The Nimdzi Interpreting Index The size and state of the global interpreting market, including a ranking of the top 33 companies by revenue
Report by Sarah Hickey.
Table of contents
- The Nimdzi Interpreting Index 2019
- Interpreting emerges
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The Nimdzi Interpreting Index 2019
About the Index
This is the first Nimdzi Interpreting Index. There has not been a ranking of the top players in interpreting in years and it is a great time to take a closer look at this sector of the language industry because interpreting is becoming more significant and scalable. The Nimdzi Interpreting Index includes a ranking of the largest players in the business, an estimated size of the global interpreting market, and an overview of its current state.
Let’s start with what you came here for — our ranking of the top 33 global leaders in interpreting:
Top 33 interpreting providers 2019
Notes – Mobile version:
- The Rank column is expandable to display more information related to each company. Press the + icon to learn more.
|Rank||Company name||Country||Interpreting revenue (USD million)||% of overall revenue||Note||Core interpreting business||Main sector|
|1||LanguageLine Solutions||United States||451.2||94.0%||v||remote||healthcare, public sector, business|
|2||CyraCom International, Inc.||United States||141.0||95.9%||v||remote||healthcare, public sector|
|3||Stratus Video/InDemand Interpreting||United States||99.9||99.9%||v||remote||healthcare|
|4||thebigword||United Kingdom||59.3||49.2%||v||onsite||public sector|
|5||Semantix||Sweden||55.6||48.9%||v||onsite and remote||public sector|
|6||Language Services Associates, Inc.||United States||46.0||75.4%||e||remote||public sector, healthcare|
|7||Språkservice Sverige AB||Sweden||45.0||92.9%||e||remote||public sector, healthcare, immigration|
|8||Certified Languages International||United States||40.6||98.1%||v||remote||healthcare, public sector, LSPs|
|9||TVcN||Netherlands||33.0||100.0%||v||remote||public sector, healthcare|
|10||Transvoice||Sweden||32.0||N/A||e||remote and onsite||public sector, conference|
|12||Livewords/Acolad Group||Netherlands/France||28.3||15.5%||v||remote and onsite||public sector|
|13||Language Link||United States||27.0||90.0%||e||remote||public sector|
|14||ONCALL||Australia||26.0||N/A||e||remote and onsite||public sector, healthcare|
|17||GLOBO||United States||16.5||98.2%||v||remote||healthcare, public sector, life sciences, financial|
|18||VITS LanguageLoop||Australia||15.5||91.6%||v||onsite and remote||public sector, healthcare, insurance|
|19||Interpreters Unlimited Group||United States||14.2||94.7%||v||onsite||conference|
|20||Propio Language Services||United States||12.1||96.8%||v||remote||healthcare|
|21||Akorbi||United States||11.0||20.0%||v||remote and onsite||healthcare|
|22||Presence Group||Luxembourg||10.0||N/A||v||onsite and equipment||conference|
|23||Geneva Worldwide, Inc.||United States||10.0||83.3%||e||onsite||conference|
|24||MasterWord Services, Inc.||United States||9.0||65.7%||v||onsite||healthcare|
|25||American Sign Language Services||United States||8.8||95.0%||e||remote and onsite||sign language|
|26||Honyaku Center, Inc.||Japan||8.5||8.8%||v||onsite||pharma, telecommunication|
|28||Language World Services||United States||8.3||N/A||v||remote and onsite||healthcare|
|30||MCIS Language Solutions||Canada||6.9||74.2%||v||onsite||public sector|
|31||The Language Group||United States||6.8||85.0%||v||onsite||healthcare|
|32||Via Sign Language Cooperative||Finland||5.0||N/A||e||onsite||sign language|
|33||KERN AG||Germany||4.7||8.3%||v||onsite||business, conference, court|
- (v) verified, data provided by companies
- (e) estimated revenue, based on extensive industry research
Some large interpreting companies do not disclose their revenue. We provide visibility to such companies on the Watchlist to highlight their impact on the industry. The companies are ranked in alphabetical order.
- Medium: we believe that the company (or business unit) generated between USD 5 and 30 million in language services revenue in 2018.
