Germany is an economic powerhouse today and its position in relation to overseas trade and business is unlikely to diminish in the near future, although the rise of China and other South East Asian economies, as well as those of Brazil, is going to make the German economy face more competition to which it must adapt.
The German Language is a Minor Language on a World Scale Despite the Size of the German Economy
It is something of a paradox that although Germany is such an important economic player and in a European context at least politically important, too, the German language remains a minority language. It is of use in Germany itself, of course, but the only other countries where German is used are Austria and a small number of communities and nation states like Liechtenstein, Switzerland and parts of France and Poland.
This dichotomy means that any communication between German language speaking communities and the rest of the world involves translation. The translation of German into all the other of the world’s languages and vice versa is so important that German translators face an almost inexhaustible demand for their services. Again, there is no sign that this is going to change any time soon.
One of the main reasons why German is spoken in such a restricted part of the world lies in Germany’s colonial past. Unlike the English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Germany lost its colonies, such as they were (South West Africa, New Guinea and Tanganyika) very early on in the twentieth century, as a result of the First World War.
Potential Changes in Translation in the Future will Affect all Languages, Including German
If the fact that the demand for German translation is not going to decrease, say in the next decade, what exactly are the potential changes in store for German translation? The answer is that future changes will be the same as for any other translation pair. The future of translation, whether professional translators like it or not, is all about technology and how developments in translation technology can speed up delivery times and reduce the overall cost of translation.
One thing for sure is that the future of translation at least in the next decade or even further down the track will not include the possibility of the complete replacement of human translators by robots or computer programmes. Of course, the current batch of free or easy to access translation tools is going to improve.
Tools like Google Translate and Skype are used already by millions of people around the world, but the translations they are used for are restricted at the moment to individual needs that are not of a vital nature. If you are writing to book a room in Romania and you live in Australia, you could use Google Translate to compose an email. Of course, such is the versatility of the internet these days that you would probably be able to book the hotel using an online tool and do so in English, not Romanian.
For any translation projects that are commercial or involve government to government or individual to government communication, you will still need to use translators or translation agencies that use human translators, albeit ones that are using an increasing number of tools that make their translation tasks faster and therefore potentially cheaper.
Many Improvements will be Extensions of What is Already Here
Many of the technological improvements to translation are already here and in use. Things like Computer Aided Translation (CAT) technology is already being used by translators to aid translation. Translation memory (TM) is one area that is already used extensively by translators, especially those who translate a lot of highly specialised text that can seem very repetitive. Both CAT tools and TM technology can only get better.
Artificial intelligence is being used already by Google in its translation software and improvements in AI could possibly transform some translation tasks. One of the stumbling blocks that is being explored by software and AI R & D is that much of language is context based and word for word translation technology cannot possibly match the translation skills of the average human translator.
The main advances over the next 20 years will be moving from literal word for word automated translation to one that looks at context and translates sentences and phrases accurately.
One more challenge that still seems elusive is the translation of highly idiomatic language, one that uses colloquialisms and/or dialects. Literary and marketing translation uses these nuanced language variations extensively in marketing messages and cannot afford at this stage for messages to be mistranslated by automated software that cannot take into account the nuances.
There is Always the Unexpected!
Technological change can be sometimes remarkably fast. There is no way that it can be assumed that there will be no major breakthrough in the automation of translation that will utterly transform the task of translation that the world has come to rely on.