Navigating the Winds of Change: A New Era for Language Services

Article written by Renato Beninatto.

Thirty years ago, one of the most prominent newspapers in Brazil published a story in which I described how "everything that I achieved in my profession was because of the computer." I explained how I enhanced my computers to increase performance and that my clients wanted their jobs printed in color.

What has changed from 1993 to 2023?

Over the course of the past thirty years, very little has changed when it comes to attitudes and a lot has changed when it comes to technology.

In the article, I mention top-of-the-line computers that today would be less potent than a Fitbit. I talk about cassette tapes and a library of 600 dictionaries (that would eventually reach 3,000). None of that is part of any professional translator's toolkit today.

The journalist points out that I decided to use computers in 1984 "to prove to the Brazilian Translators' Union members that it is possible to be well-paid in the field of translation." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

I have seen much change in almost 40 years of using computers for translation, but the industry's reactions always seem to be the same. We are always on the verge of extinction; we are always underpaid; we are always exploited by the big guys. And this time, the threat is real!

And so it was with the fax machine, the computer, the internet, translation memory, and machine translation. And, now, Generative AI.

I may be naïve, and I may be wrong, but as an early adopter (yes, I spent over one thousand dollars on Google Glass), I know that some professionals who are curious and entrepreneurial will come out of this cycle of accelerated innovation and change with more money than the majority.

Caption: Technology Adoption Lifecycle (from Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore)

Just as we no longer use typewriters, dictionaries, cassette tapes, fax machines, Palm Pilots, dictaphones, and Walkmans, the work of the translator or the LSP will change dramatically. Likewise, thirty years ago some translators made more money than others, and today some translators make more money than others; tomorrow will be the same. As Communism is dead, we need to deal with the reality of living in capitalist societies, where inequality is du jour. (If you are interested in an interesting discussion that I had in 2012 with the late Miguel Llorens on this topic, read it here).

We need to keep in mind that our industry has always been dynamic and diverse because it permeates every single type of human and economic activity. Not every type of content needs quality, not every translator needs to be the best, not every subject requires extraordinary talent or training, and there are always going to be professionals who are better positioned to sell themselves and others who struggle to make ends meet (just like in every other profession).

Earlier this month, I was part of a panel at a conference in Bologna, Italy, and one of the attendees asked what kind of advice I would give to an 18-year-old coming into the market today. My answer was: "Learn to learn, because by the time you finish studying something, it is already obsolete!"

During the same conference, someone mentioned my earlier article about the MT sommelier and asked me to propose some other titles for people in the near future of our industry, and these are some of the ones that I came up with:

  • Translation memory masseuse
  • Prompt consultant
  • Bias editor
  • Transcreation producer
  • International privacy guardian
  • Algorithmic justice manager
  • Digital nudging specialist
  • Accessibility adapter

Hey, in 1993 I would have not imagined that titles like multilingual SEO specialist, LocLunch ambassador, or multimedia localization producer could exist someday. So don't judge me!

In the wake of profound technological transformations, language service providers must remain adaptive, strategic, and forward-thinking. Below are some recommendations for LSPs to consider:

1. Embrace Change, Don't Fear It: It's natural for industries to face resistance when it comes to adopting new technologies. But just like the fax machine, computers, and the internet revolutionized how we work, the current wave of generative AI and machine learning promises similar breakthroughs. Embrace these changes as opportunities rather than threats.

2. Invest in New Technologies: Investing in new technologies like AI and machine learning is not only about keeping up with the competition but also about providing value to your clients. These technologies can streamline workflows, reduce errors, and increase productivity. Keep in mind, different users have different requirements and expectations. The key to creating value is to tailor your technological approach to meet their specific needs. This customization approach will provide a more personalized service and thus enhance your client relationships. Discuss it with your clients and don't expect to have a final solution immediately. Now is the time to pilot solutions.

3. Upskill Your Workforce: As the work of project managers and vendor managers evolves, the skills required will also shift. Invest in training programs that equip your workforce with the skills needed to leverage new technologies. Encourage continuous learning and curiosity. Encourage individuals to try new things.

4. Foster a Culture of Innovation: Encourage your team to be early adopters of emerging tech. By doing so, you'll create an environment where people aren't just reacting to change, but actively shaping it.

5. Diversify Your Services: Use technology to broaden the range of services you offer. From transcreation producer to digital nudging specialist, the changing landscape opens up opportunities for new roles that can add value to your service offerings.

6. Understand the Market Dynamics: As mentioned before, understand that not every client will require the highest quality translations. Some will prioritize speed, while others will focus on cost. Tailor your services to cater to the diverse needs of the market. This is a time when one size does not fit all.

7. Emphasize Value, Not Just Cost: It's essential to articulate the value that your services provide rather than focusing solely on cost. Technology can enhance the value you offer, from quicker turnarounds to higher-quality translations.

Navigating this technological change is a challenge, but also an opportunity. It's the LSPs that are able to adapt and thrive in this changing landscape that will shape the future of the translation industry.

Embracing Change as a Buyer of Language Services

With Generative AI becoming a pivotal part of the language services industry, it presents a unique opportunity for buyers to reassess the traditional dynamics of their engagements with LSPs. The widespread discussion around this technology serves as an opportunity to move away from the conventional price-per-word metric and embrace a shared risk model.

In a shared risk model, the buyer sets a budget for language services based on past experiences and allocates it to the LSP, independent of the volume of translations required. The onus then falls on the LSP, who, as the expert in translation processes, will need to leverage their skills, strategies, and technologies effectively to meet the requirements within the given budget.

The approach allows LSPs to seek efficiencies through the use of AI or other means to maintain or expand their margins. This way, the risk is shared as the LSP must efficiently manage resources to achieve the desired outcomes within the predetermined budget. The focus is shifted from cost-per-unit to overall budget management, allowing the LSP to demonstrate their expertise and the buyer to benefit from potentially improved efficiencies.

Furthermore, this model presents a path for the buyer's budget to remain static or even decrease over time as LSPs find more efficient ways to deliver their services, potentially benefiting from technological advancements like AI.

Therefore, this era of technological transformation offers an opportune moment to change the conversation with internal stakeholders and LSPs. By shifting the focus from a transactional relationship to a shared risk model, you can turn this period of change into a win-win situation for both buyers and LSPs.


Reflecting on my experiences 30 years ago, I can see echoes of the past in the present. But, much like then, the key to navigating these changes lies in adaptability and open-mindedness. 

To summarize:

  • Buyers: Seize the opportunity to shift from a price-per-word model towards a shared risk model. This approach puts the responsibility of finding efficiencies on the LSPs, thereby allowing you to leverage their expertise while controlling costs.
  • Translators: Cultivate the habit of continuous learning to stay relevant in the face of rapid technological changes. Fear not the change, but view it as an opportunity for growth and adaptation.
  • LSPs: Embrace emerging technologies strategically, tailoring your approach to the specific needs of each client. Move beyond the fear of change, focusing on value delivery rather than cost reduction.

Our industry has always been dynamic and resilient, and the challenges we face today are no different from those we've overcome in the past. Let's use these changes to refine our processes, improve our relationships, and enhance the value we bring to the table. Like in the past, I believe that our collective resilience and ingenuity will ensure a prosperous future for the language industry.

This article was written by Renato Beninatto, Nimdzi's Co-founder. If you want to discuss what's in store for the language services industry or share your opinions, reach out to Renato at [email protected].

20 June 2023

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