Leaving the EU: What does this mean for translation?

September 19, 2016 by Alison Tunley

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Leaving the EU: What does this mean for translation?




Many of us are still concerned about the political climate and what this means to us individually and as a nation. But, since all of us at Rosetta Translation are both European and translators, we have another burning question: what will Brexit mean for the translation industry?

As with any industry in the UK buoyed by European markets, the future is uncertain. How will exiting the single market that is the EU affect our trading and income generated by imports and exports? Only time will tell, and there are opinions from both the positive and negative camps. What is unquestionable, however, is that there will be some kind of impact.

In February, four months before the historical Brexit vote, the Association of Translation Companies (the ATC) predicted that leaving the EU would damage the UK’s billion pound language industry. In a poll of its members, conducted in February 2016 by the ATC, results revealed that for approx. 50% of the members a third of their revenue came from customers based in the EU.

A different study commissioned by the ATC has valued the fast growing UK language industry in excess of £1 billion, a far from negligible amount, contributing to the nation’s economy. The language industry supports many other industries, particularly that of the exports market. Translation and interpretation providers enable businesses to export their products and services to other EU countries by providing them with the necessary written or in-person language tools to be successful abroad. If exports are affected following the Brexit decision, so too will be the language service providers (LSPs) that support the affected industry.

According to research by Professor James Foreman-Peck for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the British population’s poor language skills is costing the UK economy around £48 billion a year. SMBs can’t afford specialized linguists, like large corporations can, so often their exports are hampered, or simply not attempted. The need for foreign languages, cultural understanding and EU market knowledge is essential in the international market place. Many British companies don’t have these attributes or the means to acquire them in-house. So the skills of LSPs, such as Rosetta Translation, come into play. If the interest or ease of the export market with our EU neighbours decreases, so too will recourse to translation and interpreting services.

As the only native English speaking country in the EU bar Ireland, the UK has decided to leave. Will this affect the importance of English as one of the main working languages in the EU? This could in turn lead to a decline in demand for translations of documents into English, particularly if either French or German, for example, increases their dominance. In turn, linguists will be discouraged from specialising in <> English translations if there is a weakened demand. It is likely also that, if/when the free movement of workers is restricted, LSPs may struggle with recruiting or sourcing skilled in-house linguists.

These kinds of issues don’t just apply to the translation industry; I think the same could be said for most other industries in the UK.  Oh the doom and gloom! The future is uncertain but we should use our British resiliency and stubbornness to remain strong and positive whatever the outcome. What the leave decision will mean for our economy, business and personal futures is very much unknown but, I hope that, as a nation, we continue to recognise the benefits of sharing our language, culture, knowledge with our European friends.






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Taylor Wessing LLP

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Maximus Crushing and Screening

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