- Large: we believe that the company (or business unit) generated more than USD 30 million in language services revenue in 2018.
|Ad Astra, Inc.||United States||medium||OPI, VRI|
|Capita Translation and Interpreting||United Kingdom||medium||public sector, healthcare, legal|
|Cintra Language Services Group||United Kingdom||medium||public sector, healthcare, business|
|Congrestolken - Conference Interpreters||Netherlands||medium||conference|
|Continental Interpreting Services, Inc.||United States||medium||onsite, legal|
|CQ fluency||United States||medium||OPI, onsite|
|Evantia Group||Finland||medium||sign language|
|Global Voices||United Kingdom||medium||conference, public sector, healthcare|
|Global VRS||United States||medium||sign language, VRS|
|Intelligere||United States||medium||onsite and conference|
|LUNA Language Services||United States||medium||onsite and conference|
|Simul International, Inc.||Japan||medium||conference|
|Sign Language Resources, Inc.||United States||medium||sign language|
|Sorenson Community Interpreting Services||United States||large||sign language, VRS|
|SOSi||United States||large||public sector, defense, intelligence|
|TransPerfect||United States||large||conference, remote|
|ZVRS/Purple Communications, Inc.||United States||large||sign language, VRS|
In the course of this market analysis, Nimdzi has 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 report 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.
- We concentrated on identifying interpreting companies with USD 5 million or more in revenue with the assistance of in-country experts. In most countries, there are only a few providers of that size, and they are impossible to hide from local competitors because they hire staff, take part in requests for proposals, and employ a large number of interpreters. Once we identified the relevant companies, we researched information that could help us make more accurate estimates of their size and talked to the management directly to verify findings.
- The interpreting market is extremely fragmented — 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.
- 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.
- This is a live document. Nimdzi reserves the right to publish revisions. We expect some players to submit new or revised financial figures and we may release a second edition of the ranking if material and appropriate.
- We used data from the latest fiscal year for each company. This means the numbers for some companies will not reflect 2018 calendar year revenues. We are aware that this may complicate comparisons between companies. However, we believe that including the latest figures makes for the most accurate market estimation.
- Our definition of interpreting services includes: onsite interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), video remote interpreting (VRI), video relay services (VRS), sign language interpreting, conference interpreting, equipment rental for interpreting, and related services.
- We used average annual currency conversion rates to US dollars for each day of trading in 2018.
While interpreting has long been the little cousin of translation in the language services industry, it has evolved and is starting to become big business — and quite a lucrative one at that.
Only three years ago, in 2016, LanguageLine Solutions was bought by Teleperformance for USD 1.5 billion. It was the biggest deal in the history of the language industry. Since then, there has been a lot of movement on the market and new leaders have started to emerge around the globe.
Earlier this year in the US, Stratus Video and InDemand Interpreting merged to become the third-largest interpreting company in the world, with a combined revenue of over USD 100 million. The merger may have also made them the leader in medical remote interpreting, with number one and two on the interpreting market, LanguageLine Solutions and CyraCom International, both operating in multiple customer verticals.
Public sector procurement units juggle large framework contracts from established providers to medium-sized challengers.
While the European market is still smaller and more fragmented, cogs have started turning here as well. In the UK, thebigword went from USD 45 million to USD 120 million in three years after taking over the Ministry of Justice contract previously held by Capita Translation and Interpreting. Thebigword’s interpreting services now account for 49 percent of their revenue, or USD 59 million in absolute figures.
In the Nordics, EasyTranslate won one of the largest public sector contracts, awarded by Denmark’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Immigration and Integration. The four year contract is worth up to USD 80 million. In Sweden, HeroTolk won a public sector contract of similar size and duration, which had previously been held by Semantix.
In the UK and the Netherlands, large government contracts will come to term in the next two years, opening up opportunities for a shift in market leadership. Aside from competing for these government contracts, European interpreting leaders like thebigword and TVcN will attempt cross-border sales as well.
At this momentous time, our public ranking brings structure and clarity to this emerging market.
The global leader: LanguageLine Solutions
First things first, let’s talk about the number one in our ranking.
