In the digital age, language services and languages themselves are evolving at a speed never seen before. 

Where once a skilled translator would have been needed to translate even the smallest phrase, now many websites and social media platforms have language services technology built in. 

This means content can be translated with just a click. Suddenly, every individual has a message reach that can potentially include millions of people across multiple languages. 

Of course, the quality of such translations is immensely variable. You probably wouldn’t trust the future of your company on this kind of translation of your message. 

But for millions of people, the evolution of language services technology has meant what they say – and the changing ways in which they say it – is available to people from other cultures. It is a speed of change that will have a massive and growing impact in years to come: 

 

The evolution of language services technology  

The early years of translation 

For millennia, whenever human traders have met, they have recognised a need to establish some degree of cross-cultural communication. Almost all the civilisations of the ancient world – Egypt, Greece, Rome, to name but a few – relied on translators and interpreters to a degree. 

Egypt would eventually place great primacy on the role, designating noble children for language training. The cities of ancient Greece, on the other hand, often left the role to slaves. 

Yet it was translations of ancient Greek philosophical and medical texts by scholars of the Arab empire from around 1000 to 1500 CE that would contribute hugely not only to the collective knowledge of the world but also to the development of translation and language services. 

The holy books of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – most notably the Bible – also sparked huge interest and desire for translation. Especially following the European Reformation (when more “lay” folk wanted to access the Bible directly) and the development of the printing press. 

Early modern language services 

Following the development of the printing press, the translation of works for a more global audience (rather than on an individual basis as previously) became increasingly possible. 

The need for clear spoken translation has also always been driven by war and inter-state rivalry. World War I was perhaps the first time these services became globally prominent, with military liaisons and war interpreters given a more important role than ever before. 

Following the peace of 1918, the desire to prevent another war put plans for clear communication at the forefront of the League of Nations. There, interpreters played an obvious role in making sure the floor languages of French and English were understood by all. 

This was the first team of modern professional interpreters. There was concurrent rapid development of communications technology – specifically the first simultaneous interpretation equipment that would later be used prominently at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. 

Modern language services 

In today’s globalised world, the experienced professional human translator remains the primary driver of accurate, compelling translations, both spoken and written. 

However, translators in the digital age have numerous technological tools that aid them in their work, including: 

  • Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) systems – greatly improve speed and consistency and reduce translation costs. 
  • Content and Translation Management systems (CMS and TMS) – enable a smoother translation process and the organisation of translated materials. 
  • Translation Memories (TM) – are essentially databases that “remember” previously translated snippets and phrases often specific to industries and individual brands. 

There is also the exciting and growing power of automated translation software, often driven by the latest Machine Learning technology. The quality of this Machine Translation (MT) technology continues to grow. 

Already, it has many uses. Firstly, for simple “getting the gist” purposes – such as those for which Google Translate is used by millions of people every day. 

Yet special custom translation engines are constantly being developed for specific companies or purposes, enabling the rapid translation of content, customer reviews, and other materials (though usually still with a human quality checker or “post editor”) to a higher quality. 

The one factor that continues to challenge current Machine Translation technology is that of comprehending culture. 

 

The importance of CQ 

CQ or cultural intelligence is recognised today as a measurable competitive advantage for businesses that compete in a global market. 

In most of the world, the modern consumer expects to be able to buy across borders. They also expect that brands will be “for them” – that brands that desire consumer loyalty will adapt their offering to meet local consumer expectations and preferences. This includes language. 

Doing this requires cultural understanding and cultural intelligence. As Language Service Providers have recognised for many years, bridging language gaps will almost always require also bridging cultural gaps. 

This is because understanding how your source and target cultures work is the only way to ensure clear communications between them. You need to understand their reference points, their symbolism, their humour, and much more if messaging is to be clear. 

Machines can’t do that just yet. But as systems continue to evolve, it is possible that this old-new frontier in language services may witness progress being made. 

 

The evolution of language in the digital age 

It is not just the technologies and the language professionals and services that use them that have evolved in the digital age. Language is evolving too. 

One direction this is taking is the increased use of symbols like emojis. The latest software UX design trend is the incorporation of emojis – even into site navigation tools. In email marketing, the power of emojis to encourage clicks and interactions has long been recognised. 

Voice and video messaging are also hugely on the rise. TikTok videos and the like enable people to communicate digitally using gestures and emotional expressions as well as the spoken word. 

At the same time, the vocabulary of languages around the world is expanding to include these new technologies and the brands that have made them famous. This might be via loanwords from the developer’s language or entirely new invented phrases. 

As they always have been, loanwords and new vocabulary are being added to languages to represent new concepts (or concepts once unique to certain cultures) too. But thanks to the speed at which ideas can spread online, this is happening faster than at any time in history. 

 

The increasing speed of change 

From the first cave paintings to the development of proto-writing systems like cuneiform may have taken around 60 000 years. By comparison, the speed of linguistic advancement since then has been astronomical. In recent years, it has been evolving at close to light speed. 

This speed of change is set against a widening background of linguistic and cultural interaction as the pace and technology of linguistic exchange (in all of its many and varied forms) continues to grow too. 

Of course, throughout history, humans have incorporated new words and symbols to represent concepts and ideas whenever they met with people from other cultures. This may have happened via trade or war and colonisation – and it often occurred through migration too. 

In the modern world, the most important trend to understand in language and the services that deliver them is the need to make sure people – and the culture they hail from – remain at the heart of communication. No matter how fast the speed of change. 

 

The future of language services in the digital age 

Smartphones have brought digital communications into all of our lives. AR (Augmented Reality and VR (Virtual Reality) technology may increase this in years to come. 

Sensors – currently used primarily in Internet of Things technologies – may expand into our daily lives too. This may bring back the gesture – via “haptic”-like technologies, as they are sometimes referred to in Science Fiction – as an even more important method of communication. 

As languages have evolved, so have the ways marketers have tried to reach their audiences. Combinations of symbols, speech, text, and gestures are already in use in marketing – and the vital nature of CQ is increasingly broadly understood. 

In language services, Machine Translation technology is always improving – spreading to bring its benefits to more people and more languages while quality continues to increase. Even if it currently lags behind what a specialist human translator can achieve. 

Yet if the meteoric evolution of language services over the past few decades and the growing demand from global business are anything to go by, the improvement of Machine Learning and growth of demand for non-textual communications in translation could come sooner than we think. 

 

Need to make sure you understand the culture of your target market to maximise your conversions? 

Asian Absolute delivers the trusted language services needed by some of the biggest brands in the world, such as HP, Volkswagen, and HSBC. 

Reach out to us today with your communication needs. We provide a free quote on the advice and insight you need to reach your target audience.