It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the German translation industry worldwide. On the one hand, German as a language is spoken by around 100 million people worldwide and in countries that have a lot of economic and political clout, but the language itself is not a recognised international language. This has something to do with the history of Germany itself and its attempt in the nineteenth century to grab parts of the world as colonies. This is how countries like Britain and France joined Spain and Portugal as temporary colonial masters of large parts of the world.
Much earlier still, Arabic speaking people came to exert huge influence over an enormous swathe of the world from Morocco to Indonesia and South to East Africa. Other countries that never became huge colonial powers nevertheless occupied large territorial areas and the most important language within each country became spoken by many millions of people. Languages in this category include Chinese, Indonesian / Malay and Russian.
Germany did in fact colonise a few parts of the world for a relatively short time. South West Africa (now Namibia), Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea) were all once german colonies until the end of the First World War.
The Importance of the German Language Today had Little or nothing to do with Colonialism
The importance of German as a language, then, must be explained by something else other than geographical expansion. Germany, for sure, has been an important source of migrants in the past. German migrants to North and South America, Southern Africa and Australia have taken their language with them. As a modern, affluent country today, Germany and other German-speaking European nations see millions of their citizens travel all around the world as inveterate travellers and tourists. Some stay for longer and study or work. All of this global movement of German speakers means plenty of opportunity for German translators. Of course, German speakers are now relatively proficient in speaking and understanding English, but cannot be expected to be polyglots. There is plenty of work for French –German translators, Spanish-German translators, Japanese, Italian, Chinese and Hindi- German translators, just to mention a few examples.
It’s the Economy, Stupid!
Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world and has an influence out of proportion to its population size and geographical area. It is a leading, some say the principal leading member, of the European Union of 27 member countries. It does business all around the world and there are many German businesses that are international in operation. All of this means that communication between german speakers and people speaking many other languages is vital to maintain the level of business that exists. German translators facilitate this huge volume of communication.
Germany an Attractive Place to Study, Work or Flee to
Germany also provides excellent study opportunities and also employment opportunities for many tens of thousands of people from all over the world. It has recently taken in a huge number of refugees, fleeing wars and crises in their homelands. This internal migration into Germany is another example of just how important German translators are in facilitating the settling in period of all these people into a German-speaking population.
German speakers have had a disproportionate influence on the rest of the world in many other spheres of human activity other than economic. It has provided philosophers, thinkers, writers, scientists, researchers, artists and musicians galore. In just about any human endeavour if you scrape beyond the surface you will find a profusion of German speakers. You can hardly expect this level of activity to be available outside Germany, Switzerland and Austria (the three main German-speaking countries of Central Europe) without the efforts of professional German translators.