Key Translation Industry Trends for 2021 and Beyond

April 29, 2021
Key Translation Industry Trends for 2021 and Beyond

The translation and localization industry is changing rapidly. That’s why, each year, I like to take a look at upcoming trends. This annual snapshot of the future focuses on three main areas: technology, translation and localization services and languages. Let’s jump straight in. 

The Increasing Impact of Technology on Translation

I think a lot of people automatically picture machine translation – the likes of Google Translate – when you mention the impact of technology on translation. And artificial intelligence (AI) in the translation industry is certainly something that I’ll explore below. But that’s far from the only way in which advancing tech is impacting industry translations. 

Individual translators are using a range of technological innovations to ramp up both the speed at which they work and the quality. This means that they can produce better translations in less time, leading to the potential to earn more – or to enjoy more leisure time, depending on the individual translator’s priorities. 

Quality analysis tools, enhanced connectivity and improved translation memories are all playing an important role in this. They mean that the translator market as a whole benefits, with clients enjoying the sector’s ability to produce translations more rapidly while also delivering on the quality front. 


Translation Services Trends

Having mentioned AI, I wanted to look at that first when it comes to trends for the translation services industry for 2021. By the way, if you’re interested in taking a trip down memory lane, you can access my 2020 language industry trends overview via the link below. 

Read more: Top Translation Industry Trends for 2020

The AI Translation Trend

We’ve already seen AI in use in various ways within the translation and localization industry and this is certainly going to continue into 2021 and beyond. The potential is simply huge. What I predict we will see this year is increasing sophistication in the way that AI is used within the sector. Its use for natural language processing (NLP) is a good example of this. 

Providing Training Data for NLP 

NLP sits at the crossroads between language and computer science, with artificial intelligence diving into the relationship between computers and human language. This is a highly resource-intensive field in terms of language datasets, as the more natural language that can be used, the greater the benefits that can be obtained from training AI to process and work with it. 

Over the course of the next year and more, we’re likely to see an increased focus on specialist areas of NLP, as this work expands in both scope and ambition. The language industry has a key role to play here. 

Let’s consider for a moment why machine translations don’t match the quality of those produced by humans. Part of the issue relates to the datasets that have been fed into the AI models. Too few of those datasets have been from professional translations. The machines have not been trained using high-quality data from complex translation projects, so how could they hope to mirror the standard of that data?

Data Annotation

I think we’re also going to see a lot more focus on data annotation work relating to the language industry, as it ties in so closely with the above. This is where data such as audio and video are annotated with additional metadata for the benefit of AI natural language processing and natural language understanding model development. 

Through the provision of careful data annotation, language companies are able to contribute to the continuous development of ground-breaking tech. Doing so requires a clear commitment to the data annotation process. High quality data needs to be annotated with the same level of care that is applied during the translation process. 

Machine Translation Post Editing

Machine translation post editing was a trend I flagged up last year and it’s set to remain as a key area of focus for the translation services industry in 2021 and beyond. 

There are mixed feelings within the translator market when it comes to machine translation. It’s cheap, it’s fast and it almost invariably produces lower quality translations than human translators can provide. For many businesses, only the first two of these are important, which can stick in the craw of those who’ve dedicated their entire careers to painstakingly producing top quality translations. 

Emotions aside, the huge growth of machine translation in recent years has led to plenty of work for those providing machine translation post editing. This is where a professional translator takes a machine translation and works on it to bring it up to standard. 

Machine translation post editing can include correcting basic grammar errors, swapping out poor word choices, improving tone and anything else that’s required to transform a dubious quality translation into one that shines. 

Localization business clients may also call on machine translation post editing specialists in order to ensure that their translations meet the cultural expectations and norms of the target audience. 

Audio-Visual Translation Services

Audio-visual translation services, and in particular video translation services, are in huge demand – and that demand continues to grow right alongside our collective, voracious appetite for video content. From news sites to social media to business platforms, the internet is awash with videos. According to Wyzowl, 99% of video marketers plan to continue using video in 2021 (compared to 95% in 2020). 

For businesses that have gone to the trouble and expense of producing video content, delivering it in multiple languages is often the natural next step. The bulk of the expense relates to the original creation of the content, whereas just a little additional cost can vastly increase the reach of that content. As such, video translation services can deliver a superb return on investment. 

As our world becomes increasingly globalized through advances in technology, even small enterprises are confident in setting their sights on international markets. As this continues to be a key business trend in 2021, the language industry will be there to help. 

Closed Captioning and Subtitling

Hand in hand with the increase in demand for video content and video translation comes a ramping up of demand for closed captioning and subtitling. 

Do you ever use your phone with the sound off and read the captions on a video rather than listening to it? You’re far from alone. Over half a billion people watch videos on Facebook every day and, according to Digiday, 85% of those videos are played with the sound off. 

That figure says it all when it comes to explaining why closed captioning and subtitling is included in my list of key translation industry trends for 2021. 