LanguageLine Solutions is the global leader in interpreting — by a landslide. The US-based company recorded an interpreting revenue of USD 451.2 million in their latest fiscal year. That is over USD 300 million more than the next in line, CyraCom International.
While interpreting is not the only service LanguageLine Solutions offers, their interpreting business accounts for 94 percent of their overall revenue. The company employs more than ten thousand interpreters for onsite, over-the-phone (OPI) and video remote interpreting (VRI). With their interpreters answering around 35 million calls for over 240 languages each year, OPI is LanguageLine Solutions’ core business.
What makes them stand out?
- The company does not shy away from innovation: LanguageLine Solutions can be described as one of the pioneers in the OPI business. Almost four decades ago, LanguageLine Solutions was heavily involved in setting the standards for this newly emerging market. Today, OPI is still their core business but since 2016 the company has also started to move into the VRI market.
- Large contracts in multiple verticals: LanguageLine operates in multiple customer verticals. The three main ones are healthcare organizations, government agencies, and businesses, which can all be described as lucrative ones. In the US, strict language access regulations result in large interpreting contracts in the area of healthcare and government. A focus on winning large contracts in lucrative fields like these, can set a company ahead in the game.
- One finger on the pulse of the industry: Looking at LanguageLine Solutions’ blog, it becomes apparent that this is a company that stays on top or even ahead of industry trends. Research-driven business decisions can be a catalyst for strategic growth.
- Not afraid to outsource: Not even the largest companies can fulfil all demand by themselves, particularly when expanding into markets in other countries. LanguageLine Solutions is, for example, providing VRI services for the Ministry of Justice in Alberta, Canada, using a third party provider.
For 2019, the company is projecting growth of more than five percent.
Congratulations, LanguageLine Solutions.
7 key trends and findings
Considering the ranking of top players, the watchlist of significant market influencers, as well as numerous briefings with industry experts, these are the main findings about the current state of the global interpreting market.
Business optimism: Expansion is on everyone’s mind
Interpreting companies are territorial and often linked to local hospitals and governments. Especially in the area of onsite interpreting, local companies are usually tied to such contracts. This might change soon, however,as many are looking to expand and build sales. We talked to large and medium-sized interpreting companies in different geographical regions and identified similar trends.
Aside from competing for government contracts, interpreting companies in Europe are going to attempt international expansion and consolidation.
In July 2019, Dutch interpreting provider, Livewords, merged with French provider, Acolad. To date, Acolad has mainly focused on onsite interpreting, whereas Livewords lists OPI as their core interpreting business. With the merger, the group has widened their range of services, and is now able to offer both comprehensive onsite and remote solutions. Aside from growing their business through the merger, Livewords and Acolad have already started expanding into markets in other countries, for example the public market in Germany.
TVcN, currently the largest provider of interpreting services in the Netherlands, is planning to expand into the private market in other countries as well. Thebigword, the largest player in the UK, will try to expand into the US market, as well as into the OPI and VRI markets.
In the US, large companies are competing for government contracts as well. In addition, medium-sized companies like The Language Group are looking to expand into the VRI market. For well-established onsite interpreting providers, implementing VRI solutions can increase profits, as it allows for more market reach but requires far less management.
The recipe for success: Market niches and low fragmentation
Unlike the public sector where contracts range from USD 10 to 80 million, the conference interpreting sector is far less lucrative. The meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry has lots of small buyers. To achieve significant profits, a company must win dozens of contracts. This is why we don’t see many conference interpreting companies in our ranking of top players in the industry.
In the public sector on the other hand, winning one contract can be enough to set a company ahead in the game. There are only a few large buyers in this sector, so fragmentation is low and contracts are large.
The large companies in our ranking became big by focusing on sectors with low buyer concentration. Fewer buyers with large contracts, equals much higher payoff. This strategy is what makes them succeed in the market and stand out from the crowd.
VIT is everywhere
Virtual interpreting technology (VIT) is on the rise and starting to shape the market in different ways. Some companies like TVcN already focus on utilizing apps for large portions of their interpreting volumes. Others, like Sorenson Community Interpreting Services, still generate most of their business via legacy solutions, like video relay services (VRS – a special video phone solution for the deaf and hard of hearing).
