ATA Strategy Committee Update

By John Milan

As part of its advisory function, ATA’s Strategy Committee has analyzed and discussed several strategic visions for the Association, reviewing what we now offer and how we can leverage it to ensure relevancy, serve our members, and attract new professionals.

The Strategy Committee advises ATA’s Board of Directors on big-picture issues, focusing on the medium to long term, while addressing trends affecting our profession and the way in which ATA and our members can respond to them.

Members of the committee represent both new and experienced translators/interpreters working in a variety of specializations. The committee works remotely throughout the year, typically meeting in person at ATA’s Annual Conference.

As part of its advisory function, the committee has analyzed and discussed several strategic visions for ATA, reviewing what we now offer and how we can leverage it to ensure relevancy, serve our members, and attract new professionals. The committee’s current strategy entails promoting the Association as the “Professional Home for Translators and Interpreters.” The details of this vision, and how ATA can implement it, are still being developed. The key, however, is leveraging the Association’s ability to meet a wide range of needs for translation and interpreting (T&I) professionals at every stage of their career.

The language services market is constantly evolving, growing, and adapting to changes in technology and economic forces. ATA and its members are affected by these changes. The Board needs data and analyses to make informed decisions about the industry, the Association, and individual members’ livelihoods. Here are some of the initiatives the Strategy Committee has been working on to help the Board in their task.

Analyzing Ways to Broaden ATA’s Appeal and Attract/Retain Members

Moving forward, ATA will work increasingly on broadening its appeal to attract and retain new members by making them feel the Association is a place every T&I professional can call home, regardless of where they are in their career. ATA is uniquely positioned to help people as their needs change, including getting started, professional development, networking, finding clients, becoming certified, and advocating on behalf of the profession. The Strategy Committee looks forward to sharing more details in the near future as this vision and its implementation take shape.

The committee has also been examining ATA’s response to the long-term trend of slowly declining membership. The committee has been working through the pros and cons of the following action items, often in coordination with the Membership Committee, as ways to boost membership in the medium term:

  • Investing in more outreach/communications to non-member T&Is. Too many practitioners in our profession are still unfamiliar with ATA and its benefits.
  • Investigating a potential tie-in with university T&I programs, where, upon graduating with a T&I degree, students might get a “trial” ATA membership. This would serve to create a connection with professionals early in their career.
  • Setting up a more formal in-house structure aimed at non-member T&Is who may never join ATA (for any reason) but could still benefit from continuing education, webinars, conferences, etc. This would provide ATA with much-needed additional revenue.
  • Exploring needs-based assistance on membership pricing for low-income members. Perhaps this could take the form of a stripped-down type of membership/services.

These ideas are incipient and will likely undergo adjustments before implementation, if approved by the Board of Directors. Members are encouraged to contact the Strategy Committee chair with their comments, suggestions, and feedback (john@milanlanguageservices.com). Also, check out ATA’s website for a full description of the committee’s charge.1

Keeping Informed of Developments in Machine Translation

Another matter the Strategy Committee has looked at recently is in response to an article that Slator, an industry analyst for the global translation, localization, and language technology industry, published on their website, called “Unresolvable Ambiguity in MT Leads to Bias.” The key idea here is there are certain aspects of machine translation (MT) that artificial intelligence may never be able to solve; namely, certain types of bias. According to the article’s author:

“Unresolvable ambiguities are different from other occasions when the MT simply gets things wrong. No artificial intelligence (AI), however smart, can ever guess what you meant if there is no trace of it in the text. This means that we cannot fix MT bias just by improving existing AI. The only way is to ask the user to disambiguate manually.”2

The significance of this topic to ATA and our profession is that AI-based MT is always going to have limitations that require human intervention, given the nature of language and inherent biases in the way these systems have been developed. Two members of the Strategy Committee have been interested and actively following this “bias” issue for some time now. We will be reviewing other articles and research on this subject, with the goal of sharing an opinion piece with the Board in the near future.

