding their reach to include people of all language backgrounds and thus increasing their value proposition to existing and new clients. 

New challenges in a growing market

While the rapid growth in remote interpreting accelerated innovation, the sudden change also came with some growing pains. For instance:

  • Onboarding and training: Especially in the early days of the lockdowns, VIT providers spent a lot of time onboarding new clients (ranging from LSPs to hospital groups and government entities with inhouse linguists) and training them on their platform. Many VIT companies even went the extra mile and helped their clients move their customers online. In addition, more freelance interpreters reached out to join the networks of VIT providers, which again increased the need for onboarding and training. All of this translated into a significant time investment.
  • Stable servers: For some technology providers, demand increased so suddenly that their servers became overloaded and crashed. By now, this challenge has largely been overcome as companies have added more servers in different parts of the world (e.g. Europe and Asia in addition to the US).
  • New features: The pandemic opened the door to new clients, many of which had never made use of (remote) interpreting before. New clients come with new types of meetings and special requests for new features. In the RSI space, VIT companies were measured against established (monolingual) video conferencing and events platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams and the advanced features they offer, such as breakout rooms and anonymous voting. In the VRI space, the pandemic created a need for three-way calling, for example when patient, doctor, and interpreter were all in different locations due to lockdown measures. 
  • Security concerns: Whether it was confidential patient information in the healthcare sector, classified materials for high-stakes clients in government, or protecting trade secrets — security concerns were certainly not new in the VIT market but more present than ever. 
  • Changing demand: Especially in the healthcare sector, demand for OPI and VRI accelerated as clients needed to pivot quickly from onsite to remote services. However, as healthcare providers canceled routine consultations and elective surgeries, a lot of the work was ad hoc and unscheduled. This created a greater need for on-demand OPI and VRI calls than for scheduled calls, which presented an operational challenge for interpreting providers in this field.

Geographies

Where the largest LSPs are

Out of 66 medium-to-large-sized companies identified in 2020, 53.0% are headquartered in North America and 36.4% in Europe. Companies from Asia represent 6.1% of the geographical distribution. Australia or New Zealand host 4.6% of the top players. Africa and South America have not yet produced an LSP that could be included in the Nimdzi Interpreting Index.

Where the money is

The graph below represents the split by geographic region, based on our estimate of the total market size of USD 8.3 billion for interpreting services worldwide in 2020. 

Source: Nimdzi Insights

The United States: the largest market for interpreting services

What both visualizations above illustrate is that the United States remains the largest market for interpreting services in the world. This is mostly due to laws that guarantee language access to people with limited English proficiency in public service and healthcare settings. In addition, the United States is ahead of the curb in the area of interpreting technology. For instance, remote interpreting solutions have been commonplace for a long time and continue to expand the market, especially in the healthcare industry ― whether that is OPI for 911 emergency calls, VRI with special tablets for consultations in the hospital or in vaccine centers, or telehealth providers integrating interpreting solutions into their platforms. 

What drives interpreting services

Aside from the United States, other mature markets for interpreting services are the United Kingdom, the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, and Australia. What all these countries have in common is that they have legislation in place that guarantees language access in public settings. Legislation is one of the top drivers of interpreting services in any market. Thanks to a solid legal base, states, ministries and hospital groups in the respective countries put out large, lucrative contracts for LSPs to bid on. These contracts, in turn, fundamentally shape the market setup for interpreting services ― for better or for worse. 

To wit, in the majority of countries, entities in the public sector are on tight budgets that are continuously being cut, so there is a tendency that more often than not, the lowest price wins when it comes to public tenders. A related trend is that in an attempt to save costs, countries can fall into the trap of over-centralizing, meaning that one massive contract goes to one single provider. There are numerous examples from different markets in the industry where this approach has failed and where providers, largely selected based on lowest price point, were not able to scale their services to meet the high demand of public sector assignments. In such cases, contracts ultimately needed to be suspended, other LSPs appealed decisions, and court cases were left unfilled. 

On the other side of the coin, when done right, and a public sector contract, for example, goes to a whole panel of providers, as is the case in Australia, it makes for a lively market where healthy competition does not as easily allow for price drops but in turn, encourages the provision of better services.

