Interpreting has been a growth market for years. From the established giants of the remote interpretation space such as US-based CyraCom and LanguageLine Solutions, to interpretation startups such as Boostlingo and Interprefy, and the countless professional interpreters offering their services directory to clients, interpretation is big business.
One survey financed by the European Commission as part of a three-year Erasmus+ project called “SHIFT in Orality: Shaping the Interpreters of the Future Today” has looked at the state of the interpreting services market. The survey compares remote interpreting一both video (VRI) and telephonic (OPI)一with onsite interpreting from a variety of perspectives. The Remote Interpreting Services: Future or Present Survey presents the results of a market survey conducted in Italy, Spain and the UK and targeted at two different groups of respondents: buyers and LSPs.
The study aims to improve and promote methods of remote interpreting, and was carried out with collaboration from various partner universities and companies in Europe: the University of Bologna (Italy), the University of Surrey (Spain), the Pablo de Olavide University of Seville (Spain), Dualia SL (Spain) and VEASYT srl (Italy), who was the lead project partner.
The results were published in April 2018, and presented during a meeting at the Department of Interpreting and Translation of the University of Bologna, Forlì Campus in December 2018, attended by interpreting professionals from the AIIC Italy, ASSOINTERPRETI, AITI and TRADINFO associations.
The main extracts of the buyer and LSP surveys are highlighted in the remainder of this article, and special attention is given to buyer profiles, preferences and sentiment towards the quality and cost of interpretation services. The complete survey results can be downloaded for further reading here.
The Buyer Survey
270 respondents participated in the buyer survey. Most responded in Spanish (70.7%), a total of 191 people, while 27.8% responded in Italian (75 people) and 1.5% responded in English (4 people). Roughly half of all respondents were from the public sector, with a third coming from the private sector, and a smaller portion categorized as “other,” e.g. working as freelancers or for trade associations.
The business respondents (i.e. excluding those who belong to category: “other”) were from various sectors and accounted for 233 of the 270 survey participants. Healthcare, services, industry and commercial were the most strongly represented sectors among the buyers.
The business respondents surveyed were from companies of differing sizes, with most people from the public sector working for organizations with a headcount of over 250, and most respondents from the private sector working for organizations with a headcount of 1-50 (60.5%) or 50-249 (22.0%). Around 10% considered their companies to be multinational organizations.
Nearly two-thirds of the business buyers responding to the survey, who tended to be C-level or managers or employees, said communication in a foreign language was required as for their company. Some said that they are likely to have this need in the future but don’t currently (7.8%), while more than a quarter (26.3%) said they do not need to communicate in a foreign language and don’t think this requirement will change.
English is the most commonly used language for buyers and 80% of respondents said that they were required to use English at least sometimes. Use of French and Spanish is also common, but much less so than English.
Of those who said they were required to communicate in different languages, nearly half (49.8%) said that they used professional interpreters to meet this need always, often, or sometimes. 24.6% said their company never used professional interpreters or cultural and linguistic mediators to deal with their language needs.
What Buyers Care About
According to the survey, buyers evaluate quality of service based on a number of factors. Generally speaking, buyers want to be able to choose an interpreter based on the person’s area of expertise, and to have access to interpreters who are native speakers with relevant professional experience. Also important for buyers are the interpreter’s credentials (e.g. positive feedback from previous customers and university training).
At the service level, buyers care about factors including “promptness of response; continuity in having the same linguist always available for a meeting cycle; the possibility to also book an interpreter for short sessions (an option judged more positively by users than interpreters).”
The buyer survey revealed that “77% of the respondents who have used a third party linguistic service on at least one occasion said that they had not had any issues in using the services of an interpreter or cultural and linguistic mediator in their professional activity.” Those who had experienced issues (23%), identified factors such as cost, technical knowledge, availability and delays as common problems.
“More than 75% said they would recommend remote interpreting to colleagues and / or acquaintances, or to businesses and organisations for meetings with speakers of foreign languages.”
Nearly half (48.9%) of the 129 respondents canvassed about their experience of service quality said that they were satisfied while 17.8% were dissatisfied, and the remaining third were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. For price to quality ratio, 38.8% were satisfied while 13.2% were dissatisfied.
For VRI and OPI specifically, 79% of respondents were satisfied with the service while 11.3% had a negative perception. According to the survey, “more than 75% said they would recommend remote interpreting to colleagues and / or acquaintances, or to businesses and organisations for meetings with speakers of foreign languages.”
Preferred Modes of Interpreting
The overall usage of the three different modes of interpreting was as follows:
- Onsite (also known as face-to-face): 27.6% of 199 respondents always, often or sometimes used onsite interpreters;
- OPI: 45.1% of 199 respondents always, often or sometimes used over-the-phone interpreters;
- VRI: 46.2% of 199 respondents always, often or sometimes used video remote interpreters.
