Understanding Gaps in Future Language Skills

Common Sense Advisory (CSA) Research has recently released its latest report, The Language Services Market: 2017. The report delivers an excellent insight into the current and future trends and opportunities, valuing the global market for outsourced language services and technology at US$43.08 billion. CSA Research states that it takes 26 locales to support the top 10 trading nations and 14 languages to reach 90% of the most economically active people online.

Identifying current and future language opportunities and gaps is an important part of our industry. Promoting language learning and establishing partnerships with academic institutions will ensure global brands are supported in their future globalization activities.

As economies grow, so too will the demand for language services in the respective languages.

While more developed American and European markets continue to demand and supply language skills, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries are catching up at a rapid pace. As India and Africa go through massive economic growth, gaps in language skills will become more prominent.

Indian Languages

As India develops into a global powerhouse in commerce and technology, demand for Hindi language translation, both locally and abroad, will continue to increase. Over the last five years India has seen a rise in popularity of internet access via handheld devices, growth in medical tourism and a rise in government-led campaigns to drive growth in various industries, including manufacturing, information technology and research and development (Slator).

According to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB International, the number of internet users in India is expected to reach 450-465 million by June 2017, a 4-6% increase since December 2016. While more than half of urban India’s population is already using the internet, there is much potential to expand the user base in rural India, with approximately 750 million users that are not yet internet users (Live Mint).

India is a huge multi-cultural consumer base, with Hindi being the language that serves as a bridge between the different regions. With such a large consumer base, coupled with the rising trend of internet usage, India is regarded as a market with great potential for the localization and translation industry.

African Languages

Similarly, the economic growth within African regional markets have seen growth in certain industries as well as an expansion of internet access and an increase in usage of about 146% between 2013 and 2014(State of the Internet Report). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that Africa will be the second-fastest growing region in the world between 2016 and 2020 with annual growth of 4.3% and West African nations’ GDP expected to grow by over 8.5% in 2017.

Africa is the world’s second-largest and most populous continent, giving plenty of opportunities to U.S exporters. With the fastest-growing middle class population and accounting for nine of the top 15 fastest-growing economies in 2014 (African Development Bank), consumer spending will likely increase from US$860 billion in 2008 to US$1.4 trillion by 2020 (MarketWatch). By 2040, Africa is estimated to have the largest labor force in the world, exceeding even India and China. For all these reasons, Africa emerges as one of the most attractive markets for international investors and educators, which is contributing to the increasing demand for language skills.

There is a supply shortage for African language skills and evidence suggests that school children and graduates’ lack communication skills. Some educators do not have the necessary skills and knowledge to teach literacy skills across the entire curriculum (North-West University). Swahili is the most spoken language in Africa with over 100 million speakers. There are more than a dozen African countries where English is an official language including Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia and Botswana.

Although Africa’s current share of the global translation market is tiny, it is definitely growing (CSA) and will continue to contribute to the rising demand for African language skills.

European Languages

In Europe, there is still demand for language skills over and above English fluency. European languages are very highly valued and many businesses recruit staff with foreign language skills. German, French and Spanish being more in demand than ever. There is also continued demand for language skills in Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, reflecting the continued growth of these economies.

The study of any language opens the way to understanding a country’s politics, economics, culture and business opportunities. Growth in the demand for outsourced language services is a positive indicator for global business. Our industry must keep a close watch on the shifting patterns in language supply and demand to ensure our clients are fully supported in all their activities.


Cecilia Tang is a member of Welocalize’s global marketing team.