The second most impactful driver of interpreting services is immigration. As stands to reason, higher immigration flows lead to an increased need for community interpreting, but also healthcare interpreting and other types of interpreting down the line. In addition to volumes, immigration also heavily impacts the language combinations that are the most in demand at any point in time in a market. A major challenge that comes with this is that the requirement for language combinations can change very quickly. For instance, due to the recent situation in Afghanistan that had many people fleeing the country, nations receiving refugees saw a spike in requests for Dari and Pashto community interpreting. 

Three types of players in the remote interpreting league

This edition of the Nimdzi Interpreting Index heavily focuses on remote interpreting. So, before we move on to the trends section of our analysis, we find it imperative to briefly define the three different types of players that can be found in the remote interpreting market today.

Type 1: The pure-play VIT providers

The first, most obvious type are the companies that provide virtual interpreting technology (VIT), i.e. companies that have developed proprietary technology for different types of remote interpreting (OPI, VRI, or RSI) and are selling this technology to LSPs, enterprises, and international organizations. Companies in this category were built with the specific purpose of enabling seamless multilingual communication in the virtual realm. Their focus is on providing the interpreters with all necessary tools to perform their work remotely in a professional manner, while at the same time providing an effortless and frictionless experience for the end-user. The majority of VIT providers focus on the tech side of the business, meaning that LSPs and other clients can use the software in conjunction with their own interpreters. However, many VIT providers also have a large network of freelance interpreters available that clients can fall back on if needed. Tech companies that fall into this category are listed in the interpreting section of the Nimdzi Language Technology Atlas, and include, for example KUDO, Interprefy, Interactio, VoiceBoxer, Boostlingo, Interpreter Intelligence, Interpreter.io, Olyusei, Ablio, and many, many more.

Type 2: The LSPs

The second type of player in this field are LSPs that provide remote interpreting services. The majority of these LSPs partner with one or more of the pure-play VIT providers, depending on their needs, and use the technology in combination with their own interpreters. Mostly because for many LSPs, remote interpreting is only a small part of their business, so investing in developing their own platform would not be worthwhile. 

That being said, there are LSPs that do have their own proprietary interpreting technology. LSPs in this category typically have a large remote interpreting business, which justifies the investment. For example, LanguageLine Solutions, the number one in our ranking, derives about 95 percent of its revenue from remote interpreting and developed its own technology for it. AMN Language Services is the third largest provider and is well-known for its focus on remote interpreting and its own proprietary technology built specifically for it. For LSPs like this, having their own technology makes sense as it makes them independent from third parties and allows them to better cater their offering to their clients’ needs. It also makes them more agile. For example, LSPs like these were much quicker to respond to the new technological challenges posed by the pandemic and were therefore able to ensure business continuity for themselves and their clients. 

What is important to note is that when looking at the competitive landscape, LSPs like these pose little to no threat to the pure VIT providers, as they typically only use their technology for their own business purposes and do not sell it to other LSPs.  

Type 3: Major video conferencing platforms

The third type is relatively new to the world of language services but has been around the virtual meeting space for much longer: major (monolingual) video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Webex. These platforms are the unrivalled leaders of the world of virtual events, conferences, and business meetings, and have experienced a major boom since the onset of the pandemic. Given their magnitude, it is no surprise that they have entered the multilingual meeting space and quickly rose through the ranks, even though multilingualism is not their forte. 

The latter point is the most important one to remember when comparing these types of players to the pure VIT providers: VIT platforms were built specifically for multilingual meetings and are therefore superior when it comes to features for the interpreters and the overall multilingual experience. For the big video conferencing platforms, multilingualism is just an add-on (if even). In fact, so far, Zoom is the only platform with its own inbuilt (comparatively rudimentary) RSI feature. However, to many clients none of this matters. For one, the event capabilities of Zoom and the like are superior to those of VIT platforms. In addition, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and Google Meet simply are more widely known and people have a tendency to want to use what they know.

This development has created a significant disruption in the VIT market that has led to an increased push for integrations with the big video conferencing platforms. The main driver behind this push are the buyers (on both sides), but also the desire of VIT companies to catch a ride on the Zoom boom and not be left behind the new competition. This topic will be discussed more in-depth in the trends section of this report. 

Remote interpreting is here to stay

Let’s not beat around the bush and get right to it: remote interpreting is here to stay. The pandemic created the framework for people who resisted remote interpreting to embrace it. And now that the genie is out of the bottle, and providers, clients, and interpreters alike have embraced remote interpreting and are well set up for it, it is hard to go back. 

