Working as a translator, I continually feel the benefits of collaborating with a team of people based overseas with different mother-tongues. Everyone contributes different skills, knowledge, and reference points, and the results are good. The whole is greater than the individual components and the work is rewarding. We’re stronger together.
But Britain's decision to leave the European Union does make me worry. A survey of the UK's translation services highlighted by Stirling-based translation company Global Voices, found that about a third of income in this field comes from within the EU. Global Voices goes on to point out that there are at least 23 recognised languages in the EU, with English, French and German being the three leading business languages. If Brexit has a negative impact on trade, or leads to an increase in border tariffs, the incentive to do business with the UK may fall. It's even possible that one day English will no longer be recognised as a major European language, which would decrease demand for translation into English.
It's also possible - if free movement into and out of the UK is undermined - that translators from overseas will find it more difficult to live and work in the UK. They make a strong contribution to the translation industry, especially as translation should always be in one direction: into one’s mother tongue. This makes employment of non-UK translators essential, since we obviously need people to translate out of English. It is also unclear whether English-speaking translators based overseas will be able to stay and work abroad. I have long dreamed of working as a translator in Italy, but am no longer certain it will be possible.
There is a silver lining – for translators working with clients in other continents. Empowerlingua, which offers translation and interpretation services, predicts that fresh business in the form of trade agreements from outside Europe may, for those with the appropriate skills, generate translation work on a more global scale.
Much of my work as a scientific translator is concerned with the pharmaceutical and medical sectors. The future of projects in these fields is difficult to predict. According to Signs and symptoms of translation, a blog by a Spanish to English medical translator, Brexit will coincide with a period of change in EU legislation surrounding clinical trials for new drugs for use on humans. New regulations are set to arrive in 2017 or 2018. It looks certain that the European Medical Agency will move its headquarters out of London and into Europe. Extra translation work could be created by agreements with pharmaceutical companies carrying out clinical trials overseas, and from import, export, manufacture, storage and distribution of medicinal products and devices. However, this is by no means certain. If the UK become more dependent upon UK or US-based drug testing and manufacture, demand for pharmaceutical and medical translation will fall.
And then there's the exchange rate. Some translation agencies, acting as the go-between for a translator and a client, pay in pounds but are paid in euros. With a weak pound, it's much more expensive for them to do this than it used to be.
So a number of uncertainties cloud the future of post-Brexit Britain, and language services are no exception.