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What does Brexit mean for translation services in the US?

Weeks before we knew the leaves would have it, translation services professionals in Europe were locked in debate. “What would a leave vote mean for the industry?” they asked, aloud and in print. The size of the industry alone made the question worthy: there are 23 officially recognized languages spoken in the EU today, and not unrelated to this fact, the UK’s language translation industry ranks among the world’s three largest (ibid.). This was as of 2015.

Early polls of the individuals working in translation services in the UK suggested that 90 percent of them would vote to stay (ibid.), while EU bloggers into language joked (only half in jest) about the future import of English in the EU along with the possibility (okay, this one was entirely jocular) that French might overtake English as the European lingua franca if the British did in fact vote to leave. There was even an Onion-esque piece in France’s English language paper, The Local, with the headline, “France ‘to force language tests’ on expats post Brexit.” Now that the leaves have had it, there is less joking and a whole lot of asking, “So what now?”

In accord with early hypotheticals about a Brexit aftermath, it seems likely that Britain’s evacuation will produce a less neoliberal, free-market oriented Euro bloc. And along with this, an even more neoliberal UK. But we have yet to see reports on what Brexit can mean for linguistic practice. Even more specifically, we have yet to see projections on the effects for the global translation services industry. Our own interest, of course, is in the potential effects of Brexit on the U.S.-based translation services industry in particular. What follows are our predictions:

1. We expect continued growth. As Britain figures out who can stay and who must go, 12,000 laborers―15 percent of whom are believed to belong to EU member countries―and one billion pounds (1.3 billion USD) currently invested in the British language translation industry are called into question.

Will an industry that size disappear? Absolutely not. But even a temporary shortage in laborers or a brief break in efficiency will drive some of the translation demand elsewhere. In the U.S., an already rapidly growing industry (albeit a third the size of that in the UK), one which traverses boundaries near-freely in this particular political-economic and techno-friendly present, will no doubt continue to attract users.

2. We expect increased visibility (and thereby growth) among US-based users, too. A presidential candidate who promotes nationalist separatism pitches us a narrative that we consume much as we once consumed bedtime stories. Or utopic novels. We question only that which the authors of those novels question because we are along for the ride. And yet, we might consider Brexit a foreshadowing, a chance to live vicariously through a nation whose separatist stories are no longer just stories. (Of course, we are not the first to say this.)

While already of global significance, US residents are now asked to consider such stories turned real, and they are asked to do so from the global stage. This demands of us empirical interest in and attention to the complexity as well as cultural significance of linguistic interactions in the U.S. at present. It demands, too, concrete economic analyses, the kinds that utilize real metrics, to determine the extents to which we do and/or do not earn via multilingualism.

Such considerations draw into a singular conversation far more than the language shapes thought arguments of the anthropologists and the linguists, presenting us with lines of evidence that provide measurable outcomes/effects. The historic effects of language isolationism on the US, as well as the predominance of the foreign language internet in successful business today rank among these lines of evidence.

Visibility of translation services, we suspect, will quickly become utilization of those services.

Now: what can translation services mean for you? You can contact us here.

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