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Taegan Jones Skinner’s Dissertation from the University of Portsmouth’s MA Translation Studies explores the effect of the well-documented UK decline in foreign language learning on language service companies’ access to native English translators.
“It’s no secret that language learning at all levels of the UK’s education system has been in the decline for many years,” comments the ATC’s CEO Raisa McNab. “This has created a narrowing pipeline all the way from primary through secondary, vocational and university education, and on to employment. Taegan’s research is a first look into how the decline in language learning affects the availability of native English translators in the UK to the ATC’s members, the language service companies supporting UK businesses to grow and thrive globally.”
Executive summary of MA dissertation
The impact of the decline in foreign language learning on the availability of native English translators in the UK: A qualitative study.
There is no doubt of the global demand for translation and interpreting into English and to meet this demand, it is imperative that the UK’s language service companies (LSCs) have access to native English translators. Recent years have seen a well-documented decline in the uptake of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) in post-14 education in the UK. However, the impact this decline has had on the availability of native English translators in the UK is unknown.
This qualitative study explored whether the decline in MFL uptake post-14 is affecting the availability of native English translators of the top five languages defined by the British Council in their Languages for the Future Report (Arabic, Chinese, French, German and Spanish) to LSCs in the UK, and if so, what strategies they are implementing to overcome related challenges. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight translator recruiters in managerial or directorial positions. Interviews were analysed using Thematic Analysis (TA).
Challenges LSCs are facing
Findings from this study indicate LSCs are facing multiple challenges when recruiting UK native English translators. The languages participants reported having the lowest availability of native English translators and being most difficult to recruit for were Arabic, Chinese and German, all of which have had a decline in uptake in post-14 education and low provision at all educational levels.
Participants also reported the following barriers:
- Native English translators lacking sufficient language skills.
- Difficulties finding native English translators with certain specialisms.
- Difficulties retaining or maintaining loyalty amongst native English translators.
- Difficulties negotiating rates with native English translators.
- Difficulties finding the ‘right’ native English translators for in-house roles.
Strategies and coping mechanisms
To cope with the limited availability of native English translators and overcome the above barriers, participants reported using the following strategies and coping mechanisms:
- Supporting inexperienced native English translators, entrants, and graduates into the field, as well as training and mentoring them to reduce costs.
- Providing further training for native English translators to improve quality of language and translation skills.
- Offering the same level of support to freelancers as in-house translators.
- Looking further afield and expanding searches with additional recruitment routes; UK native English translators could be based anywhere globally.
- Collaborating with universities to gain access to new language graduates.
- Creating hybrid translation and project management roles for wellbeing and retention.
- Having remuneration conversations early on and settling invoices quickly.
- Charging clients an urgency fee which is passed to the translator for tight deadlines.
- Supporting bilingual individuals transition from a different sector or career.
- Separating non-specialised parts of texts.
- Providing translators with thorough reference materials and glossaries.
- Using Machine Translation where possible and appropriate.
- Being transparent with clients.
- Uniting freelance language professionals and agencies through conferences to increase collaboration.
- Hiring non-native English translators for into English translation with stringent testing in place if the project criteria allow; this can also reduce costs.
The above strategies may help other LSCs facing similar dilemmas.
Possible further recommendations
Participants also indicated that wider societal issues such as the language service industry and MFL learning being undervalued are negatively impacting the availability of native English translators. To overcome such issues and increase the availability of native English translators in the long-term, the following government and industry recommendations are suggested:
- Starting MFL learning earlier.
- Increasing motivation for language learning.
- Working towards changing negative societal perceptions about MFL learning.
- Ensuring universities offer language courses from beginner level.
- Ensuring key stakeholders work together to positively promote the translation profession.
- LSCs could also educate clients on professional bodies to prevent them selecting unqualified, inexperienced translators.
Findings from this small-scale study indicate that the decline in MFL learning is negatively affecting the availability of native English translators of the top five languages and causing many challenges. Several coping mechanisms and recommendations to overcome such challenges are discussed. Future research would benefit from exploring the impact the decline in MFL is having on the availability of native English translators from the perspective of native English translators themselves.
About the author
Taegan Jones Skinner recently completed an MA in Translation Studies with Distinction at the University of Portsmouth, adding to her first-class BA (Hons) in Japanese & TESOL. Taegan has previously worked as an EFL Teacher, Progress Tutor and currently works in Higher Education. You can find her on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/taegan-jones-skinner).
Board, K., & Tinsley, T. (2017). Languages for the future. British Council. https://www.britishcouncil.org/research-policy-insight/policy-reports/languages-future-2017