Sunday, July 16, 2006

The American Market

Thinking about some of the differences between the U.S. and other countries, as mentioned in a recent post, reminded me of a lecture I heard at the conference I attended in May.

Translator David Rumsey spoke about the American market, and some of his comments were quite interesting.

The United States has a unilingual worldview, Mr. Rumsey said, but despite this, $25 billion are spent annually on translation, primarily between English and French, Italian, German, and Spanish. The demand for Asian languages is growing, as is the demand for some other languages, such as Arabic.

He said the US market is very large and underdeveloped. Some of the reasons for this may be because of what he termed the common U.S. myths on translation. Mr. Rumsey mentioned that many Americans aren’t very educated about what translation is or why it is needed, which is why some people there believe that translation is simply “typing in a foreign language,” as Mr. Rumsey phrased it, and others think anyone can do (say, the secretary whose grandpa came from Puerto Rico, or the Chinese chef at a restaurant), and still others have heard that there’s translation software that’s just as good as, or possibly better than, actual people. About Scandinavia in particular, Mr. Rumsey said that Americans tend to think of Scandinavians as being educated, affluent, and high-tech, so they don’t see the need to translate their instruction manuals or other documents to Scandinavian languages. Everyone here speaks English, they assume.

To combat all these incorrect ideas, Mr. Rumsey suggested that translators and translation agencies need to demystify translation, provide information about different languages and cultures, explain why translation is beneficial and profitable in the long-term, and reduce the risks for customers. By reducing the risks, he meant that translators and agencies should be prepared to do more for American customers than they would for others, such as providing free consulting, editing, having third-party reviewers, and other such things. It’s interesting to consider how much translators would need to or be willing to provide these kinds of services for customers in other countries.

Do translators who work in the U.S. or in the U.S. and other countries agree with this appraisal of the United States? Do you provide extra services for your American customers, or do agencies that you work for do so?

P.S. Mr. Rumsey’s presentation from the conference is now up on his website, so you can read more there.

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