Are Translators Losing Their Jobs Because of Machine Translation?

Quite many professional translators are afraid that they will be replaced by emerging technology: machine translation. Machine translation would take their jobs or at least lower their salaries. I made some Internet searches and found interesting numbers. This article is about how many translators are needed to satisfy the communication needs in the whole world.

Please note that the following calculations and numbers are estimates and intended to give just a rough understanding of the situation.

For one professional translator translating 2000-2500 words per day seems to be quite a normal result (sources: Proz, Tips for Translators). Naturally the speed depends on the language and the translator. But we can use this number to calculate our rough estimates.

On one page there is on average 300-500 words. (source: NumberOf.net) When we combine this information with the average translation speed we conclude than an average translator can translate roughly 4-9 pages per day. Let’s use the average of 7 pages per day in our estimation.

Estimates of the total number of professional translators in the whole world vary between 150 000 and 300 000 (source: T&I Business).In the world there are currently over 6 900 000 000 people (source: Wikipedia). That is, below 0,005% of us work as professional translators. It is 20 000 people per one translator. To employ one translator 20 000 people (or companies they work for) should buy translation of 7 pages per day.

What do you think, is there enough work for all the translators, considering both the emergence of machine translation technology and that world trade and communication between people via Internet is growing fast?

My personal feeling is that 20 000 people (and the companies they work for) could use a lot more translations that just 7 pages per day. To me it seems there should be plenty of work even for more translators than currently exist. Maybe the prices of translations are preventing translation volumes from growing substantially?

Published by

Multilizer / Niko Papula

I am managing director of Multilizer, a Finnish software company specialising in software for enhancing translation quality, speed and cost.

One thought on “Are Translators Losing Their Jobs Because of Machine Translation?”

  1. Translation volume is growing exponentially.

    Machine translation means many things are being translated that would never have been translated before: there are just not enough translators.

    But no one is going to sign a contract based on a machine translation for a contract or publish a marketing brochure based on one.

    A 2,000 word/day translator is a mid-range productivity translator. I translate 4,000 words a day, and I think the limit is around 6,000-8,000 words of unrepetitive text (which is about how much a person can actually just read).

    As humanity grows closer the need for accurate translations will increase, and machine translation is still decades away from handling this. Some tasks will take a whole new level of cyber-intelligence to attempt (post “singularity”).

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