Does this mean the end of onsite interpreting? Of course not. There will always be scenarios in which it is preferable to have an interpreter onsite. For instance, when dealing with high-stakes clients, in end-of-life cases, in mental health settings, or when dealing with children, to name but a few. However, it does mean that the market for interpreting services has changed and will not go back to the way it was prior to March 2020. 

It is hard to estimate the market split between onsite and remote interpreting at this particular point in time. This is because although we know that pandemic radically changed the setup of the market, we also know that this is not the way the market will remain post-pandemic, nor can we expect it to go back to its pre-pandemic setup. So, instead of providing one estimated market split, we decided to do three: One that shows the estimated market split between onsite and (the various types of) remote interpreting before the pandemic, one that illustrates the split during the height of the pandemic, and one that predicts what we can expect from the future. 

Source: Nimdzi Insights

An emerging trend that should be included in the last bar (bleeding into both the percentages for onsite and for RSI) is hybrid meetings, where some participants are onsite and some join a conference or meeting remotely. We can expect to see a lot more of these types of meetings in the post-pandemic future. In our current estimate, hybrid meetings will make up between 10 and 20% of the market in the years to come. 

Remote simultaneous interpreting is booming

Prior to the pandemic, RSI was a real niche within the language services industry. However, once the pandemic hit and all types of meetings, conferences, and events pivoted to the virtual world, RSI suddenly was in high demand. This demand is coming both from existing clients who have more virtual meetings than before and from new clients in different industries, ranging from corporations to NGOs to international organizations like the United Nations and government institutions like the European Union and the White House. In April 2021, for example, US President Joe Biden held a virtual Leader Summit on Climate, facilitated by Zoom with RSI from Interprefy. 

The boom in RSI is not only reflected in the growth figures of the existing providers but also in the number of new RSI platforms. Since March 2020, new RSI providers have consistently entered the market, trying to cash in on the new trend. Looking at our Language Technology Atlas, in 2020, the “RSI and conference interpreting” category featured 20 technologies, whereas this year’s version boasts an impressive 34 different solutions. Projections indicate that it is not going to stop here, as interviews with market players revealed that more companies, especially traditional LSPs in the interpreting sector, are thinking about building their own RSI platforms. In addition, some traditional VRI platforms are looking to partner with RSI tech players in an effort to meet their clients’ changing needs, cash in on the trend, and move closer towards the goal of becoming “the one platform that does it all.” 

Interpreting goes mainstream

An interesting side-effect of the boom in remote interpreting is that interpreting has gone more mainstream. This trend can be observed across different segments of the interpreting market — from vaccine centers across the US being equipped with portable, on-demand VRI devices (e.g. from AMN Language Services), to Walgreens pharmacies partnering with VRI platform VOYCE to enable efficient communication between customers and employees (including language access for the Deaf and hard of hearing through sign language interpreting).  

However, this trend is particularly noticeable in the RSI space. Ever since the onset of the pandemic, it appears to have opened the door to new clients, so that these days RSI is no longer “limited” to conference interpreting (its field of origin). Instead, RSI has started to branch out into other areas of the market. For instance, LSPs suddenly received requests for RSI for parent-teacher conferences and other school events. Local governments reached out wanting to add RSI to their town hall meetings and COVID-19 announcements. Educators from various fields, including healthcare education, have added RSI to their classes, and at least one large e-sports company is looking to add RSI to its virtual live events. So not only did the “forced” move to the virtual realm remove fears and concerns surrounding remote interpreting on the side of existing clients, it also created a whole new set of opportunities and brought interpreting to clients who previously never even considered it.

A likely explanation for this development is the popularity of and increased exposure to (monolingual) video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, that have been booming ever since in-person meetings became restricted. Although these platforms were already being used prior to March 2020, the pandemic took it to a whole new level as video conferencing became the norm in, more or less, every area of society. From businesses to governments to schools to the average Joe and Jane — no matter what age group, no matter the setting (weddings, birthday parties, and funerals included).

But sooner or later the now well-known “Zoom-fatigue” started to set in and so people were trying to find ways to make their virtual meetings more engaging, and started exploring new features and meeting formats — including multilingual meetings, facilitated by RSI. Which brings us to the next trend.   

