Natural language processing becomes second fastest-growing freelance skill

August 16, 2017
Natural language processing becomes second fastest-growing freelance skill

Upwork is the world’s largest freelancing website. It is used by 12 million registered freelancers, who bid for jobs from the site’s five million registered clients. The work completed is worth a total of $1 billion per year. As such, when Upwork reports that a skill is in particular demand, it’s important to pay attention.

According to the Q2 2017 skills index from Upwork, freelancers with natural language processing skills have increased by more than 150%. Natural language processing now ranks as the site’s second fastest-growing skill, with only virtual reality increasing more rapidly. While professional translation didn’t make it onto the list of the top 20 fastest-growing skills, the placement of natural language processing tells us a great deal about the level of importance that companies are placing on the advancement of computerized language learning and translation. 

Natural language processing

Natural language processing concerns the interaction between natural (human) languages and computers. It incorporates elements of computer science, computational linguistics and artificial intelligence. An example of its use is in automated assistant services, which pop up to offer help when you use a wide range of websites. Amazon’s Alexa’s ability to understand human speech is also a great example of natural language processing. 

There was a flurry of excitement in the 1950s, when early attempts at automatic machine translation led to projections that computers would be able to fully manage our translations within three to five years. Those early predictions turned out to be more than a little premature. Over 60 years later, we’re still struggling to produce a computerized system that can truly translate as well as a professional human translator. However, that doesn’t mean that leading companies aren’t putting a great deal of funding into attempting to crack the challenge once and for all! 

Translation opportunities

For translators with top-notch tech skills, the Upwork Q2 2017 skills index highlights the opportunities that demand for natural language processing skills creates. However, the report also reveals that it is tech skills that are really being sought here – the other top ten hottest skills include virtual reality, econometrics, Learning Management System, neural networks, penetration testing, SEO auditing, image processing, Asana work tracking and Facebook API development. Linguistic ability certainly seems to be something of a necessary bolt-on when the full list is considered. 

Nevertheless, natural language processing’s position as Upwork’s second fastest-growing skill presents opportunities for those freelancers whose linguistic talents are paired with superb computer skills. 

Other sought-after freelance translation skills

Freelance translators also have an array of other options at their disposal when it comes to ways to supplement their translation income. Transcription work is a popular side-gig and one that sites like Upwork feature plenty of opportunities for. Translators’ excellent language skills and level of attention to detail mean they are well suited for this kind of work. Multi-lingual editing and proofreading are also great additional earners for translators, while those who like to write can also make a decent wage as copy writers, working on everything from blog posts to websites. Translators with decent computer skills can also try their hand at jobs like desktop publishing and web design. 

Many of the additional employment options available to freelance translators involve skills that are already used during the translation process. Involvement in natural language processing does this too, allowing translators to indulge their natural affinity for linguistics while contributing to the technologies of the future. 

Final thoughts

Are you surprised to see this level of demand for natural language processing skills? Is this something that you have experience of being involved with? Share your thoughts and experiences via the comments. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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