Are Translators Still Needed? Yes! Here’s Why.

  • Time to read: 7 min.

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Are translators still needed?

This is a worry for beginning translators.

Obviously, this is a valid worry because you don’t want to start a career or try and earn money with your multiple languages if there isn’t going to be any demand for your skills.

Evolution is Not Obsoletion

Remember that next time you ask: Are translators still needed?

And that is that just because something evolves does not necessarily mean that it is becoming obsolete.

Let’s look at some examples.

Being an author.

Remember when Amazon started selling ebooks? Tons of people thought that the era of the printed book was over.

That authors were going to disappear and that nobody would be able to make any more money by writing books.

The exact opposite happened.

Instead of authors losing out, Amazon opened up a way for more people to write books, become authors, and earn money from their writing.

Amazon took away the gatekeepers to the profession. It evolved but most certainly did not become obsolete and is now bigger than it has ever been in the history of the world.

It is similar with vehicles and driving.

I remember when I was a kid that there were people talking about how cars and driving would become obsolete because of technology.

That has definitely not been the case.

Sure, companies like Uber and Lyft, along with driverless technology, have changed the landscape of driving (and will continue to do so), but vehicles have not become obsolete.

In fact, I read a story recently about how the advent of Uber and Lyft in New York City has actually increased traffic; not lowered it.

The vehicle and transportation will continue to evolve, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s unlikely that it will become obsolete any time soon.

This has been repeated over and over in all sorts of industries.

Now sure, some professions have become obsolete but for the most part, evolution is the rule, not the exception.

So what does this have to do with translation?

Well, as I’ve mentioned previously, naysayers in the translation industry have decried the state of the industry as well as its future trajectory and what it means for translators.

I do not agree.

The translation industry is evolving, and will have to continue to evolve, in order to remain relevant. But again, evolution is not the same as obsoletion.

The Evolution of Translation

The translation industry has evolved over the years.

When I first started over 20 years ago, the internet was at its infancy and there was no social media (I know, crazy!).

Marketing for example, relied on word of mouth, the yellow pages, and cold phone calls and visits to potential clients.

There were less translation agencies back then and so it seemed that most of the translators I knew did the majority of their work for direct clients, not for agencies or middlemen.

Not only has marketing evolved, the actual methods used for translation have changed as well.

Believe it or not, translators used to translate with a typewriter or a super basic word processor on the computer.

Desktop publishing was limited to those people that had the powerful equipment needed to do it.

And if you needed to rely on help for knowing how to translate something or better word a piece of information you were drafting, you had to call friends on the phone.

There wasn’t any ability to look up stuff like that online or simply chat with someone online or over the phone about any pitfalls or troubling spots in your source document.

Later on, automatic translation research started to gain traction and translators thought they were all going to be out of a job in five years.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Instead, new translation technology made translators’ jobs easier not harder.

Of course, those that didn’t embrace it made their own lives harder.

But those who did realized that they could become even more successful and productive translators.

The Future of Translation

The translation industry will continue to evolve.

It’s not a question of if, it’s merely a question of when and what.

Nobody will what changes will happen but as a translator, the best you can do is to prepare yourself for any types of changes that might come along.

And if you need to get prepared, focus on this:

  • Add more specializations to your translation portfolio
  • Learn a third or fourth language
  • Don’t shy away from technology
  • Set up a website
  • Learn how to use social media to market your services
  • Be aware of emerging markets

In addition, every translator should pick up additional skills that he or she can use along with their language skills.

Learn photography and video skills.

Pick up a course on copywriting.

Understand how to do desktop publishing.

Write books about the translation industry or your areas of expertise that can benefit other translators.

There are lots of opportunities out there for translators that can help you evolve instead of becoming obsolete.

But you need to start now. If you wait too long, there is a real danger that you might become obsolete, even as the industry evolves.

Will Machine Translation (Like Google Translate) Replace Human Translators?

machine translation robot

This is a common question that I get asked and one that naysayers in the industry like to bring up. The short answer is no. I’ve written about this in the past and there are a number of reasons why machine translation will never replace human translators.

Here are some key points:

Machine Translation is Not 100% Accurate

Machine translation technology is constantly improving but it is still not 100% accurate. And it never will be. There are too many variables at play for machine translation to ever be perfect.

Think about all of the different ways that you can say the same thing in any given language. Now think about how a machine would be able to account for all of those different ways.

It’s simply not possible. There are also nuances in language that cannot be captured by a machine.

Sarcasm, for example, is often lost in translation because machines don’t have the ability to detect it. And then there are cultural references that only humans would understand.

For these reasons, machine translation will never be 100% accurate. It will continue to get better but there will always be a need for human translators to clean up the messes that machines make.

Machine Translation is Not Cost Effective

Sure, you can use Google Translate for free. But if you want something that is actually usable, you need to sign up for one of the paid services. And even then, you are not guaranteed accuracy.

But let’s say that machine translation technology does get to the point where it is 99% accurate. That might sound great but it’s still not good enough.

Think about it this way, if you are translating a document that is 100 pages long, even a 1% error rate means that there could be as many as one mistake on every single page.

Would you really want to entrust something that important to a machine?

Probably not.

So even if machine translation technology does get more accurate, it will never be cost effective to use for anything more than general translation.

And even then, you would still need to have a human translator review the document to make sure that it is error-free.

Machine Translation Services are not Scalable

If you use a machine translation service, you are essentially putting all of your eggs in one basket.

What happens if the company that you are using decides to increase their prices? Or what if they go out of business altogether?

You would be left scrambling to find another solution.

But if you work with human translators, you can easily scale up or down as needed. You are not beholden to any one company or solution.

And if you work with a translation agency, they will already have a team of translators that they can easily assign to your project.

So if you need your project translated quickly, a machine translation service is not the way to go.

Ask any number of literary translators how well machine translation programs, machine learning, neural networks, or AI-powered machines work in their field.

No amount of terminology databases can replace the human element, the human touch, or human translation when it comes to translated content, no matter if you’re talking about medical terminology translation, technical translators, or literary translation.


Translators with extensive training will always be needed as long as there are different languages in the world. And as long as there are different languages, machine translation will never be able to replace human translators.

Sure, machine translation technology like Google’s neural machine translation is getting better all the time. But it is still not accurate enough to be used for anything more than general translation.

FAQ – Are Translators Still Needed?

Is there still a need for translators?

Yes, there is still a great demand for translators and labor statistics show that the industry is only getting bigger and that translation needs are become more acute.

What’s the future of the translation industry?

The future of the translation industry is very bright. The demand for translation services is expected to continue to grow as the world becomes increasingly connected.

What are some challenges that the translation industry is facing?

The biggest challenge that the translation industry is currently facing is a lack of qualified translators. With the demand for translation services growing so rapidly, there are not enough trained professionals to keep up.

Is there a high demand for translators?

Yes, there is a very high demand for translators. The industry is expected to grow by 42% in the next 10 years.

Will translators be in demand in future?

Yes, translators will definitely be in demand in future, both in the near future and over the long-term. The industry is growing rapidly and there is a shortage of qualified professional translators who understand the translation process and are experts in their foreign languages.

Does translation have a future?

Yes, translation definitely has a future. The industry is growing and there is a great demand for translators. In addition, new technological advancements like neural machine translation software, computer-assisted translation, deep learning, and artificial intelligence are making it possible to translate more accurately and efficiently.