Zoom: the de facto largest RSI platform

While this might be controversial for some in the language industry, for the very first time, we at Nimdzi have added Zoom to the RSI category of our Language Technology Atlas, as we believe the video conferencing giant has earned its place. Although Zoom’s main focus is not on multilingual meetings, the platform has added an RSI feature and, most importantly, has become the de facto largest RSI platform judging by the number of meetings. To illustrate —  according to a study by independent analyst Konstantin Dranch, 81.5% of over 400 conference interpreters surveyed perform at least 50% of their work on Zoom these days. For 53% of participants, it is even as much as 76-100% of their work. As one VIT provider interviewed by Nimdzi put it: “Zoom owns it.”

Given its position in the wider video conferencing market, it should actually not come as a shock that Zoom is also leading the RSI market (by number of meetings). Since the onset of the pandemic, the company’s market valuation has more than tripled, and the number of daily meeting participants increased from 10 million (December 2019) to more than 300 million. This sets Zoom miles ahead of its competitors, even though the number of daily meeting participants has increased by 70%, on average, for all major video conferencing platforms since COVID-19 (the next closest is Microsoft Teams with 115 million active users per day). 

Judging by feedback gathered via interviews with LSPs in the interpreting space, the general consensus seems to be that platforms that were built specifically with RSI and multilingualism in mind, such as KUDO, Interprefy, Interactio, VoiceBoxer, Olyusei, Ablioconference and many others, provide a superior experience for the interpreters (e.g. handover function, relay function, multiple language channel selection, etc.). However, when it comes to the event offerings of these RSI platforms, the feedback is that they are lagging behind established platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex. 

The push for integrations with major video conferencing platforms

Keeping the previous stats in mind, tech providers in the interpreting space had a choice to make: See Zoom as a threat and try to compete with it, or see Zoom as an opportunity to reach a wider client base and cash in on the hype? The majority chose the “If you can’t beat them, join them” approach and decided to bring RSI to where it is needed instead of trying to force people to use their own platform at all cost. Subsequently, this development kicked off the next trend in RSI: the race for integrations with Zoom and other major platforms. 

The push for these integrations is buyer-driven — both on the side of the VIT providers as well as on the side of the clients of major video conferencing platforms. On the side of the interpreting technology provider, the common theme is that people want to work with what they know — and what they know is Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Webex, etc. Clients don’t want to get to know another platform, train their team on it, and create new logins — but they do need interpretation. So, VIT providers were tasked with figuring out how to provide their RSI services at the same quality but on a different platform. Initially, VIT providers solved this problem via complex workarounds where meeting participants and interpreters needed to be connected both to Zoom (or another video conferencing platform) and the VIT platform. This allowed all participants to be part of the Zoom meeting, but receive the interpretation from the VIT platform. The interpreters took the original audio from Zoom but interpreted it on the VIT platform.

While this worked fine for a while, the setup was quite complex for everyone involved, from the interpreters to the participants to the meeting organizers. Eventually, the push for full integrations also came from large clients of Zoom or Microsoft, who started demanding better and less complex solutions. At this point in time, significant progress has been made. 

The first official integration happened in March 2021, when VRI provider Boostlingo announced its addition to the Zoom App Marketplace. Anyone with a Zoom account can now install the Boostlingo app for Zoom and set up an account. Once done, Zoom users can simply invite interpreters to any of their calls. As soon as the request has been processed by Boostlingo (more or less instantaneously), the interpreters will be placed directly into the Zoom call. Existing Boostlingo clients have access to the same feature. The interpreters work in the backend from the Boostlingo platform, which allows for proper tracking of call activity. 

It is no surprise that VRI companies were quicker to solve the integration challenge, as the technical requirements are less complex than for RSI (although there are still hurdles to overcome). However, it didn’t take long before RSI providers followed suit. 

Lithuanian RSI provider Interactio, for example, figured out an advanced integration for Zoom. The integration takes the audio from Zoom, feeds it into the Interactio platform where the interpreters perform the interpretation and then the audio is fed straight back into Zoom. Meeting participants simply need to select their preferred language when logging into the Zoom call, which they will be prompted to do, but they do not need to log into the Interactio platform as well, making it a much more comfortable user experience. The key to this integration is that meeting organizers need to have a Zoom license that includes access to Zoom’s own RSI feature. 

