There are currently 6,069 known “living” languages in the world. Some languages, like English, are extremely common and can be heard anywhere on Earth. Some languages, on the other hand, are much rarer and virtually unknown outside their respective places of origin. Naturally, the more common a language is, the more translators you will be able to find working in and out of that language. The opposite, of course, is also true. Whereas it’s simple to find a translator working in or out of English or Spanish, you’d have a somewhat more difficult task ahead of you were you to be searching for a native Ndonga speaker.
While it would be hard enough to simply find a native speaker of some of these rarer languages, when it comes to translation, that difficulty can become exponential due to the fact that you need someone fluent in not just one particular language, but in another specific language as well. To recycle the previous example: it’s easy to find an English-Spanish translator. In fact there are tens of thousands of them. But try looking for not just a Ndonga speaker – but a Ndonga-Yucatan Mayan translator... Good luck.
With the trend of globalization hitting all corners of the ever-expanding world market, translators are becoming more and more necessary. And with the Internet and modern telecommunications helping people from extreme opposite ends of the globe get into contact and do business with each other more easily than ever before, translators working with rare languages are beginning to find their place in the industry.
While most translation companies specialize in more common languages and language pairs, there may be a niche for rarer languages and more obscure language pairs. Not only a niche, but for smaller agencies in particular, handling more obscure language pairs may even be the key to boosting business in their more common languages as well.
For example, say a client is searching for a Japanese-English translator. They have their pick of any of literally hundreds of companies throughout the world that have more than adequate Japanese-English translation resources at hand, and will probably choose the cheapest or the one with the top spot on Google. However, if a client is looking for a language professional to deal with Urdu or Zuul, and they find that your agency is one of the few offering their required services and subsequently contract you for the job, then there’s a good chance that they’ll come back to you again out of familiarity the next time they have a Japanese-English project. Not to mention the fact that they may even spread the word to other potential clients that your agency deals in less common languages, providing free publicity focused directly to the sort of client your business needs.
While it may not be advisable to restructure your translation agency to ONLY handle rare languages/language combinations, it can never hurt to keep as many specialists in said languages on file as possible, just in case. Since a lot of translation companies don’t even bother to do this, just having contact information for – and a proper business relationship with – translators specializing in rare languages automatically gives you an advantage over some of the larger or more established firms. If a client comes to you with a request for a translation to/from Hmong, even if the Hmong translator you have on file is unavailable at the time, chances are they can introduce you to another Hmong translator, thus allowing you to not only accommodate the client but also adding yet another rare language specialist to your company’s lineup for future reference.
As previously mentioned, it may not be the best idea to focus your small-scale translation agency solely on rare languages/language combinations. But just the fact that your agency has yet to fill up and keep you busy with more common languages is actually a convenience: you may actually have more time than a project manager at a larger firm to go and seek out rare language specialists for when you need them. It’s looking more and more like it may be wise to carve out your own little niche in the translation industry – which becomes more and more important as the Internet and globalization spread further and more quickly everyday, and the world becomes a smaller, more closely-knit community – while you still can.