Big operators have interpreting management systems that automate interpreter scheduling and project management to increase efficiency and save costs. Interpreter delivery platforms offer instant solutions by connecting clients to interpreters within seconds.
All large interpreting companies have introduced remote interpreting in one form or another. For the moment, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) is still dominating the remote market, but video remote interpreting (VRI) is on the rise. By adding the ability to read visual cues, VRI allows for a more human connection.
Even interpreting units in international organizations, like the European Commission’s Directorate General for Interpretation (DG SCIC), have started to consider VRI. After testing four interpreting platforms — Interactio, Interprefy, Kudo, and VoiceBoxer — the DG SCIC recently concluded that such platforms can be used to provide interpreting.
While remote interpreting might not replace all instances of onsite interpreting, VIT holds the potential to expand the interpreting market and reveal untapped opportunities. One example of this are smaller meetings for which interpreting services would previously have been too expensive or technically impossible. It also allows interpreting providers to work across time zones.
VIT offers affordable solutions that can increase efficiency and open the door to new markets. All large companies have adopted VIT solutions to different degrees. Next, buyers need to adopt it as well.
M&A has arrived onto the scene
A Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) wave is building up and bringing about new leaders. In Spring 2019, Stratus Video and InDemand Interpreting merged to become the third largest interpreting group in the world. Not long after, Acolad and Livewords merged and became number two in the Dutch market.
M&A activity highlights business optimism. Investors believe in the prospects of interpreting and in potential growth above 10 percent a year.
Mergers of significant size are particularly interesting to group purchasing organizations (GPOs). In the United States, GPOs are groups of businesses that have come together to leverage their collective purchasing power. They exist in various industries, including the healthcare sector. Hospitals and clinics join forces to aggregate purchases and reduce costs for equipment and services — including interpreting services. Given their combined volumes, GPOs require providers with a sizeable interpreter force that are able to fill thousands of bookings promptly. Competition over large contracts in this sector might increase.
For smaller LSPs, on the other hand, this might actually mean less competition. When large companies merge to become even larger, they will likely focus their efforts on winning large contracts. Small contracts will become less important for their growth, which in turn leaves more room for smaller companies.
The United States has well-implemented, strict language access regulations. In public service and medical settings, citizens with limited English proficiency (LEP) must be provided with an interpreter. This legislation is the base on which the success of the US interpreting market is built, particularly in healthcare interpreting, where the market is booming and worth billions of dollars.
At the time of writing, in mid-2019, the Trump administration has proposed a number of changes to this legislation, which could pose a threat to the interpreting market in the US. The administration might, for example, ease the requirements of healthcare organizations to inform LEP patients of their language rights. This, in turn, could lead to fewer LEP citizens exercising their right to an interpreter.
Another change the Trump administration has proposed is to replace court interpreters with pre-recorded videos as the main means of informing immigrants facing deportation of their rights. It is intended to be a cost-saving measure and to improve efficiency, but would not allow for immigrants to ask questions or for judges to offer clarifications.
If implemented, both changes could decrease interpreting demand and reshape the US market.
While all this is happening in the US, the European market is advancing. In most countries legislative requirements are still behind US standards, but government centralization is picking up and offering opportunities for big business in countries like the UK, the Netherlands and the Nordics. Germany, France, and Italy on the other hand are missing from the scene, as they are lacking the legal framework for centralization, despite having large immigrant populations.
Platforms struggle to make a dent in the market
There is a threat from platform companies like Boostlingo that try to muster large decentralized interpreting pools via API. However, for now they hardly make a dent in the market. This is because although technology can be extremely valuable for expansion and reducing costs, it does not change the business for the big guys.
The top companies in our ranking became big by focussing on winning large contracts. Technology did not come into play. Many of them added virtual interpreting technology (VIT) to their existing business models after securing government bids. It is becoming increasingly easy and affordable to implement VIT solutions, and they can be a useful ad-on. This is especially true when more jobs need to be managed due to increased demand. However, technology is not a differentiator.
That being said, remote interpreting platforms remain a future challenger to established interpreting providers.