Taking it yet another step further, Switzerland-based RSI platform Interprefy created an official integration for Microsoft Teams in cooperation with the platform. Microsoft Teams clients can install Interprefy for Teams via the official Add-on Store. Once completed, users can request quotes for interpreting services directly in Teams and later simply click a button in the meeting, which will open a sidebar where participants can select their preferred language to listen to the interpretation.

Both Interactio and Interprefy, as well as other RSI providers are working on similar integrations for other platforms. KUDO, for example, recently launched KUDO Language Access, a new feature that allows its clients to integrate KUDO’s dropdown language selector into any events and virtual meeting platform. 

Considering all these integrations and partnerships, the burning question that remains is: Who will become the official RSI partner for Zoom? Well, most likely, nobody. Initially it may have seemed like the logical approach for Zoom to simply partner with an established RSI platform to provide a superior multilingual experience (Why build when you can buy?). However, at this point in time it is becoming increasingly unlikely for the company to go down this route. For two main reasons:

  1. Zoom’s main focus is not on multilingual meetings. For the conferencing giant, multilingualism is merely an add-on.
  2. Why invest in a partnership when everyone is already using your platform? The push from their clients, (basically) forced existing RSI providers to do the work and find a way to integrate their platform into Zoom. The race has already been won. 

But of course this is just speculation. We will have to wait and see what really happens.

The boom in telehealth

Another area for growth in the market comes from the area of telehealth. Already in other Nimdzi publications, we reported that demand for remote interpreting in the healthcare sector increased by more than 50% as patients are asked to call before making an in-person visit due to COVID-19 related safety measures. Remote interpreting in healthcare is certainly nothing new. However, the lockdown restrictions and spike in requests created new challenges. For example, before March 2020, VRI typically only required two channels — one for the interpreter and one for the doctor and patient, who usually were in the same room. However, once lockdowns hit, the situation shifted to all three parties typically being in different locations. This created a need for VRI with three-way call capabilities, which presented a technical challenge for established providers.

In addition, companies offering VRI or OPI reported a spike in requests from telehealth vendors, looking for ways to integrate interpreting into their own platforms. So, also in this segment of the interpreting industry, the race for integrations began.

As already highlighted in the M&A section of this report, the growth potential for interpreting services in the telehealth field is further confirmed by recent deals in this space, e.g. AMN Healthcare acquiring Stratus Video, and UpHealth acquiring Cloudbreak.

Dawn of the multilingual meeting provider

Not the entire demand for onsite interpreting directly pivoted to remote interpreting. Especially in the beginning, many events were simply cancelled. But even once the move towards virtual events started to gain momentum, the needs of clients did not stay the same. Interpreting providers were approached with entirely new meeting requests by existing and new clients alike and in some cases, clients were not looking to replace onsite interpreting with remote interpreting. Instead, some LSPs saw a spike in requests for document translations for multilingual meetings, while others were asked to provide live captions in multiple languages on various event platforms. What this meant for the interpreting providers, especially the smaller ones, was that they quickly had to adapt and tailor their service offerings to their clients’ needs by adding these “alternative services” to their portfolio.

Although this was a struggle for some LSPs, now that the hurdle has been overcome, these companies are the ones that will come out stronger. Because they are now in a position to offer a wider range of services, thereby increasing the likelihood of retaining their current clients and attracting a wider range of new clients.

This development tells us two things:

  1. A trend we have observed in the wider language services industry (outlined in the Nimdzi 100) is that the needs of buyers are becoming more complex and that, in turn, LSPs are pivoting and adapting to meet those requirements. For instance, by adding adjacent services, thereby offering their clients a more complete package that increases the value of the partnership. The development outlined above shows that this overarching trend seems to have trickled down to the interpreting industry, fueled by the impact of the pandemic.
  1. There is a clear need in the market for a Multilingual Meeting Provider (MMP). Yes, many companies already describe themselves as facilitating multilingual meetings — and they do. However, what we typically see in the market are either companies offering RSI or VRI, live captioning or machine interpreting, or a combination of a few of these services. Interviews with market players show that the needs of clients are shifting and buyers are increasingly looking for a provider that can do it all. Clients don’t want to go to one company for their interpreting needs, to another for translation and again to another for captioning (and potentially all for the same event), especially as more types of new meetings are emerging all the time. What they want is one provider that can facilitate all their requirements for virtual multilingual meetings and events. Who is going to fill this current gap and in what way (through partnerships, acquisitions, building or buying new tech, adding services, etc.) remains to be seen. 

