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Untrained Businesses Dilute Busy Market

The Hungarian translation market is a busy sector employing a huge number of freelancers, with large agencies fighting price depression caused by one-man bands without proper qualifications, market actors tell the Budapest Business Journal.

To little surprise, the most-sought languages for translation are either English or German, chiefly to Hungarian, however, this particular mix is often seasoned with more exotic tongues.

“English and German are still thriving as target languages,” says Tünde Gál-Berey, senior project lead at Villámfordítás Fordítóiroda.

“As for the revenue, English, German, Spanish and Russian are the most important target languages but being a multi-language translation agency (our specialty is the proprietary PM system with prompt solution suggesting and strong online presence), Slovak, Czech, Chinese and Ukrainian projects represent a large share as for the number of orders,” she adds.

Douglas Arnott, the owner of EDMF Language Services Kft., who was awarded a British Empire Medal this year, agrees.  

“For us, in Hungary, the most sought-after language pair is Hungarian-English, accounting for 40% of our work, with work in the opposite direction [English-Hungarian] amounting to 10%. We also do a fair amount of German-English work, which makes up 25% of our volume. In terms of services, 70% of our work is translation and 25% is proofreading,” Arnott says.

Gál-Berey notes that in addition to translations, proofreading as a service is on the rise. “Regarding the services, most of the projects include only translation but I am glad to note that the number of projects including translation and proofreading has doubled in the last two years,” she adds.

However, espell paints a slightly different picture of its market, saying its case “is somewhat different to most language services companies here,” according to CEO Miklós Bán. He is also the chairman of the Hungarian Association of Professional Language Services Companies [Proford] and the vice president of the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies [EUATC], the largest representative umbrella organization for the European language industry.

Language Pairs

“Only about 15-20% of all translation assignments we do are from or into Hungarian, which is approximately the opposite of the case for most providers in Hungary. So in our case the largest language pairs are English and German into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and CEE languages and, to a lesser degree vice versa,” Bán adds.

The Hungarian market comprises 120 translation agencies, most having only one or two employees. “There is a huge size difference between a big agency in, for example, Poland (or any other European country) and the biggest Hungarian translation agency. Our national market is more scattered than it is in other countries, thus the competition varies quickly,” says Gál-Berey.  

She adds that while the market still sees some unfair trading, transparency has become the new “sexy”, and some clients particularly choose her firm for its efforts in this regard.

Although there is plenty of work on the market, bigger and more established translation agencies face competition from sole entrepreneurs, many of whom are actually selling untrained services.

“Many ‘translation companies’ in Hungary are actually just sole entrepreneurs, and unfortunately many people think that with a decent level of language proficiency they can make a living out of translation,” says Arnott of EDMF.  

“They do so frequently without any formal training or qualification in translation. The issue here is that this has a price-depressing impact in the market, as such ‘translators’ are willing to work for less money,” he explains.  

Pulled Down

As prices play a significant role in the choice of end-customers who do not speak the required language, hence have no point of reference, prices are pulled down in the market.

Bán, of espell, has also experienced dilution of the market. “The barriers of market entry in our industry is still rather low, although there is a very clear separation of professional and non-professional language services companies (LSCs),” he says.  

“Competition is reported to be quite fierce on the home market with severe price pressure and shortening turnaround times. This, however, is nothing new: it has been a trend in the past two decades,” Bán says.

Nevertheless, he mentions that as espell’s client portfolio is 70-75% comprised of foreign companies and enterprise customers, its experiences less local competition.  

Although the market sports a huge stock of freelancers, real talent is scarce.

“On the Hungarian language service market, invoices of the translators are usually paid in 25-35 days. Most of the agencies explain this delay as a cash flow issue. This is the old school behavior of translation agencies and they are losing talents,” says Gál-Berey

Espell has also seen some troubles on this front. “I would say this is the most critical issue that we are faced with at the moment. Espell has been struggling with scaling up as great talent is scarce. Owing to espell’s special situation in the home market in terms of hiring, the competition we face comes not so much from other Hungarian LSCs, rather from tech companies, startups, SSCs of large enterprises and, increasingly, from western LSCs,” says Bán.

Another difficulty is that not every company knows its translators personally. “The biggest difficulty is sifting through the many people offering their services to make sure we are always working with trained translators,” Arnott confirms.

“It is a global online market, which means we do not actually know most of our resources personally. This makes it all the more important that we rely on our quality assurance systems to screen applicants properly and test their abilities before we actually assign them client work,” Arnott adds.