German - English translation. A dying industry?
Thread poster: MoDarcy

German to English
Jan 5, 2014


I am hoping for some help with the following dilemma. I am hoping to get back to work after looking after my children for many years. I am signed up to start an online Diploma in translation German to English. However, I have been told by relatives who live and work in Germany for technology companies, that they use their own German speaking staff to translate and then get the translations proofread. This is something they see happening increasingly as the younger Germans have such good English. Also, I wonder about MT and how this will impact on the translator. I would love to hear from current translators about their experiences. Is this a growing or declining industry?

Many thanks for your time..


Astrid_H  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
German to English
+ ...
Yes and No Jan 5, 2014

Hello there!

In my opinion, there's still plenty of business in German/English translation, but it depends on the field you specialise in. Non-professional translators and MT may be good enough for general content, but when it comes to special knowledge and vocabulary, neither is too much competition.

My experience in translation and writing of software/technical manuals is that yes, quite a few companies do use their own employees for translation and don't even bother to get a proofreader, but the quality of translation is often such that it's partly incomprehensible to non-Germans.
Examples: translating "actual" with "aktuell" and vice versa, horrible grammar and punctuation. You won't believe how often I've despaired trying to understand the meaning of some documentation translated by the best English speaker of a company (not even proofreading, but trying to make sense of it as legacy content for new documentation).

The problem when employees with good, but still limited skills translate into English is that those who are in charge of translations either don't care about such trivialities as written documentation, or sometimes speak even worse English than the translating employees and believe if the words are all in English, it's fine.
When the quality of the documentation has decreased so much the company loses credibility or even customers over it, they hire a professional translator/writer again.

I can't see any decline in business, but I also offer the whole package of writing and translating.



Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:21
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Will they know the reason? Jan 6, 2014

Astrid_H wrote:
The problem when employees with good, but still limited skills translate into English is that those who are in charge of translations either don't care about such trivialities as written documentation, or sometimes speak even worse English than the translating employees and believe if the words are all in English, it's fine.
When the quality of the documentation has decreased so much the company loses credibility or even customers over it, they hire a professional translator/writer again.

That depends on their realising that it's the inadequate quality of the English documents that is causing their problems.

(BTW: Yes, my "favourite" mistranslations (faux amis) are aktuell-actual(ly) and eventuell-eventual(ly), with very similar faux amis in En-Fr and En-It.)



Yael Ramon  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:21
German to Hebrew
+ ...
translation industry changes during absence time Jan 6, 2014

Hallo MoDarcy

My answer to you may not touch directly the GE-EN industry but the translation industry in general.
After several years of absence, like in all industries, changes take place.
You may pretty soon find out for yourself, that the jobs you were used to receive no longer exist in the market.
Many job posters prefer nowadays either to have their own "in-house" translators (not because of quality reasons, but because of lower price and discretion problems).
On the other hand, many new markets were opened - globalization of websites, corrections to "Machine translated" products and documents, marketing documents for global markets and so on...
If you are taking courses to re-enter the translation industry, you may wish to take those changes into consideration when choosing the right courses.
Luckily enough, translation will never "go out of business", because it is directly connected to the human brain, which remains, even today, an unsolved mystery.


Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
German to English
Resounding no Jan 6, 2014

If I were interpreting between German and English and - to some extent - if I were translating English > German, then I might be a little worried. However, if you have convincing credentials within whatever field you're specialized in and are a good translator, then there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Lots of Germans can write English very well, but the vast majority do not and they also know that they do not.


Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
How long is a piece of string? Jan 6, 2014

German-English translation is not a single market. There are many different types of job, different budgets etc. Clients range from the cheapskate "envelope switchers" whose main argument is how cheaply they can deliver to the discerning professional or corporate clients who are willing to pay top prices for top quality specialist work, even though their own command of English is often very good.
Your profile says absolutely nothing about what you have to offer - it states that you are a student, and "Detailed fields not specified". If that does not change, you will find it difficult even to get on the bottom rung of the ladder. But if you can offer solid specialist skills and produce excellent work, you can develop a high-powered career.
I particularly enjoy working for direct clients (in my case mainly lawyers) who themselves speak and write excellent English and can therefore tell the difference between their own very good non-native prose and the work provided by a real professional translator.


Peter Simon  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
Member (2013)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Here's one Jan 6, 2014


Victor is 100% right about your need to build up your profile, here, or anywhere.

