Here’s What Happened at the 21st ALC Annual Summit in Portland

Main Association of Language Companies Conference 2023

For its 21st Annual Summit, the Association of Language Companies (ALC) returned to its hometown of Portland, OR – the medium-sized West Coast city whose eccentricities are summed up in an unofficial local slogan: “Keep Portland Weird.”

In the city, ALC acknowledged the contributions of its founding members, who initially met through a division of the American Translators Association (ATA). The friendly atmosphere continued throughout the Summit, especially during a trivia night that featured questions about the language industry at large, including some well-known personalities.

Presidents of other associations shared news from their own organizations and commented on current challenges. “There is a lot going on in the world of standards, y’all,” ALC President Susan Amarino remarked after briefings on ASTM and ISO standards for language service providers (LSPs).  

Karen Hodgson, speaking for the Australasian Association of Language Companies Inc., told the audience that an aging workforce and a dearth of young people entering the field has caused a severe shortage of interpreters in Australia.

The co-owner of the Nordic Translation and Interpretation Forum, Anne-Marie Colliander Lind, said that organization membership is falling as mergers and acquisitions become more common, and member companies buy each other and consolidate.

Several panelists expressed concerns about buyers’ perceptions of AI and the potential impact on demand. There is “misinformation […] that AI can replace interpreters,” said Natalya Mytareva, Executive Director of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). “The public, and purchasers of interpreting services, begin to think it’s possible, or AI is good enough.”

On a positive note, Robin Ayoub of the Canadian Language Industry Association said, “People are aware [that] this is not your Swiss army knife. It’s not going to lower your translation budget to zero – that’s for sure.”

A common thread among US-based associations was employee (mis)classification. “A lot of these bills akin to AB 5 [are] starting to pop up all over the country,” said Robert Cruz, Executive Director of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

This topic was so top-of-mind, in fact, that the summit also included an advocacy update from ALC’s Bill Rivers on emerging legislation in certain states, plus a panel during which several company owners shared their experiences of being audited.

The panel started with attendees answering a few questions about worker classification issues. Moderator Helena Almeida – an attorney with ADP who reiterated that there would be no official legal advice provided – talked through the results in real time.

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“Let’s see how many ways we can spell ‘California,’” she quipped as participants specified which states cause them trouble. (Runners-up included Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.)

Panelists agreed that an audit is often triggered by a freelance translator or interpreter filing for unemployment. 

“Unemployment forms don’t ask, ‘Are you an independent contractor or an employee?’ They ask, ‘Where did you get [your] last paycheck from?’” said Shamus Sayed of Interpreters Unlimited. “The nature of the questions is very biased toward individuals with a regular 9-to-5, W-2 environment.”

2023 ALC Survey

Slator conducted the 2023 ALC Survey for the first time, and Slator’s own Head of Advisory, Esther Bond, presented highlights of the findings.

More than 60% of surveyed companies grew in 2022, with a median revenue of USD 2–5m, consistent with trends in 2021. Moreover, one in four companies grew more than 25%. The focus on growth was also reflected in the most in-demand roles: sales reps, according to 65% of companies. (Half also said they have a growing need for project managers.)

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The most frequently provided translation service is still the classic three-step translation/editing/proofreading, also known as TEP, though 66% of respondents offer post-editing machine translation (PEMT) – currently the most-offered AI service. (Rates for PEMT are typically 25-35% lower than human-only services.) Only 10% of respondents use PEMT workflows as a default. 

While only three percent of LSPs surveyed currently use large language models (LLMs), one in three is actively testing use cases and pilots for the technology. The top services LSPs are interested in adding to their rosters include e-learning, integrations, PEMT, remote simultaneous interpreting, voiceover, and video remote interpreting (VRI).