Localization in China and Tomorrow’s Translators

Multilingual China Issue Oct 2015Welocalize’s Louise Law and Alex Matusescu recently contributed a feature article to Multilingual Magazine, October/November 2015 edition.  The article, titled “Localization in China and Tomorrow’s Translators,” looks at the Chinese economy and culture and considers translator retention in the localization industry.

The newly released article features interviews with representatives from The Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), giving real insight into how the translation and interpretation is perceived within Chinese society, which ultimately impacts how many young people enter the profession.

Click here to download a pdf of the full article: Multilingual Welocalize Article – China Oct 2015

Here are some excerpts from the article:

The Chinese Economy

China has a culture that goes back nearly 4,000 years and is currently the world’s fastest-growing economy. The Chinese economy grew at an average rate of 10% a year for the three decades up to 20101. In per capita terms – a rough indication of living standards – China has advanced by 1,300% from 1980 to 2010.

Over the past few years, economic growth has slowed down. In 2014, the Chinese economy grew 7.4% and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) most recent forecast is 6.8% growth for 2015 and 6.3% for 2016. However, the Chinese government wanted a slowdown and after decades of growth, it is inevitable and better to have a gentle slowdown rather than crash.

Even with a slowdown in growth, China is the second biggest importer of goods and services in the world. With a population of 1.3 billion, it is not hard to conclude that there is also a growing demand for Chinese language services. As western goods and services flood the Chinese market, global organizations have to be able to communicate and engage with customers in native Chinese locales.

The Chinese Language

Standard Chinese (also known as Mandarin, Putonghua and Guoyu) is classed as a mega-language with nearly 1.2 billon native speakers3 (around 16% of the world’s population). Standard Chinese includes the writing system of traditional and simplified Chinese. In the Welocalize 2014 Language report, simplified Chinese was second in the language ranking with traditional Chinese ranked 12 in word count. The demand for translation into Chinese has increased significantly as the Chinese economy has grown. According to independent research firm, Common Sense Advisory4, in 2015, global marketers need 14 languages to reach 90% of the world’s population and simplified Chinese ranks right up there at number two top tier one languages, with 21% share of the global online audience and 36.5% share of online GDP.

Translation as a Profession in China

In China, it is known there is a lack of translator retention in the localization industry. Many qualified people do not stay in the role of translator in the long-term because translation is not perceived as a desirable profession by many Chinese parents and societies. Qualified translators see translation as a stepping stone to another career path and translators are often seen as the lowest link in the production chain of localization. This leads to a high turnover, which can impact translation quality in the long-term for enterprise clients and those clients seeking highly accurate technical translations when using less experienced or qualified language service providers.

It would seem many young people are training as translators because it is highly desirable to be fluent in English and Chinese, though it is not considered a long-term profession. Many of those working in the Chinese translation industry are highly qualified. Figures issued by TAC show that 96% of full time translators have bachelor degrees, 23% have masters degrees and 9% are PhDs. Translation as a starter career is popular, especially Chinese into English as the English language is very important in China.

Translation as a Stepping Stone

Liang Shuang, Head of The Translation Department of The School of Translation and Interpreting at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) said, “It is relatively easy to find work as a translator, freelance or otherwise because there is such a strong demand for translations, in a number of language pairs. However, in China, translation is perceived as a hard career without a good income. Many see it as a stepping stone to work for a large international company in a more ‘profitable’ or ‘easier’ job, like project management, quality management or engineering. Historically, these roles only existed in Europe and the USA but now these opportunities exist in China with many of the multi-language vendors (MLVs) providing full-time opportunities in these areas. We do find that interpreting is a popular area because many of the students think interpreting will provide a better income after they graduate, and they’re right, interpreting work generally does pay more in China.”

Salary prospects seem to be one of the key drivers to creating stickiness in this profession in China. As the cost of living in China continues to rise, especially in the mainland’s first tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, it is not just the respect that certain professions earn that attracts talented young people to certain careers, and more importantly the long term salary prospects.

Translator Supply

There are lots of translators in the Chinese market but it is difficult to find very good translators who deliver quality translations and can work with the relevant computer tools,” noted Emily Wei, Sales Manager at Linguitronics Co. Ltd in Shanghai. “It takes several years for them to qualify and they need to experience a lot of projects for them to become professional translators. In China, though most people learn at least two languages, only a few people can transfer the two languages freely, skilfully and artfully to meet the high standard required by industry. Students do see translation as a stepping stone to other professions, such as management positions in a large global company, because those professions pay well.”

Emily Wei continued, “As the localization and translation industry draws more and more attention, the situation might be changed some day. With the increase in demand for localization and translation projects in China, we do find it a challenge to find qualified translators with the right level of experience. At Linguitronics, we continuously recruit and train translators to help them develop their skills.”

Where does the Future Lie?

How do we raise the perceptions of tomorrow’s Chinese translators? The answer seems to lie in establishing strong links between industry, academia and government initiatives. This will ensure translators have the right skills to work in the localization industry, in the long-term, to meet growing demand and quality levels. Hopefully, over time, translation will be further established as a well-respected and appropriately paid profession. As China continuing its rise on the worldwide economic stage, the demand for language services in a variety of language pairs and content types is there and set to grow. With institutions like BLCU working closely with industry, the future is looking bright for the next generation of translators working in China.

YOU CAN READ THE FULL PUBLISHED ARTICLE HERE: Multilingual Welocalize Article – China Oct 2015