Another factor affecting a wide range of translators, mostly those on certain sites, can be seen if you follow this recent ad for a German translator:

There are many such sites asking the services of translators, but which are inundated with dozens, if not hundreds, of cheap and shameless (mostly South-Asian, sorry) people, who, I suppose with some certainty, purport to run cheap translation agencies capable of providing translations at very-very-very low prices. Sometimes, though, they are not even fake. It is simply that some beginner "geniuses" of our own kind relocate to such a country to do some English teaching, but they have time to translate in their free time. The price levels of those countries are so low, however, compared to Europe and the like, that they seriously undercut even the cheapest of the cheap here.

I've suffered an odious example just the other day elsewhere. The client asked for experience saying he's willing to pay more for the most experienced translator of my language. Out of 13 applicants (3 of whom were S-Asians, I couldn't see in their data how they dared to make out that they might understand Hungarian), the client chose the cheapest and almost least experienced one. At least he is a Hungarian, teaching in Thailand. I could also offer very low prices if I still lived and worked in China, though price levels have greatly hiked there since.

I've thus suggested one of the solutions - move over to a cheap country. But it's a ridiculous and, for most, impossible, solution. Other than that, specialization as soon as possible may be more important than before. But if one, like myself, translates a small language, it's also out of the question - how can a Hungarian translator specialized on aviation survive? Even medical and similar topics rarely come up, except for those working in-house, as you've fretted. We should make believe that we specialize in almost everything and wait for those who believe us.

At least those translating from or into German have a wider clientele.

Cheers, and update! Peter


Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Germany is a good market Jan 6, 2014

Since the economy in Germany is still better off than most European countries, there are less restrictions on budget, and less pollution of wannabee translators. Engineers and other technical staff is mostly used for what they do best: developing and testing - not writing documentation and certainly not translating it... They can leave that to cheaper professionals, like translators...

However you will need to compete with low priced and/or bad quality translators and Machine Translations in certain sectors or levels - - it's advised to steer clear of those basically.

The only way to make some money is to provide quality at a good price. (both for you and the client) and not start with price dumping, because a) you will never win, b) it brings down the entire business.

Enjoy 2014!



German to English
Thank you for your responses Jan 6, 2014

Thank you all for taking time to answer my query.

I didn't complete my profile as I had only just signed up minutes before to post a query....I don't presume to call myself a translator at this stage. I'm delighted to hear that the majority seem to think that there is still a demand for my language pairing. I was planning to do the Diploma partly to help get my level of German back and also to help with the specialisation issue. I have completed an IT course covering computer hardware, software and networks and was hoping that would help in that regard. Would I be right in assuming that IT is one of the less well paid specialisations? Also, how much knowledge does one need to say it is your specialisation? When translators say they specialise in 'legal' or 'medical', for example, I guess we are not talking about degree level knowledge. Do you learn from working and researching as you go? Sorry if this seems a stupid question, but I thought I would ask now I have your ear!!


Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
Specialisation and language command Jan 7, 2014

There are many elastic concepts involved here. It is impossible to diagnose from a distance how much real expertise an "IT course" gives you, nor is it possible to classify IT translation in general as low price or high price, because there are many different types of translation tasks which can arise.
I wonder about your goal of "getting your German back". If you are currently uncertain about the level of your own German and feel out of touch with real spoken and written German, I would suggest that a diploma course in translation will probably not be very much help, and that it will be difficult to get started on a real translation career. The first step would be to find other ways to improve your passive and active command of the language, before you actually embark on translation training. If you offer translation as a service, you must expect from the outset to excel on texts which are too difficult for people with a moderate command of the language.
You are right, though, in assuming that specialisms such as legal, medical and technical translation are not usually based on a degree-level course in the relevant subjects. Some people have such formal qualifications, but most do not. Translation is a classic career for life-long learning and learning on the job. But the aim is always to achieve the maximum level of excellence in the fields that we specialise in. So after an initial learning period, a legal translator should be able to discuss legal topics with lawyers without feeling inferior, and the lawyer should notice that the translator knows what he/she is talking about.


Paul Malone  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
Member (2004)
French to English
+ ...
Not declining, in my opinion. Jan 7, 2014

Hi Mo,

I have found that demand in this language pair has been very steady over the last few years, despite the international crisis. I can't give you any precise figures, but what I can tell you is that I receive more offers of translation work in the German into English language pair than I am able to keep up with.

Having said that, I'm sure there is indeed a lot of translation that is done in-house by non-native speakers of English. But, of course, there could be a variety of reasons for that, one of which may be that it can be very difficult to find a competent, qualified German to English translator. Which is good news for you!

I would say go for it if it's what you want to do. The translation industry is in better shape than many other industries, according to the statistics that are available. People may tell you that there is no future in it. But if they do, you may want to ask yourself whether such people have first hand knowlege of the translation industry or whether they have done any meaningful, in-depth research to find out more about it. If the answer to such questions is "no", could their views be based on mere speculation?

Good luck,


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