As of last year, the UK’s language translation industry became recognised as one of the world’s top three markets. Worth over one billion pounds, this sector provides over 12,000 jobs and, if left to develop within the European Union, promises to continue its steady expansion.
If, however, the UK decides to vote in favour of the Brexit in June, then the future of the industry, both immediate and long term, will be made much more uncertain.
A clear insight into the none-too-optimistic views of the translation sector has been provided by the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), whose recent Brexit poll showed that almost 90% of people working within the field would be voting to stay.
As things stand, Britain has access to the world’s biggest Single Market, Europe. It is by far our country’s most significant source of trade, accounting for slightly over half of goods exports and just under half of service imports. Translation is one of many industries in Britain benefitting from state membership, over half of the language service companies asked by ATC believed over a third of revenue came from within the EU.
There are 23 officially recognised languages spoken within the region and, as trade and supply chain integration between member states is greater here than anywhere else in the world, translation services are inextricable.
So, what would happen to these services in Britain if they left?
It has already been put forward by leading economic think tanks that a leave-vote could be hugely detrimental to trade. As border tariffs (kept low within the EU) would lurch upwards, incentive to do business with the UK may fall dramatically.
Along with French and German, English is one of the three leading business languages in the Union. Following an exit, the importance of English may be called into question and cease to be considered relevant. France have already hinted at this outcome, suggesting – albeit in jest – that French could be the next dominant language.
Another result of the sliding linguistic status would be the reduction in demand for translating material into English. Whether it’s French, German or Spanish, the focus may shift towards translating business and legal documents into another language, taking business away from UK translators.
Considering our future post-Brexit, the translation industry will be forced to make some major changes to its recruitment process. In the past, companies have been able to take advantage of the free mobility of labour between EU states to employ highly skilled staff from abroad.
This freedom of movement is of particular importance to the language sector as many services require their translation staff to be native speakers; many current translators are not, therefore, UK citizens.
From the perspective of an EU citizen seeking a job in translation abroad, the appeal of working in the UK will be significantly reduced by an exit, as will the opportunity. With the predicted fall in demand for English translations, working within the EU and translating languages that are still considered relevant and important to business, may hold more appeal.
As a result, the British language industry will have limited access to a skilled force. Those that do still wish to work here are may be deterred or prevented from doing so by the added complications would accompany visa and work permit applications.
A Government report mapping out the best way to withdraw from the EU has warned that approximately 2 million UK citizens living abroad are at risk of losing their right to live and work abroad because of Brexit.
British nationals could be forced to leave roles as translators and interpreters in European countries as they are no longer protected by the _ of membership. This would cause the industry to shrink rapidly.
As it is expected to take anything from 2 to 10 years to reorganise UK relationships with the rest of the world, it could be even longer until the UK translation industry is able to find its feet again.