Price pressure in the public sector
Some countries have started to feel price pressure from the public sector procurement units that aggregate contracts into frameworks to increase their influence over the vendors. A good example comes from Sweden, where Nordic leader Semantix pulled out of a government contract over price pressure. The contract, worth USD 82 million, went to HeroTolk. In the UK, Pearl Linguistics went bankrupt in 2017 after winning a large contract for the National Health Service.
Pricing pressure and single vendor systems have backfired in some countries when companies exclusively focused on winning contracts but then could not fulfil them.
In Denmark, EasyTranslate won the contract from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Immigration and Integration as the sole provider for their interpreting requirements. Several Danish newspapers reported that the decision sparked heated debates and protests by hundreds of interpreters over the new terms. Significantly reduced reimbursement rates of up to 60 percent lower were a particular point of contention. Even before the contract took effect on April 1st 2019, almost 700 interpreters signed a petition and announced that they would not work under the new conditions. This was more than a third of the interpreters the Danish authorities had on their list of official providers. As a result, there have now been cases where interpreters did not show up to court. In one instance, the police even released a suspected criminal because no interpreters were available.
Finland has experienced turmoil in the area of public sector interpreting as well. The government’s central procurement unit, Hansel, was heavily criticized over its handling of an interpreting contract worth USD 44 million in 2016 and 2017. The tender was withdrawn several times, cancelled, put out to bid again, and then cancelled once more after the contract had already been awarded. A dynamic ranking system has since been introduced for the new contract, awarded in 2018. Providers will be evaluated for their performance on an ongoing basis, which will avoid contracts going to a single provider.
Market sized at USD 7.6 billion
We estimate the market for interpreting services in 2019 at USD 7.6 billion. This includes core services such as onsite interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), video remote interpreting (VRI), video relay services (VRS), sign language interpreting, conference interpreting, equipment rental for interpreting, and related services.
Interpreting providers should calculate the addressable market for their services at 60 percent of the total figure. This is because not all interpreting services are outsourced to LSPs. Large institutions like the European Union and Hospital Systems employ staff interpreters as well as freelancers, rather than working with agencies.
Top companies concentrate 33.2% of industry revenue
Although M&A, and centralizations via government contracts are on the rise, the interpreting industry is still largely run by many small companies. All companies included in this report accounted for 33.2% of the interpreting industry in 2018.
In absolute figures, the 55 companies tracked by Nimdzi earned USD 2.5 billion in the latest fiscal year. The top 10 companies were responsible for more than a third of that.
- USD 1 billion in the top 10
- USD 316 million in the next 23
- USD 1.2 billion approximately in the watchlist
The industry is still predominantly made up of companies smaller than USD 5 million.
The interpreting market is quite diverse, so it is worth considering key sectors to gain a better understanding of the global business.
Overview of key sectors and fragmentation
Conference interpreting: No big fish
There are no large conference interpreting companies, and very few that exclusively offer onsite interpreting. It is reasonable to assume that this because the logistics for onsite are more complex and require a network of local interpreters.
In addition, a large chunk of the conference interpreting market centers around organizations like the European Union and the United Nations, that mostly contract individuals rather than companies.
Public contracts: Following the money
In the US, the Nordics, the UK, and the Netherlands, the public sector is where the money is. Buyer fragmentation is low and contracts vary between USD 10 and 80 million. In the US, the healthcare market is growing and still holds a lot of opportunities, despite proposed legislative changes by the Trump administration.
There are hidden pockets of business that are not transparent, such as interpreters that work for the military and organizations in crisis regions.
Another cluster is a number of large sign language interpreting companies. In the United States, video relay services (VRS) are a well-established, government funded system. It allows deaf people to make phone calls to anyone via a special video phone and instant access to a sign language interpreter.
VRS is funded by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). We looked into their current report and found that the FCC estimates the funding requirement for VRS at USD 482 million, confirming that this market is worth a substantial sum.
What’s even more impressive is the funding requirement if all remote public services facilitating communication for the deaf and hard of hearing are considered. These services include telecommunications relay services (TRS), speech-to-speech relay service (STS), and captioned telephone service (CTS), alongside VRS.
The FCC estimates the market for all theses services together at USD 1.4 billion.