Tracking Industry and Technological Trends

In terms of keeping abreast of the latest developments in our field, members of the Strategy Committee have been attending a wide range of events, such as the latest gathering of the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas in Orlando, Florida.3 Committee members have also attended the two most recent SlatorCon Remote4 gatherings, which took place in June and September. The committee has reported to the Board on some of the relevant takeaways from these events, as summarized below.

The virtual event held in June was Slator’s seventh remote affair, which they intend to continue offering for the foreseeable future. Organizers noted that in-person events in many countries have reported 50% to 60% of their pre-pandemic attendance, although those figures vary considerably by region.

In their language services outlook for the rest of 2022, Slator noted that our industry is “shifting gears” and as a whole is expected to slow down and be affected by the potential coming recession. That said, media and gaming localization are reportedly doing better than average. Language services and technology are projected to grow 3% year-on-year in this current reality, down from expectations of 5% growth at the beginning of this year.

Some of the reasons proposed for why language services have remained resilient in the face of economic turmoil include:

  • The fact that language services aren’t overly correlated with the overall economy, which means that, in general, they tend to be relatively resistantnto inflation.
  • In many countries, language services—including language access—aren’t optional, so businesses, the courts, medical facilities, etc., have to continue complying with regulations.
  • There are pockets of new demand in the profession, such as gaming and dubbing content, which continue to grow.
  • Our industry has been leading the way in expert-in-the-loop adoption of AI and related services, meaning that even when new technologies are being adopted, they have tended to include T&I professionals in the process.
  • The startup ecosystem for language services-related businesses continues to thrive, even as funding for other types of companies has been drying up.

A few corporate trends mentioned included the fact that mergers and acquisitions have been slowing down, with funding becoming more selective. Recent investments in 2022 have focused on MT, auto-dubbing, health care interpreting, translation “earpieces,” and “tech-enabled” translation.

Moving outside of pure translation and interpreting, another trend having an impact on language services at large is disruptive natural language processing (NLP). Large language models are now being trained on larger scales, with big tech funding this development. Some of the ways in which this disruptive NLP is being used include summarization/paraphrasing, classification, and semantic similarity (e.g., Has this question been answered before?).

Looking ahead, growth in 2022-2023 in the language services market is expected to come from interpreting (video remote interpreting/remote simultaneous interpreting), content creation, language access services, transcreation, language technology, synthetic dubbing, and custom text-to-speech applications.

In September, Slator hosted another virtual event, which kicked off with the latest news about our industry. Language services companies (LSC) have seen their stock market valuations drop considerably, pretty much in line with the rest of the market, although in some cases our industry has done better than average. As mentioned earlier, there continues to be a slowdown in mergers and acquisitions, with many potential buyers taking a wait-and-see approach. However, deal-making activity seems to be continuing behind the scenes.

There haven’t been any mega deals this year, although plenty of moves have been made involving gaming, media, and interpreting businesses, with some LSCs buying “language-adjacent” technology. As noted at the June event, growth is forecast to be slower, with Slator’s conservative estimate through 2026 at around 2% to 4% year-on-year.

On the jobs front, the labor market in language services recovered considerably in 2021, a trend that has continued in 2022. Normally, there tends to be a decline in job offers at the end of the year, but Slator tracked a small decline (in September).

Going Forward

Shifting gears back to ATA internally, the Strategy Committee recently met during ATA’s Annual Conference in Los Angeles to discuss its plans for 2023, in addition to other initiatives. We’ll be sharing our progress with the Board and members in the months to come.

Notes
  1. A page dedicated to ATA’s Strategy Committee is on ATA’s website.
  2. Mchura, Michal. “What You Need to Know about Bias in Machine Translation,” Slator (May 27, 2022).
  3. Proceedings for the main conference and workshops of the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas, Orlando 2022.
  4. SlatorCon Remote September 2022 and SlatorCon Remote June 2022.

John Milan, CT is the treasurer of ATA and chair of both ATA’s Finance and Audit Committee and the Strategy Committee. He is ATA certified in Portuguese>English, and an economist, writer, and lecturer on the business and economics of language services. For 10 years, he worked in São Paulo, Brazil as an adjunct professor of economics. He has an MS in applied microeconomics from Ohio State University and degrees in international political economy and Spanish from Indiana University. john@milanlanguageservices.com

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