Post COVID-19 Globalization: Will Translation and Localization Still Be Relevant?

Translation and localization serve as underrated bedrocks of 21st-century globalization. Businesses rely on translation and localization to make a name for themselves in foreign markets and among global audiences. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the globe and forcing governments to close borders and prioritize domestic industries, this begs the question as to how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact globalization?

Many pundits argue that globalization will roll back as countries continue to close their borders to travel and trade. Indeed, these are necessary steps to curb the pandemic, but some pundits argue that some of these policies might stick longer than usual. And with a rollback in globalization, how will it impact the need for translation and localization? Will the post-COVID-19 economy result in less demand for translation services and localization services? Will we see less business conducted globally as more countries are now seeking to rely on their own domestic industries and gain more control over their supply chains?


The Status of the Global Economy Under COVID-19 (As of April 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has already brought forth wide-sweeping changes to global economies and our way of life in unprecedented ways within just one month. The IMF and World Economic Forum’s April report forecasted that the GDPs of all world economies are expecting to shrink by -3%. The prices of commodities such as oil continue to decrease to an all-time average low of $35 per barrel due to dried up demand from consumers and industries, particularly the travel industry.

The travel industry has been taking a cliff dive ever since the outbreak as domestic and international travel continues to stay restricted. From travel, airlines, to the hospitality industry and even local business communities that rely on foot traffic, many are expected to go bankrupt with critical relief from banks and their governments. However, there are industries that are faring better off than others, to say the least.

That’s not to say that they’re going through this crisis unscathed. Rather, the nature of industries’ operations is largely digital which makes them better prepared overall. The digital service sector has proven to be largely resilient; an area wherein translation and localization services belong. Even in times of crisis, the need to communicate across borders still exist. But a global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic requires an unprecedented level of global cooperation and coordination, in which case translation and language services serve as the foundation to it all.


The Importance of Translation and Localization in a Globalized Economy

Let’s take a brief step back in time to look at how important translation and localization was and still is to our globalized economy. As you know, the advent of digital communication technologies aided in ballooning the pace of globalization to where it is today. But language services such as translation as well as localization often take the back seat when people talk about globalization. Instead, we mostly hear of the importance of investments, loan interest rates, and so on.

As essential as they are, familiar global brand names would not have reached their eminence now without language translation services. You can think of it as another example of the Pareto Principle a.k.a the 80/20 rule This can apply to many situations of course, but the 80/20 principle can conveniently explain the importance of language services to our modern economy. The global economic engine cannot run without global communications being translated.

Of course, business growth is more than just breaching language barriers, but translation, in general, is a highly underrated pillar in global business. The translation is necessary to build trust across geographic, cultural, and linguistic borders. It’s a notion that was true in the past and still is today. However, even translation has its limits as language barriers are not the only obstacles in global business. Cultural barriers exist as well. In that case, localization is the right answer.

If you need a refresher, localization is the applied concept of curating content until it adheres to the preferences and nuances of a target market or audience. It’s mainly employed in global business strategies as it forces businesses to rethink their approach to specific markets. Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, localization calls for adjusting to the target market’s culture relative to the product and marketing message at hand. Localization is the reason why McDonald’s has different menus for each country as it acknowledges each of their market’s different culinary tastes.


What Will the Post-COVID-19 Economy Look Like

Although the IMF and World Economic Forum made grim predictions for the world’s economy in 2020 as mentioned earlier, they nonetheless forecasted that countries will rebound in 2021 with an average GDP growth rate of 5.8%. Again, it’s still subject to change as the COVID-19 pandemic and recession continue to unfold. But one thing is certain; that the world will recover but we shouldn’t expect it to be the same as the one we just left. Here are some generations predictions of what the post-COVID-19 economy will lookout;


More Businesses Will Move A Chunk Of Their Operations Online

Many had to hastily come up with telecommuting schemes overnight to comply with government directives and to protect their employees. Granted, telecommuting isn’t new since, in 2019, there already were 57 million Americans working in the ‘gig economy’ according to Upwork’s latest freelancing report. The only difference now is that everyone has no choice but to work online. But even with the pandemic over, many businesses will take this experience as a benchmark for them to decide which operations can be moved online. That way, they can save more office space and rental fees.

Of course, not many people are on-board with telecommuting. Maintaining company morale and strong work relationships between colleagues is difficult without routine face-to-face contact. Also, there are some operations that just can’t be moved online such as those that require access to critical company equipment and regular on-site supervision. But as social distancing measures are expected to still be in effect for the latter half of 2020, it’ll only be a matter of time before some policies such as telecommuting and remote video conferencing will stick indefinitely.


