A look at the dramatic increase in numbers of certain languages in recent years and what it means for the translation sector.
Here at Hi-Com, we are constantly keeping an eye on the ever-changing trends of the translation industry, and that doesn’t just regard the evolution of technology, public taste and consumer needs. A number of languages previously confined to regional areas within continents have recently seen such notable increases in the numbers of their users, they have become difficult to ignore on the global stage. According to a study conducted by the British Council, here are the top six currently causing a stir and barging their way onto the inter-continental scene.
While being in recorded existence for nearly 1,000 years, there has been a notable rise in the usage of Urdu in the last 50 years or so. The main reason for this rapid spread has been due to many of its native speakers leaving their homeland and settling in various parts of the world. Some of their users’ enterprising influence has been felt in these adopted territories and a basic grasp of Urdu could serve as an advantage to local businesses. Urdu has benefitted from technological developments in recent years. Automated translation systems have made it far easier for the language to be learnt and used. While it is still a long way behind the heavy hitters of the linguistic world, its growth has certainly not gone unnoticed. It will continue to spread geographically so long as its native speakers carry on their operations far from their country of origin.
The language the British Council found to be the second-fastest growing was Indonesian. It is in fact a standard form of Malay, and part of a wider language group called Austronesian. Also known as Bahasa, it has only been Indonesia’s official language since 1928 despite being around for centuries and has recently seen a spike in the number of its speakers. This is partly due to Indonesia’s various ethnic groups uniting and developing a sense of national identity. It would therefore seem that the Indonesian language and social cohesion have had a positive effect on each other. As a result of this, investments in education have been made, which means a new generation of tech-savvy Indonesians is emerging, inevitably leading to more exposure of the language worldwide.
Next up is Hindi, which, thanks to its impressive growth over the past 20 years, has become one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. In fact, between 2001 and 2011, the number of its speakers rose by 100 million! Despite this, less than half of India’s population use Hindi as a first language. According to experts though, this is set to change in the next few years as its growth rate continues. Its domestic growth, however, only tells half the story. As millions of Indian citizens have migrated and settled in various other parts of the world of the past few decades, Hindi has now established itself as a major player in international business communication.
Fourth on the list is yet another language to have originated from sub-continental Asia. Like Urdu and Hindi, Bengali is part of the Indo-Aryan group of languages with ancient roots and has seen dramatic growth in its usage over the past 50 years or so. It is the official language of Bangladesh, whose citizens have left in their droves in recent years, choosing to settle in more developed countries around the world. While 230 million people worldwide now speak it still hasn’t really made its mark on the international business scene. That said, it could come in handy for early adopters looking to get ahead of the game in international commerce.
The next one may come as a surprise to you. Although English is the most widely spoken language across the world, its use is still growing fast. There are many factors that have contributed to this such as the adoption of it as a second language by migrants settling in English speaking countries as well as it continuing to serve as the glue of international business communication. Go to any language school anywhere in the world and you will more often than not see English at the top of the list of languages desired to be learnt. Students of English as a foreign language often state work, travelling and keeping up with global affairs and popular culture as the main reasons for wanting to pick it up. While it is true that English is facing more competition from languages such as Mandarin and Arabic, there are no signs that we will be seeing a decline in its usage any time soon.
As well as being the sixth most spoken language in the world, Portuguese is also sixth on the British Council’s list of fastest growing languages. As the economies and businesses activities such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique continue to expand, Portuguese is fast becoming a major global language. While this growth is being contributed to economic factors, shifting demographics, culture, music, literature and tourism have also played their part. Portuguese has also benefitted from an association known as the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), which strives to champion the language and strengthen relations among countries where it is spoken. As these efforts go on, we are sure to see Portuguese keeping its place in the top 10 most widely spoken languages in the world in the future..
So what does this all mean for the translation industry as a whole?
As the number of previously less prevalent languages such as Indonesian and Bengali rises, businesses are reacting by understanding that entirely new markets can be reached and penetrated. This will of course provide opportunities for translators who already possess knowledge of such languages and even encourage language enthusiasts to study them. In specialized fields such as law, education, medicine and engineering, it is extremely important that translators be able to understand the linguistic intricacies and nuances in jargon and specialist terminology as well as ideological differences in order to ensure a smooth precise translation process. For these types of jobs, it will not be enough to hire a translator with a superficial understanding of the language as the technology can only help up to a certain point.
Another aspect to take into consideration is the role of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning translation. We have seen enormous improvements in the technology in recent years, yet as has been reported in the USA recently, a lawyer was left red-faced when a court found that he had used chat GPT to write a case summary. Discrepancies were found in the terminology and descriptions, which did not perfectly match the case in question. While one could also put this down to carelessness and laziness, it shows that we still haven’t quite reached an age in which clicking a button and hoping for the best is a perfectly viable option. More good news for human translators is that we are seeing a growing trend in the collaboration between humans and technology to produce far more reliable results than relying solely on the machinery.
As the technology hasn’t yet reached the levels of sophistication required to eliminate human translators entirely, it is important to know where to find the people one can count on. Certification has become hugely important in the translation industry as clients investing in large translation projects want to be sure that they are in good hands. Certified translators are trusted professionals whose expertise and credentials will guarantee optimal results. We have heard a lot of doom and gloom recently about how everybody is going to lose their jobs in the wake of the rise of AI, but as we have seen with the rise of languages such as Urdu, Indonesian, Bengali and Portuguese as well as the quirks and nuances that come with them, it is clear there will be plenty of opportunities involving human beings in the translation industry in the years to come.