The battle for talent: A continuing challenge, enhanced by legislative changes

A trend that is certainly not new but continues to stand out is a perceived scarcity of talent in the market. While there is no actual scarcity of interpreters, there is a scarcity of trained interpreters because as rates and working conditions are dropping, professional interpreters are either going on strike or leaving the profession altogether. Given that in some countries, community interpreters earn only slightly more than the minimum wage, some have started to move on to better paid and less stressful professions.

Adding to this is that most countries only provide accreditation tests for the most common languages. When a new language enters the market (e.g. through immigration), it might take up to a year before accreditation materials are available – but of course in the meantime the demand already has to be supplied.

The knock-on effect is that LSPs increasingly have to use untrained people. In medical and court interpreting, this can potentially be a high risk for the parties involved. It also means that LSPs are then often left with taking on the training burden themselves, which requires extra resources and significantly reduces the return on investment. 

A positive side effect of the shift to remote interpreting is that the market for interpreting talent has become far more global. Pre-pandemic, many LSPs were a lot more dependent on local talent, particularly due to the much higher percentage of onsite assignments. However, the increased acceptance of remote interpreting, both on the side of buyers and linguists, has created an opportunity for interpreting companies to access interpreters all across the globe. This does not only allow LSPs to offer 24/7 access to interpreters but also increases their chances of filling assignments for rare language combinations by being able to work with that one interpreter that is certified for Urdu to Brazilian Portuguese... 

That being said, there are also some countries that protect their domestic market against exactly this. For instance, in Australia, interpreters (and translators) need to be certified by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) if they want to work in the Australian market. This is not only a challenge for linguists and LSPs in Australia but also prevents linguists from other countries from entering the market.

AB5 and Brexit

Adding to the battle for talent are legislative developments like California’s AB5 law. The infamous gig-worker bill passed into law in January 2020 and required LSPs to classify all translators and interpreters (T&Is) they work with as employees. Arguing that the bill was misplaced in the case of T&Is, who are highly educated professionals and not gig workers, the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters (CoPTIC) advocated for an exemption from AB5 for T&Is. Their efforts paid off — in August 2020, the California State Senate approved an amended version of the bill that exempts translators and interpreters from the law, although interpreters still need to be registered or certified in their working languages for which certifications exist. Languages without certification are exempt from this requirement. 

For now, California is the only US state with this kind of gig-worker bill but the model is already being discussed in other states as well.

Brexit is another legislative development that is concerning LSPs, although this is predominantly limited to LSPs in the UK. While the majority of UK LSPs interviewed by Nimdzi Insights said that they were able to keep their linguists, close to half of the respondents to the survey from the UK’s Association of Translation Companies reported that they are worried about future talent acquisition due to Brexit.

AI: machine interpreting and CAI tools

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly entering more areas of our lives and the interpreting market is no exception. There are two main trends to highlight in this regard: machine interpreting and computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools.

Machine interpreting

While machine interpreting is not yet as advanced as machine translation, the technology for speech-to-speech translation has made significant strides in the last few years. What might have seemed next to impossible in the past has become a reality. Already, Skype users can use the Translator functionality to have spoken conversations translated by a synthetic voice in real-time, and handheld devices with the same capabilities that are predominantly aimed at tourists are flooding the market, especially in Asia. These solutions, which mostly target individual consumers, are still imperfect in that the technology struggles with proper names, brands, slang, and so on. However, they get the gist across and the technology is constantly evolving and improving. 

In the language industry, a few companies have started offering machine interpreting solutions for businesses. US-based wordly, for example, provides speech-to-text and speech-to-speech translation for conferences and has recently also added a Zoom integration for multilingual captions. UK-based thebigword developed an app called Voyager Translates, specifically designed for use by the armed forces. Finnish interpreting company, Youpret, has included machine interpreting into its offering for simpler requests. In addition, tech giants like Google are working on taking speech-to-speech technology to the next level. Current machine interpreting solutions use a cascading model that uses speech-to-text functionalities in the first step, followed by machine translation, and then text-to-speech technology. Google plans to eliminate the need for any form of text representation and instead wants to go straight from audio to audio, using the data found in sound waves with its Translatotron model. In fact, the company recently released a paper about Translatotron 2, which is said to significantly outperform the first version and whose translation quality is supposed to be on par with that of the traditional cascading systems.

