The industry in context

Globalisation has contributed towards rapid growth in the translation and interpreting sector in recent years – typically at over 5% per annum. 

The world has been getting smaller in terms of our need and desire to visit and do business with other countries, and to speak in other languages.

The market for outsourced language services and supporting technology grew by 6.62% to US$49.6 billion from 2018 to 2019 (CSA Research). Nimdzi has estimated that the global market size will reach $54.9 billion in 2020, even taking into account conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic in that year.

In the 2019 Language Industry Survey: Expectations and Concerns of the European Language Industry, the highest volume of work for translators was coming from the following customer sectors: legal, government, other industrial, media, finance and travel.

Current trends

The trend towards cross-border marketing has created demand for transcreation – translation of material into copy that will resonate with the target audience in the desired country. This type of work requires the sensibilities of a copywriter, as well as high-level language translation skills.

The drive for media outlets to make film, television and audio output available quickly to global audiences has created new demand for subtitling and translation work to enable dubbing.

In 2019, the gaming industry closed another successful year with more than $120 billion in revenue, making it one of the largest industries in the world. Localisation has been instrumental in this strong performance.

Increased use of machine translation has been leading to different types of work for translators, who now commonly correct and refine material that has initially been translated by a machine. The ‘post-editing’ role has become more common.


For interpreters, the public sector is an important source of work, with requirements ranging from police and court interpreting to community interpreting for counselling and victim support services.

By contrast, business and conference interpreting ranges from linguistic support at customer meetings to booth interpreting, at business conferences and within political organisations and institutions.

Sometimes, however, the work of the interpreter is very much in the front line, working with or for the military in conflict zones to liaise between the armed forces and local people – a vital role in many areas around the world, and one which is not without its dangers.

A significant recent trend in interpreting has been for more work to be carried out remotely. This may be for practical, logistical reasons, that is, it would not be possible for the communication to take place otherwise, or to increase efficiencies. This has required interpreters to familiarise themselves with new technology in their work. See ITI’s position statement on the appropriate use of remote interpreting.

How translators and interpreters work

Most translators and interpreters are freelancers. They may work for agencies, clients, or a combination of the two.

Much work is also done by the translation and interpreting industry in the humanitarian and charity sectors, with many language professionals giving up their time by working on a pro bono basis for organisations such as Translators Without Borders and The Rosetta Foundation.

The sector continues to evolve rapidly to meet the changing needs of business, economies and society, and to adapt to the opportunities and challenges created by new technologies.