More Businesses Will Expand Globally

The pandemic has proven that small to medium businesses that relied on local customer bases and on-site transactions are highly vulnerable to both health crises and economic shocks. In that case, many business owners will have taken this as a hard lesson on why it’s imperative to diversify their customer base to markets outside their locality and country through eCommerce

It’ll take some additional investments indeed from businesses since they have to prepare their operations to be able to accommodate global audiences. They’d have to develop multilingual websites and prop up multilingual customer support centers to name a few. Indeed, eCommerce is now the new normal, but with COVID-19 hitting local business communities hard, going global will serve as a hedge against future crises and also as an avenue for growth in times of economic prosperity.


Manufacturers Will Seek to Diversify Their Supply Chains

The current global supply chain model, one which overwhelmingly holds China as the world’s manufacturing hub, proved to be highly vulnerable. Businesses will now seek to diversify their supply chains by scattering them throughout other countries than just China. But keep in mind that businesses have already been slowly moving out of China for some years now due to higher labor costs and much recently, due to losses linked with the US-China trade war.

In 2019, QIMA reported a decrease of 13% in demand for inspections and audits from US companies in China but also reported a spike in demand for such in other economic regions i.e. Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Latin America. This meant that many U.S businesses were already looking to diversify their sourcing way before the pandemic. Rather, the pandemic must have only accelerated the already ongoing capital outflow.

But even so, many still chose to stay since China has the human capital and resources for the mass manufacturing of complex goods such as consumer and industry electronics. More points could be added here but that’s a discussion for another time. Again, all of these are still predictions as with the growth forecasts. However, there are trends in the current economic situation that makes some of the predictions stated above unavoidable.


Adjusting to the Post-COVID-19 Economy With the Help of Translation and Localization

Given these predictions, it’s quite easy to see where translation and localization can fit into the picture of the post-COVID-19 economy. Global industries are keen to resume their operations, which means we won’t likely see any significant rollbacks in globalization. In turn, the need to localize, and more so the need for translation, will remain. In fact, you can definitely see a significantly increased demand for language services as industries are looking to rebound and dig themselves out of the economic cesspit.

Although the demand for translation services is quite clear, what about localization? Global communications can be fulfilled with translation alone, for the most part, so what needs can localization fulfill in the post-COVID-19 economy. It’s actually the same way it has always been even before the pandemic.

As you know, businesses employ localization to ensure that their products, services, content, and brand resonate well in foreign markets. But if we take into account that more businesses are looking to go global as well industries planning to diversify their supply chain models, then we will also see an uptick in demand for both translation and localization services.

More industries are expected to set up shop in South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Latin American countries due to lower labor costs and fresh market opportunities. In that case, translation and localization will serve their new global ambitions well as it always has been.


The Need for Quality Translations and Effective Localization Strategies Also Remains the Same

Although we have been talking about translation and localization in general, the truth is they’re not painted under the same brush. Poor translations and ineffective localizations exist and are a common problem. If you’re planning to go global for the first time and you want to make a lasting impression, then the importance of quality translations and proper localization can’t be stressed enough.

In regards to translation, a common mistake businesses make is that they rely on Google Translate for most, if not all of their translation work. Yes, it is free and very convenient to use, but it’s only capable of churning out general translations. Business material is laden with specific terminologies and marketing collateral heavily incorporates creative expressions.

Free online translators and machine translation (MT) systems, in general, are still not equipped with any algorithms to decode, let alone translate natural nuanced speech. In that case, you need a human translator to take care of your translation needs. If you think about it, it’s the same situation wherein you needed to seek advice from a business consultant to help you get started, or a professional web developer to set up your business website.

As for localization, cultural barriers are their own challenges as stated in the beginning. If you think of language barriers as fences, cultural barriers are more like minefields. In that case, you need someone to chart a path for you into these unknown areas. Localization services are fulfilled by localization experts and are highly knowledgeable in specific markets. They’ll help you configure your brand image along with your products and services so that you can have higher chances of success abroad.

All in all, you need people with the proper set of skills onboard to help you along if you’re looking for proper results abroad. A strong and meaningful introduction to foreign markets is what you need in the new post-COVID-19 economy as your competitors might also have the same idea of employing translation and localization to the fullest.


Final Word

Globalization simply takes a new form as it always has for millennia. All in all, it’s unlikely that there will be any significant rollbacks to globalization and with it, no decreased demand for translation services and localization services. Many businesses and global industries will have a greater need for them as they now plan on how to re-establish their market positions in the post-COVID-19 economy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.