In the U.S., the number of people who speak a language other than English is believed to be at an all-time high. As of 2015, translation and interpretation service was predicted to be the fastest growing industry in the country by CareerBuilder, while the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics predicted a 46% increase in translation job opportunities in the U.S. between 2012 and 2022. However, all those positive predictions were before the U.S. Presidential Election of 2016. After a whirl-wind campaign, President Elect Donald Trump is all set to take up his Presidential Oath on 20 January, 2017. But what could this mean for those in the localization industry?
The U.S. is a country of immigration
Immigration has largely influenced the language requirement of the United States. The majority of the U.S. immigrants/expats are from the neighbouring Mexico and other Latin American countries. A large number of Hispanic people moving to the U.S. has made Spanish language the second most widely spoken language within the country. Popular languages in the U.S. include Chinese, French, German, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, Polish and other Asian languages including Vietnamese, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati and many more. For a complete list of the top languages spoken in the U.S., see the WorldAtlas.
Yet, Trump’s plan to “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur,” and his announcement to start “working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one” are subtle pointers towards restrictions on the freedom of movement. This in turn, either due to fear of discrimination or due to tougher immigration laws, may lead to lower number of non-English speaking foreign nationals entering the U.S. – leading to a reduction in the need for translation and interpretation services.
End of Offshoring Act
Trump’s campaign to end the Offshoring Act is meant to encourage American multinationals to lay off workers in other countries and relocate to the U.S. with attractive tax benefits. Yet, according to an article by Fusion, “businesses expanding into new markets abroad” was one of the major factors “powering the translation industry’s growth” in the U.S. in 2015.
Global multinationals are the biggest translation service buyers. Yet, Trump’s intention to “renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205,” and his decision of “withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” may have a heavy negative impact on international trade deals, leading to a disruption of the global market – thereby bringing into question the need and viability of localizing in these markets.
The Chinese Connection
Trump’s declaration to “direct” the “Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator” may not only have far-reaching impact in terms of the U.S. economy, but may also eventually lead to reduction in the demand for translation services. For more information on why it may be disastrous for the U.S. to jeopardise their trade relationship with China, read the article, ‘U.S. Debt to China: How Much Does it Own?’
China’s economy produced $19.5 trillion in 2015 (based on purchasing power parity), according to The Balance. It has been the world’s largest exporter since 2013, mainly due to the availability of cheap labour. China does a lot of manufacturing for foreign businesses, including for U.S. companies where the raw materials are shipped from the U.S., but made by Chinese labourers. In many ways, a lot of Chinese “exports” are produced by companies in the U.S. China is also the world’s third largest importer of goods.
Taking into consideration China’s tremendous economic sway, and the fact that Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, and the third most popular language in the U.S., any drastic reduction in trade benefits to China from the U.S. may lead to a “tit for tat” reaction from the Chinese. As The Global Times points out, if Trump lives up to his campaign pledge, “A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. U.S. auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and U.S. soybean and maize imports will be halted. China can also limit the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S.”
The very possibility that the Chinese market may stop importing global/ U.S. goods will in turn lead to a massive reduction in the need for translation and localization in this major language.
However, it’s not all bleak
With the election season behind us, we can perhaps look forward to a season of calm, and utilise this time to plan and structure our services. If you are in the localization industry, and unsure about where you stand with your clients, keep a look out for major changes within their organisation – are their uncertainties about their future translation needs? Have they/ do they plan to relocate? Are there any mergers, acquisitions or internal structure changes? Though there may be no major business trends noticeable till the second half of 2017, it may be prudent to stay on top of industry to news, because this in turn will affect the demand for translation and localization services.
Poulomi Choudhury is a content and marketing strategist at KantanMT. Her primary interest lies in literature, language and cultural investigation, and the intersectionality and application of these themes in the contemporary business world. She holds an M.Phil. in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin and speaks English, Bengali and Hindi.