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Insights into the Language Service Industry (with Chinese Characteristics!)

Mandarin Aspirations

On 27 April 2022, Leeds alumnus James Halstead MCIL CL delivered a lecture about the global language service providing (LSP) industry.

Watch the recording of the event and Q&A session on Facebook or YouTube.

With a background spanning UK and Chinese private business and government, James shared a wealth of professional and personal experience working in and with China. 

James is an advisory board member and former Co-Chair of Chinese-Speakers and currently manages IMD Legal Translation and Interpreting Ltd, a prominent UK based LSP (language service provider) to the legal sector. 

James' personal experience and career path in China, as well as his comments on working as a linguist in both Chinese and English, captivated the University of Leeds students, staff, and external guests who attended the talk. 

James shared his profound insights into the global language service industry, as well as practical instances of working as a linguist (aka translator/interpreter), and an overview of the speciality and professionalism of legal translation. 

Professor Wang Binhua (Chair/Professor of interpreting and translation studies in the Centre for Translation Studies, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds) moderated the event and gave introductory remarks about the importance of translation and interpreting as well as its study as a university subject. 

In this post, we cover the key takeaways from the lecture, including:  

  • Interest as motivation
  • A bright future for the LSP Industry
  • Competitiveness of a translator/interpreter 

Interest as motivation

James advised students to choose a career path based on their passions, using his own experience as an example. 

James' father was the one who got him interested in martial arts and Chinese culture. When deciding what to study at university, James chose Chinese at the University of Leeds, which sent him on exchange to Beijing's Capital Normal University.

James returned to China shortly after graduation, hoping to find work that would allow him to stay in the country on a visa. He paid his rent by working as a freelance translator, which helped him hone his language skills, and he also secured a position with the UK Government as an Entry Clearance Officer. 

James' Mandarin proficiency, which was unusual in his cohort, impressed his supervisors.  

As his contract ended, James was offered a management position in Beijing. He continued to move to internal posts that allowed him to leverage his language skills in a variety of contexts. 

When James eventually returned to the UK with a wife and child, he made the transition from the public to the commercial sector, working for thebigworld, a top 20 LSP firm, where he was responsible for the Greater China region. 

James more recently joined IMD Legal Translation and Interpreting, a UK based LSP providing translation, transcription, and interpreting services to law firms and solicitors, as General Manager.

James' interest in language and translation has been a clear and consistent motivator throughout his career. 

A bright future for the LSP industry

According to James, the LSP is a large and fragmented sector, which he highlights in his larger lessons and observations. 

Many LSPs are undergoing structural changes because of technological advancements and increased reliance on technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) translations and Machine Translations. Several significant LSP firms have undertaken changes in their management, mergers and acquisitions, and venture capital injections in the last few years.

It is important to combine your technical and linguistic expertise with a thorough understanding of how your industry operates, including what the competition offers and market and industry trends in general, in order to position yourself in the overall scheme.

Competitiveness of a translator/interpreter

Reflecting on his work experience, James advised students interested in becoming translators or interpreters to consider: 

  • Their preferred specialisms 
  • Taking on part-time work to establish a portfolio and establish credibility 
  • Expanding networks with existing linguists and finding mentors (they are usually very friendly and supportive) 
  • Creating a strong, concise, and clear CV and online profile (, although becoming less important, and LinkedIn).

Throughout, James highlighted the ways in which working as a linguist can be rewarding because you are assisting people in understanding and communicating with one another by navigating the differences between languages. 

As such, the work of a linguist is one of the most important roles in communication and conversation with any foreign business, state, and culture. Where languages and cultures are vastly different, such as between the English-speaking world and China, perhaps even more so.

Further reading

Connect with James Halstead on LinkedIn 

Learn more about IMD Legal Translation and Interpreting on the company website

Learn about the vocationally-oriented MAs and Postgraduate Diplomas in studies of translation offered at the Centre of Translation Studies at the University of Leeds