Translation

Brexit: What Now for the Language Industry?

Most of you will be familiar with the Kubler-Ross change curve:

brex

The result of the recent Referendum resulted in many industries (and indeed individuals) entering into variations of this change curve. The media were expecting a vote to remain and there was a lot of shock. Amongst Language Service Providers (LSPs), preference towards the remaining vote was far stronger than it was amongst the general population.  As the population went to vote, most opinion polls predicted a slim majority for the remaining campaign. Meanwhile, in March 2016, the Association of Translation Companies found an overwhelming 89% of its members were in favour of remaining in the EU*. Is it a surprise then that the shock, denial, frustration and even depression that have unarguably followed have been so marked?

* Online poll commissioned amongst Association of TRANSLATION Companies member organisations, March 2016

Is all this wailing and gnashing of teeth justified? Is the language industry suddenly doomed? Here are some possible consequences:

Short-term:

  • Fall in the value of the pound: This will make what we produce cheaper. There is much more currency volatility than has typically been the case for UK-based companies to manage. If translators charge in USD or EUR, previously profitable work may become loss making.
  • Economic uncertainty: There are some mixed signals coming from the UK economy on inflation, unemployment and interest rates as to its comparative health and the market is very sensitive as it looks for signs of what is going to happen.

Long-term:

  • Fewer companies doing business with the UK – Fears of potential regulation changes or concerns about the state of the economy may put companies off trading with or investing in the UK. This is important as the less international business happening, the less translation required!
  • Legal changes – Much of UK law is currently set by Brussels. What will change and when are big questions that remain largely unanswered currently.
  • Languages Funding – The possible impact of study opportunities on students from the UK in EU countries. Access to study/work experience in European countries is generally agreed as critical to gain true fluency and vital to understand the culture as well as the languages they are learning.
  • Losing English as an EU language?  Once Brexit happens, logically there is a risk that we will lose English as an official EU language (Malta currently has Maltese and Ireland has Irish as their EU language).

It is clear that the short term at least is going to be highly changeable. If the dream of the Leave campaign becomes true and the UK becomes a powerhouse trading with the rest of the world, then the opportunity for translation will grow exponentially. Industry professionals would do well to educate themselves in the cultures and economic trends outside of the EU that they may not have previously considered such as China or what developing economies require. The EU will still exist (albeit in a different form) and companies will still want to trade inside it. The languages industry will still be needed to help business to engage consumers in different cultures. Our job as Language Service Providers is to ensure that we adapt to the world around us to meet the changing needs of our market.

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