Sorenson Community Interpreting Services is the largest VRS provider in the United States. They have thousands of sign language interpreters in more than one-hundred locations throughout the US and Canada. Purple Communications and ZVRS, who merged in Spring 2017, and ConvoRelay, are next in line. Another large sign language interpreting company, called Via, can be found in Finland.
Considering the companies in our ranking and the watchlist, this is an overview of the geographical distribution of the largest interpreting providers:
In addition to the ranking, we conducted briefings with large interpreting companies across the globe. These provided us with valuable insights about the world of interpreting. Let’s take a look at key findings for the different geographical regions.
The largest market: The United States
Most of the large players in interpreting are located in the United States, making the US the largest interpreting market in the world. This is mostly due to laws that guarantee language access to LEP citizens in public service and healthcare settings. With almost eight percent of the US population falling into this category, the market for medical interpreting is booming and it is far from saturated.
Nimdzi estimates that 50 percent of large hospitals and 90 percent of community centers are still untapped, but have to find an interpreting solution in order to comply with legal requirements. In other words, the US healthcare market holds plenty more opportunities.
Catching a ride on the same wave, the remote interpreting market in the US is expanding and becoming more established, particularly in medical interpreting. Opportunities here also include integrating with telemedicine providers and web conferencing tools.
There are many different approaches to interpreting in the US. Large companies, like LanguageLine Solutions, offer high-quality premium price solutions. Smaller companies, like The Language Group, focus on providing customized solutions to their clients. Many local providers work with onsite interpreters (especially in California) and resell virtual interpreting technology (VIT) solutions from others.
The Nordics and the UK: High up the ranks
In Europe, Sweden is by far the most transparent interpreting market. The country’s public service sector is well established, both for onsite and OPI. Four Swedish interpreting companies have made it onto our ranking of top players in the world, with a combined interpreting revenue of more than USD 140 million.
In terms of their size and the advanced state of their interpreting market, the Nordics in general are high up the ranks in the world of interpreting.
Not far behind is the United Kingdom, where thebigword is the largest interpreting company. In the UK, the focus is also on public service interpreting, and onsite is still the most common mode.
The battle for the Netherlands
A country that stood out from our research was the Netherlands. With a sole focus on interpreting and a revenue of USD 33 million, TVcN is the current Dutch leader. Livewords, whose interpreting revenue generated USD 20 million in 2018, is the next in line. After their merger with French provider Acolad, the group now has a combined interpreting revenue of USD 28 million.
In the next 18 months, current government contracts in the Netherlands will be up and the government will put out new bids worth USD 41 million. This will go to 16 different tenders. Competition will not just come from inside the country but also from outside. European companies are looking to attempt cross-border sales and have recognized the value of the Dutch market. Let the battle for the Netherlands begin.
Germany, France and Italy: Behind the trend
While Germany is considered the largest economy in Europe, we could only find one company with a significant interpreting revenue. For a country with 83 million citizens and a large immigrant population, this is quite surprising.
This does not mean that there is no interpreting requirement in Germany, but rather that the market is run by small companies and sole proprietors. To illustrate this, when we looked into public service contracts, we found a sole proprietor who had won a contract worth USD 2 million. In comparison, KERN, Germany’s largest LSP, has an interpreting revenue of a little under USD 5 million.
The main reason behind this is that the German government has not implemented laws regulating interpreting services for public service needs yet. The situation is similar in France and in Italy. While these are large markets and Paris in particular can be described as an interpreting hub, there are no large companies that stand out.
Canada: Foreign languages trump bilingualism
In Canada, the public sector is the largest market, as it is all about compliance due to the country’s bilingualism policy. However, this is mostly enforced in the area of document translation and less in interpreting.
Companies are not seeing a large requirement for interpreting into French, for two intertwined reasons. While the federal government enforces bilingualism, meaning that people have the right to an interpreter in public settings, there is less requirement for English<>French interpreting on the federal level. There is a higher demand for interpreting on the provincial level, but according to in-country experts that Nimdzi consulted on the matter, the provinces are not as good at enforcing bilingualism. As a result, the interpreting requirement into French is low, despite the country’s bilingualism policy.