Voice Over Services

Another video-related trend for 2021 is the increasing use of voice over services – both original recordings and translations of them. Voice overs are used for everything from setting context to appealing for funds; pretty much anything can fall within this category. And when a business translates its videos, it also needs to translate and re-record their voice overs.  


Dubbing also ties in with the growth of video. It can be used for anything from a brief advert to a feature-length film. Careful, accurate translation of the original speech in the video is essential, so that the voice actors brought in to provide the dubbing can deliver performances that do the video justice. 

Localization Services

One trend that I foresee spanning multiple business sectors in 2021 (and well beyond) is the use of localization services. Bringing in a localization company to help adapt content to a different market is nothing new. However, the increasingly competitive global environment, and the opportunities available to international enterprises that get their localization spot on, mean that this is a key growth area for the years ahead. 

Localization involves shaping content (from adverts to websites to videos and everything in between) to perfectly suit a particular audience. Every culture has its own quirks and sensibilities, and localization addresses those head on. The result is content that feels as though it has been produced for precisely the audience it is aimed at, rather than made for another audience and then roughly translated. This level of precision has the power to make or break a marketing campaign or product launch in a new territory. 

Video Remote Interpretation 

One of the biggest trends of 2020, in terms of the language industry, was the growth of demand for video remote interpretation. With Covid still running rife around the globe, this trend is set to continue throughout 2021 as well. 

Business used video remote interpretation services across a wide range of sectors. I’ll run through three of the most common use cases below. 


Lockdowns and social distancing have seen telemedicine expand hugely, as all but the most essential face-to-face appointments have moved online. Where medical professionals and their patients speak different languages, video remote interpretation has been facilitating effective communication over Zoom, Skype and the like. Given the reduction in non-verbal communication that results from video calls rather than in-person meetings, interpretation may be required in cases where it might not otherwise have been. 

Medical interpretation is one of the most demanding and niche fields of the language industry. There is no room for mistakes or misinterpretations when it comes to medical matters. As such, those with a flair for interpretation and specialist medical knowledge can look forward to an exceptionally busy 2021. 


Companies around the globe continue to embrace webinars as a way to share their knowledge and insights in the midst of the pandemic. As such, the translation of webinars is set to be a notable translation industry trend in 2021, either live during the event or as a post-webinar exercise when the recording is shared on the business’ website. Subjects can vary hugely, meaning that in many cases the translator will need to bring specialist knowledge to the table, as well as linguistic talent. 

Business Meetings

Businesses have relied on interpreters to bridge language barriers for centuries. They continue to do so in 2021, but with far higher demand for those interpretation services to be provided by video, rather than face to face (thanks, Covid). 

With company executives unable to travel as much, businesses are pursuing their international growth plans virtually. As such, business interpreters will be busy sharing their skills over video throughout 2021 and likely beyond, until such time as a more normal pattern of global travel resumes. 

Language Translation Trends

The final area of translation industry trends that I want to look at relates to languages. These trends are based on Tomedes’ own experience, as we serve translation clients around the globe. 

Sustained Demand for FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish)

The translator market for French, Italian, German and Spanish (collectively known as FIGS) remains buoyant in 2021, with translators who work with these languages enjoying plenty of potential to maximise their income this year. The localization industry, too, will be busy with FIGS work over the year ahead. 

In terms of total speaker numbers (native and second language), these four languages break down as:

• Spanish – 543 million speakers

• French – 267 million speakers

• German – 135 million speakers

• Italian – 68 million speakers

All four are major languages within the EU, as well as being spoken in other locations around the globe. Tomedes is regularly called on to serve as a localization business for FIGS documents, as well as to provide translation services. After seeing strong demand for all four of these languages in 2020, I anticipate that will continue throughout 2021 and beyond. 

Languages with Increasing Demand

I believe that we’ll also see increasing demand for Portuguese (Brazilian), Japanese and Chinese translation over the course of 2021. Indeed, for the latter, the translator market for both traditional and simplified Chinese seems to be growing.  

Traditional Chinese

Traditional Chinese characters are used in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the Chinese communities in the Philippines and the United States. While simplified characters were introduced in mainland China in the 1950s, as part of a very effective drive in improve literacy levels, traditional characters have never been outlawed there. Many overseas Chinese-speaking communities, meanwhile, have skipped the use of simplified Chinese entirely. 

With so many Chinese-speaking communities courting international trade in 2021, we are seeing demand for traditional Chinese translation and localization increase. 

Simplified Chinese

Simplified Chinese is taught in schools across China and used in all walks of life. As such, we’re seeing demand for simplified Chinese translation ramp up hand in hand with demand for traditional Chinese translation. 

The Future of the Translation Industry

I’ve looked at technology, translation, localization services and languages above, considering each from the perspective of the trends that I foresee featuring strongly in 2021. 

I think it’s also worth thinking about the translation and localization industry more broadly. It’s a sector that is doing much to facilitate cross-border communications. With issues such as the pandemic, the environment and the global economy driving the need for effective communication, the future is bright for the translator market over the years ahead. 

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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