Translating during the Pandemic: Takeaways from 2020

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Change is the only constant in life.

This antithesis unfortunately rings true in 2020. As this new decade unfolds like a tragic satire or dystopian Black Mirror episode, humanity continues to plug away through seemingly insurmountable feats to adapt — in our work, social interactions and especially healthcare.

For the translation scene, the pandemic instantly highlighted the significance of translation services during a public crisis to communicate vital information across communities.

Remote Translation Work in 2020

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Despite staying at home for the majority of 2020, we experienced an exhaustion and “zoom fatigue” unlike any other. While translators are used to remote working, the uncertainty of work remains a largely unavoidable source of stress.

When CSA Research surveyed 1,228 language service providers from 100 countries, they found that 61% of linguists reported less work and 56% of freelancers experienced a slump in their earnings, although their rates remained the same this year.

Despite the financial implications of nationwide lockdowns, demand did soar for translation services in particular industries, such as the healthcare sector — highlighting the need for crucial translation services in times of crisis.

Sourced from CSA Research, 2020

The Future of Translation

Considering these statistics, what will the future hold for translators in the coming year?

As artificial intelligence transforms our machine translation capabilities and accelerates our digital growth, we may be hard-pressed to question if machines will one day replace human translators.

But the future might not be entirely bleak.

Rather than being exclusive from each other, machine and human translation can go hand in hand, as it has today. For the translation industry to evolve and demonstrate relevance and inclusivity, we need to be resilient, flexible and open to face the currents of today’s digital epoch.

Lucky for us, there are tools within arm’s reach to walk us through these shifts. What we can do is to ride on these waves of change.

Let’s pause to reflect on how the translation community — including our team at Jala — have adapted to these changes.

What we learnt at Jala

1. The importance of access to digital resources

For the Jala team, we were lucky that remote work was already a norm. As a small team spread across three countries, we stayed connected (and sane) via digital tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Miro, Figma, Coda and Airtable.

To curb cabin fever, manage team stress and improve our morale, we held weekly stand-ups to share our work updates and virtual lunch hangouts where we played online games. On top of that, we also flexed our creative muscles this year with non-related work activities, whether individually or as a team — from a Biryani cooking challenge to terrarium-making workshops.

We also took advantage of the many free resources accessible within a matter of clicks. At Jala, we’re constantly finding ways to learn and keep up with changes in the industry. Each of us took a range of courses on Design, Data and Coding across General Assembly, Coursera and Udemy, just to name a few. If you’re looking for something to do over the holidays, we’ve compiled a list of free online courses that we think is worth checking out!

2. Staying connected with the community

This year, we also ran a whole gamut of free translation webinars dedicated to helping translators navigate a career in translation. Our final translation webinar of the year featured four seasoned translators who shared their personal experiences with over 90 participants!

The aim of our series was to share insights, tips and advice for translators of all backgrounds. One thing we consistently highlighted was the need to seek resources and collaborations with others. As translators, it’s easy to feel like we work completely in isolation, but networking with others can not only help you bag meaningful opportunities, it can help connect you to a wider and generous community to share resources with. The expert panelists we spoke with this year certainly had a wealth of advice and gems of wisdom for the community.

3. The importance of a good platform for the gig economy

Remote work is a new force to be reckoned with. As the pandemic forces many beyond the software circle to warm up to digital shifts overnight, demand and opportunities for freelancers have escalated to unprecedented levels.

Coupled with the current tumultuous economic climate, we understand the need for paid gigs to weather the storm of COVID-19. In October 2020, Jala rolled out payment features to help translators find paid work with business owners. If you’d like to try this out, you can register for this free update by joining the closed-Beta here.

What you can do to adapt

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

1. Improve your online presence

Your portfolio is the first avenue for people to learn more about your work. If you haven’t, now is the time to resurrect and upgrade your profile to its former glory. Trim down your goals and reevaluate your areas of specialisation, target industries, focus and unique skills.

You may even want to consider launching a personal website as more businesses scour search engines for freelance translators. Use the time to learn more about SEO to optimise and boost your personal website.

When your portfolio is ready, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and market your translation services. Reconnect with previous clients and network with new ones. Let them know you’re available and don’t shy away from expressing recent improvements, training, credentials and relevant projects you’ve accomplished.

2. Make Machine Translation your friend

Machine Translation is here to stay, so why not get friendly with it? Your translation quality and speed can benefit clients who require critical work within a tight timeframe. Machine translation and CAT tools can act as your trusty assistant to streamline your translation process and improve your productivity. Find out more about resourceful translation tools here.

3. It’s never too late to learn

Diversifying your skills and focus may actually help you manage uncertain economic periods. Whether the pace is slow or you’re facing some downtime from work, use the extra hours to pick up a new skill — it may just help you decorate your resume to its prime. Learn new techniques of specialisation such as editing, proofreading, SEO, and marketing. Perhaps this is the perfect time to also learn how to use a new CAT tool! Find ways to enrich your career as well as your interest in translation.

4. Get involved with meaningful projects

Engage in meaningful projects and seek out opportunities that can expand your skills. Your unique skills will help differentiate your translation services from others. We recommend getting involved with meaningful projects that describe who you are and your principles as a translator. Your projects represent the kinds of work that you’re passionate about — and this may open you up to relevant work that aligns with your interests.

At Jala, we strongly believe that translation can be used for social good. We continue to host a range of projects from organisations such as Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver and Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read Asia, along with numerous other non-profit projects dedicated to help inform affected communities during COVID-19.

Embracing Change

The translation scene is transforming and evolving along with emerging digital tools, virtual events and global waves of changes we may not yet comprehend. At the same time, the shift to online work has offered inclusive ways to foster engagement with translators from all walks of life and is unlikely to dissipate in the foreseeable future.

Although change is indeed a constant in our lives, we can accommodate these turbulent changes and create opportunities to adapt and evolve.

At Jala, we’re excited to continuously improve, revamp and introduce convenience for translators and businesses alike through our collaborative platform and community. Thank you for following and supporting us on our journey so far. We hope that we’ll continue to bring you the best translation resources and platform for good translation work.

Onwards to 2021!

Written by Liani MK

Did you enjoy translating a particular project on Jala? What do you think of our platform, webinars, blog and social media? What kind of projects would you like to see more of?

Let us know at, or any of our social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin.



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Jala Translate

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Jala is a community-powered translation platform connecting people and translations across the globe.