In the area of foreign language interpreting, Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish are the top three in demand. This is largely due to immigration. In 2018, around 310 thousand immigrants arrived in the country and the same numbers are projected for 2019. For a country with roughly 37 million citizens, this is a significant number and drives interpreting demand in this field.
Given the size of the country, the potential for remote interpreting is huge in Canada. Existing remote solutions to date mainly focus on OPI.
Asia: Diverse and technology driven
The Asian market holds considerable opportunities, but is also decentralized. There is no market for hospital interpreting yet, and centralization of public sector procurement is still low. This is why we do not see many Asian companies in the ranking of top players.
Japan: Technology hype
Honyaku Center, Inc. is Japan’s largest language service provider and number 26 in our ranking of global interpreting leaders. In their latest financial figures, the company reported a year-on-year increase of 19.2 percent in interpreting net sales, up to USD 8.5 million. This is predominantly due to a steady demand from large information and telecommunications companies, pharmaceutical companies, and international relations projects. Honyaku Center names language technology adoption as a key factor of their success and lists targeting more Big Pharma clients as part of their growth strategy.
Ahead of the 2020 Olympic fever, language technology companies are making inroads into the Japanese market, targeting individual consumers. This is an unusual strategy for enterprises in our research, but one that can be explained by two main reasons:
- Japan is known as a country where adoption of new technology is very high. The Japanese love having the latest gadgets, and language technology is no exception.
- Japan still remains a largely monolingual society. However, tourism is on the rise. Japan’s National Tourism Organization reports that 31 million people visited the country in 2018. That’s three times more than six years ago. With the Olympic Games just around the corner, tourism is expected to increase even further. We expect the demand for quick language solutions to increase alongside it.
This combination has given rise to a boom in machine interpreting devices. Pocketalk, for example, is a portable device that can translate from, and into, 74 languages. The technology, designed by Sourcenext Corp., uses a combination of machine translation and voice-recognition software. Since its release in 2017, more than 500 thousand devices have already been sold and are being used in everything from pharmacies to taxis.
Similar devices to note are, for example, World Speak and Arrows Hello. Arrows Hello is similar to Pocketalk but has a camera for translating texts as an added feature. World Speak is a desktop translator designed for the retail market.
For now, demand in the area of machine interpreting devices is increasing in the Japanese market. Sourcenext Corp., for example, reports that they received inquiries from more than four thousand businesses. It remains to be seen if this hype will last.
China: Three pillars of success
According to industry experts we consulted regarding this region, the Chinese market is so huge, it needs to be given special attention. At the time of writing, we have identified three main themes for the Chinese interpreting market.
- Technology: It comes as no surprise that the Chinese market is focused on technology. Speech recognition software is said to be miles ahead and interpreter assisted technology is already big there.
- Research: The Chinese government heavily invests in interpreting research.
- Interpreter training: Students are being paid by the Chinese government to study conference interpreting abroad. There are new programs in the UK, for example at Newcastle University, that focus entirely on Chinese conference interpreting.
With a combination of a technology driven market, and a government that invests in both research and training interpreters, the Chinese market will be one to keep an eye on.
Australia: A lively market
The two largest interpreting companies in Australia are VITS Language Loop and ONCALL. Aside from these two, the market appears to be mainly run by smaller companies.
In the public sector, contracts go to whole panels of official providers. These then have to compete for every single job, which makes for a lively market.
In this system, pricing is influenced from two sides. First, from the side of the buyer for whom pricing is a factor, but also from the side of the interpreters. Providers largely choose from the same pool of interpreters, while competing for the same job. In such a scenario, interpreters might choose one company over another depending on rates.
Smaller companies stay competitive by reducing costs with automated interpreter scheduling and management software. They also bank on providing premium customer service as a way of standing out.
An interesting segment within the Australian market is indigenous languages interpreting. Some states with large numbers of indigenous speakers have government agencies to cover the demand in this field. For example, the Western Australia Aboriginal Interpreter Service and the Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Service.
Queensland, on the other hand, does not have a state agency for indigenous languages interpreting, and only one commercial provider offers this service in the region — 2M Language Services. This is why, in 2018, 2M Language Services was selected as the sole provider for indigenous languages interpreting for anything that falls under the obligations of the Queensland government, such as healthcare and court interpreting.