Looking at the mode of interpreting used per company type, the survey indicates that:
- The public sector uses OPI more often than the private sector;
- The use of onsite interpreting and VRI is more common in the private sector than the public sector;
- 10% of public sector use onsite linguistic services only, and less than 1% use VRI services;
- Multinational companies use OPI and onsite interpreting more than companies operating in one country only;
- Companies operating in more than one country use all three forms of interpreting more than companies operating in one country only.
Asked about which method they preferred, onsite interpreting emerged as the favorite, with 55% of respondents saying it was more practical. 30% preferred OPI and 15% preferred VRI.
According to the survey results, the fact that significantly more people一 five times more一prefer VRI than are actually using it regularly “shows the real potential for growth for this method,” demonstrating the logic that financial investors are presumably applying when choosing to bet on remote interpreting startups. Meanwhile, around two times more people prefer OPI than are currently using it regularly.
The fact that significantly more people一 five times more一prefer VRI than are actually using it regularly “shows the real potential for growth for this method.”
Comparing the two, the survey results also say that VRI is “more practical [than OPI] for those with a need for more brief/timely and quick responses, but still consider it important to be able to see the person with whom they are talking.”
How Much Are Buyers Prepared to Pay?
Asked about how much they thought different services should cost, there were a variety of opinions relating to all service models:
- 60% of respondents said onsite interpreting should cost up to EUR 200 per day;
- Roughly two thirds said onsite interpreting should cost up to EUR 50 per hour and 30% said it should cost between EUR 50 and 100 per hour;
- Generally, respondents thought that VRI should have a higher price point per minute than OPI;
- 30% of respondents said that they would be prepared to pay a premium of over 30% for an interpreter/mediator if the price guaranteed certain factors including “a more prompt response time, the continuity of a professional in meetings, certification from a third party or other users attesting to their quality, and the recording of the conversation at the end of the session;”
- Two thirds of respondents think that professional interpreting is expensive.
The LSP Survey
Overall, 262 respondents participated in the LSP survey, of which 57% responded in Italian (149 people), 24% responded in Spanish (63 people) and 19% responded in English (50 people).
The profile of the respondents to the LSP survey is summarized as follows:
- Almost 90% of respondents to the survey were freelancers or sole traders while 29 respondents worked in private companies or service cooperatives;
- 66% of respondents said that interpreting was their main occupation;
- 64% of interpreters in the UK work service the private sector compared to 77% in Italy;
- Over half of respondents in Spain said that their clients come from the public sector;
- Interpreters worked across a variety of sectors including conferences (49%), business (57%), healthcare and the public sector;
- English is the most commonly used language followed by Spanish, French, German and Italian.
LSP Service Models
Asked about the type of services they offer:
- Over 60% of respondents provide both onsite and remote interpreting services;
- 5% of respondents offer remote interpreting only;
- A third of respondents provide OPI and a quarter of respondents provide VRI;
- VRI and OPI tend to be provided by interpreters working from home or from a personal office (80%) while some work in a call center (19%);
- Only 1% of respondents work exclusively in a call center.
Respondents to the LSP survey said that they would rather provide interpretation services via VRI than OPI, mainly because VRI allows the parties to see each other, enabling interpreters to gauge non-verbal cues and to feel more involved in the meeting.
Demand for Remote Interpreting Services
According to the survey results, the biggest demand for remote interpreting services comes from the social and health sector (43%), the business sector (33%) and the healthcare services sector (32%). Respondents generally said that remote interpreting is slightly less relevant for conferences and training scenarios, but is particularly valuable for business, social and health and public sectors.
The biggest demand for remote interpreting services comes from the social and health sector (43%), the business sector (33%) and the healthcare services sector (32%).
The vast majority of respondents (84.7%) felt that there is current need for remote interpreting, with the greatest need observed by respondents in Spain. Respondents attributed the existing demand for remote interpreting services to a number of factors including:
- Cheaper (fewer / no travel expenses) for the customer;
- Better suited to shorter assignments;
- Better access to interpreters based elsewhere;
- Faster service and response time;
- Advances in technology.
How Much Do LSPs Want to Charge?
When canvassed about their opinions on the cost of providing interpreting services:
- Most respondents (77.8%) said that they charge on a per-day basis for onsite interpreting;
- 60% of respondents charge per hour for remote interpreting services, while 44% said they charge per minute for remote interpreting services. (There is some overlap).
- Over 70% of respondents to the LSP survey said that onsite interpreting should cost between EUR 10 and 100 per hour;
- Half of respondents think that onsite interpreting should cost up to EUR 100 for a half-day;
- 80% of respondents said that onsite interpreting should cost over EUR 200 per day;
- 67% of respondents said that remote interpreting should cost over EUR 200 per day.