The Different Actors in the Translation Market

In its report on the translation market in Europe, EUATC stresses that translation is one of the most fragmented markets. This sector is strongly marked by competition, is poorly structured and lacks unity. Here is our classification on the various actors that make up the strength (and weaknesses) of the translation services market.

Translation Market

Three types of “vendors” or providers

There are three types of language service providers: Single Language Vendors (SLV), Multi-Language Vendors (MLV) and Translation Companies.


Behind this mysterious acronym, actually hide the translators and interpreters working on their own account. They mainly work in the liberal profession (self-employed or individual company) and translate only into their mother tongue. Hence the name “monolingual provider”. They represent 80% of the world’s professional translation services. To become a translator, no compulsory degree is required. Only skills matter.


This category includes small companies which generally have between 2 and 5 employees. They are usually translators or teams of translators who wish to outsource part of their services for various reasons:

  • development of the offer (translating into other languages);
  • ability to cope with peaks of activity (outsourcing what they can no longer translate due to lack of time).

Among the MLVs, there are also agencies known as “boutique companies”. They specialize in a particular language pair (English to Chinese translation for example), a specific area of specialization (IT translation) or a specific geographical area.

Translation companies

Finally come the “giants” of translation, the “Ikea” of translation, large multinationals that sell translations as we would sell furniture. These are large companies that buy SLV and MLV translations and sell them to large accounts. Here, the volumes of words to be translated are often counted in millions, and the target languages are counted by tens for each translation project. These projects are difficult to manage for small suppliers who sometimes lack the resources and resources to translate in often very short lead times. Sometimes, these companies have several translation offices around the globe. This geographical omnipresence allows them to make the “three-eight”, with a production cycle that can be spread over three different time zones. It is also possible to work with internal translators. For example, the large translation company SDL has an office in China and it is this office that deals with all translations into Chinese. Among the best known companies are Transn, LionBridge or CSOFT. These companies are only for large accounts and not for individuals.

MLVs and translation companies account for 20% of the translation orders.

Synergy in the translation market

SLVs (translators and independent interpreters) generally work for agencies (MLV or companies) or for direct clients. Clearly, they have the choice between two commercial strategies:

• They choose to deal solely with translation (their core business), and agree to pay a percentage of their remuneration to the agency. It is the latter, in fact, who is in charge of finding the customers.

• Or, they prefer to do prospecting to work directly with companies that need their translation services. If their pay might be higher, they have to devote part of their time to the whole commercial aspect.

MLVs or small translation firms with 2 to 5 employees in general translate the contents requested by their clients themselves and entrust some of the translation tasks to other trusted SLVs. They also work for large companies that outsource translation tasks.

Finally, the major translation firms are in charge of managing large-scale projects, often close to a million words and covering dozens of language pairs. They delegate the translation-proofreading-layout components to small MLVs or SLVs. Their main task is to manage translation projects, to “sell” translations rather than to ensure their quality.