- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

A booming U.S. immigrant population and the war on terrorism are pushing the language-services industry into double-digit growth this year.

The $9.5 billion industry for translation and interpretation is expected to grow 37 percent to $13 billion by 2007, according to a 2002 study by Allied Business Intelligence Inc., an Oyster, N.Y., technology-research think tank.

Translation is defined as changing written text into another language, while interpretation is changing conversation into another language.

“Translation services dropped off after 9/11, but they, like the global economy, are slowly coming back,” said Walter Bacak, executive director of the American Translators Association, an Alexandria trade group with 9,000 members.

The 2000 census reported about 760,000 immigrants lived in the Washington area, with more than 200,000 each in Montgomery and Fairfax counties.

The area immigrant population was estimated to grow by almost 50,000 between 2001 and 2002.

Independent interpreters and translators dominate 70 percent of the market, but language-service companies are capitalizing on the growing demand for faster and more-accurate services, Mr. Bacak said.

For example, hospitals are required under a civil rights statute to have an interpreter service for non-English-speaking patients. And more private and public schools are teaching non-English-speaking students, driving up the need for interpreters, according to the Education Department.

Some Washington health care providers, such as the Children’s National Medical Center, hire a staff of full-time interpreters based on the area’s demographic makeup.

Children’s has staff proficient in Spanish, French, Vietnamese and other languages but uses a backup interpreting service, LLE Inc., for the rare patient who speaks Swahili or another obscure language, said Brenda Shepherd-Vernon, manager of language services.

Other hospitals opt for an interpreting service over the phone or through video conferencing to lower costs, said George Ulmer, chief executive officer of NetworkOmni, a California interpreting-services company.

“If it’s a life-threatening situation, a local interpreter can’t get there quick enough. But we can connect a doctor to an interpreter in 15 to 20 seconds,” Mr. Ulmer said.

While the company has interpreters stationed in the Washington area, the bulk of last year’s 5 percent revenue growth came from NetworkOmni’s over-the-phone services, Mr. Ulmer said, declining to disclose financial numbers.

NetworkOmni is the second-largest language-services company after Language Line Services LLC. NetworkOmni translates more than 150 languages, the most popular being Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

NetworkOmni fields about 1 million calls a year. Language Line, an AT&T; spin-off, conducts about 9 million calls a year.

“Companies see that they have to have some translation service in place to reach out to a growing non-English-speaking population here in the United States,” said Language Line spokesman Phillip Speciale.

Kathleen Diamond, president of LLE Inc., a D.C. translation-services company, said the Bush administration’s war on terrorism boosted her company’s 2002 sales, which reached about $3 million.

“It’s simplistic to say that the demand has been all 9/11-driven, though that certainly played a significant role. In general I think there has been an increased awareness about the need to communicate across languages,” Ms. Diamond said.

LLE, formerly known as Language Learning Enterprise, won a $30,000 contract in October to teach Arabic to Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., who later deployed to Iraq.

The program evolved into a $200,000 contract this year, with federal officials expressing “interest” in sending some of LLE’s 15 full-time interpreters to Iraq, Ms. Diamond said.

Government work in Bosnia and Iraq also helped McNeil Multilingual Inc., a Springfield translation company, expand its revenue last year to $12 million after several corporate clients cut their budgets.

“We had a few substantial contracts that required intensive localization,” or translation, of Web sites and documents, said Managing Director Suraj Singh. McNeil earned $10 million from the federal government and $2 million from companies last year.

The Web-site market is projected to hit $1.7 billion by 2007, the Allied report said. But the rise of language-service companies won’t extinguish the need for traditional interpreters, Mr. Bacak said.

“The on-site interpreter is still a valuable commodity to a company that is touring an overseas plant and needs someone on hand to translate any business transactions,” he said.

Marilda Averbug, a conference interpreter for the International Monetary Fund and the Organization of American States, added that global organizations use translators to match facial expressions and moods with speakers’ words.

“It’s vital to see mannerisms of a speaker and be physically close by, because there’s a lot of underlying meaning behind phrases or sentences,” said Mrs. Averbug.

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