In the meantime, machine translation and interpreting company XL8 has figured out a way to make speech-to-speech translation available faster (almost instantaneously), by utilizing sound waves as well as training the technology to translate the speech content in chunks (i.e. units of meaning) rather than waiting for the full sentence to finish, which is also a technique employed by human interpreters. XL8’s solution is, for example, aimed at broadcasters but can also be used for video conferencing. 

At this point in time, machine interpreting solutions are already ready for use — just not for all use cases. What the machines are good at is processing pure information, so assignments that are more technical in nature or require less nuance are optimal. What the machines are not (yet) good at is conveying emotion, irony, or tone, as well as transferring gender from one language to another. This is where the expertise of human interpreters is required, at least for the foreseeable future.

Computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools

The purpose of CAI tools is to be a form of AI-booth mate for interpreters performing (remote) simultaneous interpreting. CAI tools allow interpreters to extract terminology and build their glossary within seconds. During an assignment, CAI tools can also call out figures and names, and instantly convert units (e.g. for measurements and currencies). The goal of CAI tools is to make the interpreter's preparation time more efficient and to ease the cognitive load during the assignment. While CAI tools have been developed for a few years now, they are still being fine-tuned, which is why we have not added them to our Language Technology Atlas yet. That these tools are, however, becoming more prominent is evidenced in the fact that, for example, RSI provider KUDO is currently working on developing its own CAI tools, for which the company specifically hired a new Head of Innovation

What about sign language interpreting?

If you noticed the lack of information about sign language interpreting services, then rest assured — this was not an oversight on our part. At Nimdzi, we are aware of the crucial role that sign language interpreting services play to enable language access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. We are also aware that this is a very specialized field and that plenty of what holds true for spoken language interpreting cannot simply be transferred to the world of sign language interpreting. This is why, Nimdzi has dedicated a full report to this important sub-segment of the language services industry. Our report about the size and state of the market for American Sign Language interpreting services can be accessed for free on the Nimdzi website.  

What does the future hold?

The interpreting market has changed and our research indicates that it will never go back to the way it was before March 2020. In the past, one of the blockers for remote interpreting was reluctance and fear on the side of clients and interpreters alike. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to go back. Too much time and money has been invested in the training of people and the development of platforms, too many untapped markets and opportunities lie ahead. There will always be a need for onsite interpreting, but clients might be more selective and reconsider which meetings are worth meeting in person for and which ones aren’t, e.g. when the costs outweigh the benefits.

It is hard to predict what the interpreting market of the future will look like but this is what we know:

  • Thanks to the boom in remote interpreting, providers in this space are increasingly receiving requests from clients and industry segments that have never used interpreting services before. This will not only expand the market for interpreting services but it will also continue to change the market as new types of meeting requests need to be accommodated. LSPs, tech providers, and interpreters that want to succeed in the interpreting market of the future need to be agile and ready to embrace their clients’ changing needs.
  • The future of interpreting for business meetings, conferences, and events will be hybrid — a trend that is already growing in the industry. What this means is that we will see more events that are hosted both onsite and remote, giving participants the option to either travel to the location or join the event from home. For interpreting providers, this means a more complex setup. 
  • Machine interpreting is no longer something that can be laughed off as an unrealistic technological goal by people who are not aware of the complexities of the interpreting task. At this stage, enough progress has been made that machine interpreting solutions will increasingly enter the market. At least for the more low-risk assignments in areas that previously either used no or very little interpreting. For instance, at hotel receptions and in cabs, but also in emergencies (when there is simply no time to call an interpreter) and at the triage stage in a hospital, before the actual interpreter arrives for the consultation. 

From March 2020 to today, in October 2021, the interpreting industry has been characterized by non-stop change. It was stressful, it was scary, it was exciting. Interpreting providers adapted their business models, added new platforms and features, restructured their internal operations, worked on integrations, and received completely new types of requests that fueled innovation. Coming out of all this, the interpreting market is better set up than ever before to meet the increasingly complex demands of buyers. 

No matter what the future of the interpreting market looks like, what the pandemic has shown is that this is an extremely resilient and agile segment of the language services industry. 

Did you know? The Nimdzi Interpreting Index is available for download!

This report was researched and written by Sarah Hickey, Nimdzi's VP of Research. If you wish to learn more about the interpreting market, reach out to Sarah at [email protected].

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