It might be a small market, but it is nonetheless one that 2M Language Services currently occupy by themselves, without any competition. As with all niches, they can be utilized as a way of standing out and expanding the market.
Remote interpreting to date
While remote interpreting is still the new kid on the block, it has become a profitable service line for large companies. LanguageLine Solutions and CyraCom International, the number one and two in our ranking, have placed their focus on remote interpreting and have seen the payoff of USD 451 million and USD 141 million in their respective overall interpreting revenue.
Remote interpreting is not only cost-effective because interpreters don’t have to travel to appointments anymore and the need for equipment is reduced to a minimum. It also allows businesses to achieve true global reach. With a worldwide network of interpreters, companies can expand into more regions and offer their services around the clock. They can fill slots faster, have easier access to interpreters for less common language combinations, and even offer instant access to interpreters.
One thing to keep in mind is that if location is no longer an issue, interpreters might start choosing assignments from one provider over another solely based on who offers the better rate. However, at the time of writing, the remote interpreting market is still too young for this to be a threat.
Machine interpreting: A reality
Machine interpreting is no longer just a concept; It has become a reality. While it might still be lagging behind machine translation, significant progress has been made. Several companies have emerged with real solutions and some of them can even be accessed for free.
Nimdzi is currently conducting more intensive research into this area, which will be published soon. For now, let’s take a look at three different solutions worth mentioning.
Wordly, founded in 2017, provides simultaneous speech-to-text and speech-to-speech services for conferences. Attendees use their own devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or computers, and can either follow the live transcription or listen to a synthetic voice read the transcription out loud. The solution uses a combination of speech recognition software and machine translation and is compatible with any kind of audio input. What stands out is that wordly can handle multiple speakers of different languages, who can switch between languages without the transcription output being interrupted.
Skype offers a voice translation option as part of its inbuilt features, which are freely available. Users can choose their preferred language before making a call and then a synthetic voice translates what is being said into the participants’ selected languages. A test by Nimdzi, using German and Portuguese, showed that the technology works, although it does have its quirks. Short conversation intervals were optimal. In longer intervals, the synthetic voice talked over the original, which interfered with the audio. The technology also seemed to struggle with names of brands and countries. However, for simple conversations, Skype Translator is a satisfactory solution.
In May 2019, Google AI announced a new experimental system, called Translatortron. It is the first end-to-end, speech-to-speech solution that can directly translate speech from one language into speech in another language.
Until now, machine interpreting technologies have used a so-called cascade model involving three steps: speech recognition to transcribe the source speech, machine translation to translate the transcript into the target language, and text-to-speech technology to provide a spoken output of the translated text.
Translatortron removes the need for any kind of text representation and allows for direct speech-to-speech translation. Google employs what is called a sequence-to-sequence model, using the data found in waveforms. The technology even has the ability to imitate the characteristics of the source speaker’s voice in the synthesized speech output.
Advantages of this new system, according to Google, include faster inference speed, avoiding compounding errors between recognition and translation, and better handling of words that do not need to be translated (e.g. names and proper nouns).
Audio samples of Translatortron can be found on the Google AI blog.
It’s an interesting time for interpreting, a moment of change driven by market forces such as price pressure, technologization, growing sales maturity and the appetite of big players.
- Large public service interpreting contracts have yet to be migrated over to remote interpreting. There is potential for this in Canada, Australia, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and the Nordics.
- While the remote market for web conferencing is on the rise, so far no company has emerged with significant revenue from this model. It would require winning a government contract for this to change.
- There is significant potential in the US healthcare market. In Europe, countries with large economies, such as Germany, France, and Italy, have yet to implement legislation to create higher demand for medical and legal interpreting. Asia is ripe for remote interpreting models.
- Machine interpreting is a reality. While the technology still has its quirks, it exists, works, and some solutions can even be accessed for free. As this segment of the market is only just starting out, it is too early to tell whether it will disrupt the market.
It is argued that interpretation is the last language service that will be replaced by machines. The size and growth of this service line still indicate an era of prosperity ahead.