Interpretation Harder hit Than Translation Market


Photo credit: Photo by Anze Furlan /

Remote interpreting has been growing since COVID came into our lives, but the market cake is so small as a result of the epidemic that interpreters who have lost their regular jobs due to the collapse of tourism and conference markets can hardly make a living.

According to the spring survey of the Association of Hungarian Translators and Interpreters (MFTE), epidemiological constraints were felt much less by translators than interpreters. Eighty-five percent of the latter say they have not received a job offer since mid-March.

In the interests of such unemployed entrepreneurs, professional associations, as in the case of income-free tour guides, have in vain asked the government to waive the obligation to pay KATA (the flat rate tax system aimed at the self-employed and small businesses) dues.

According to Zsuzsanna Lakatos-Báldy, president of the MFTE, those who do not have diversified income sources are in the most difficult position. Some interpreters have been able to take a step forward and bought specialized software, without which it is now very difficult to enter the translation industry. It seems it is the young professionals who are benefiting the most.

“It is those who can flexibly adapt to new conditions, customer needs, use new technologies well and happily; there is a generational change in the translation industry,” says Miklós Bán, president of the Association of Professional Translation Services, and VP of the European Umbrella Organization of Translation Agencies.

While interpreters have suffered greatly from the lack of personal presence events, there has been much less upheaval among the largest translation clients.

Sector Dependent

Tourism and, for a period at the start of the first lockdown, the automotive industry came to an almost complete halt, while the turnover of two of the largest markets, the IT sector and the pharmaceutical industry, increased. Translation agencies working for companies in these sectors can still expect to close a good year.

That said, it will only become clear in the first and second quarters of 2021 how much large clients will be prepared to devote to translation in the next business year.

A “healthy” customer base has proved vital: those who have built up the right customer mix have not felt the downturn as much. The decline was minimal overall, and larger translation agencies were much less battered by COVID than the others. One reason is that the profession is already built on the home office; the freelance translators working for offices are often digital nomads, and may not even be in the same country as the firms they work for.

The translation industry is technologically highly advanced, evolving rapidly, and an increasing proportion of workers are young people, who can more easily adapt to new situations. However, the world of interpreters, relying on personal contact capital, has been thoroughly shaken by the epidemic. Hybrid solutions are expected to come to the fore, with international events attended in the future both in person and online, and that may mean more scope for remote interpreting.

“I dared to embark on developments right now because, during my last six years as a freelance professional translator, I have managed to build a secure client background from whom I get continuous work,” says Andrea Zdenkó Turiné who has a traditional translation agency at Százhalombatta, just 30 km southwest of central Budapest.


“While continuing to maintain these relationships, I have embarked on this development to continue to serve my clients. Also, I had a period when my work orders definitely decreased, about two-to-three weeks, when I had time to think about the future and even do some things I had been planning for a long time,” she tells the Budapest Business Journal.

“For example, I have had a [company] logo ready for a long time, and an address for my website, but I haven’t gotten round yet to putting together the website itself. Now I’ve written a letter to myself about what’s happened to me so far, what I want to achieve, and so on. If I’m going to do it, it is now or never,” Zdenkó Turiné says.

As to COVID, she says that it’s not such a big problem for her. “I didn’t mind that I now had a breather to think. Of course, the drop in orders was not so good, but I’m the kind of person who tries to get the best out of everything. At least, that’s what I consciously strive for. That’s why I’m trying to improve now, instead of complaining.”

While she has her own translation agency, she also takes on work for other, bigger companies.

“As a translator, I work with several agencies, so I was able to gain insight into their structure, how they work. Of course, this will also help you get started. I also took part in the PROFORD two-day lecturer’s master course, where the internal structure and operation of the translation agencies were discussed.”

According to Zdenkó Turiné , confident, professional language skills remain the basic requirement.

“Fortunately, I know many such professionals. I think that, not only in the field of translation, but for all service sectors, the following are true for the ideal professional: being honest, keeping deadlines, responding quickly to inquiries (even if the answer is ‘No’), and communicating throughout the project. In the course of my transport management activities, I have found that it is really possible to work effectively with such suppliers.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 12, 2021.

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