The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a large increase in the number of translators and interpreters driven by the increasing number of non-English-speaking people in the United States and the demands of international translation as businesses globalize and U.S. companies are confronting both foreign companies and ever more important foreign markets.
World trade and advances in technology drive the demand for translators and interpreters. Software menus and commands need to be adapted for use in other countries. Software upgrades are coming out more rapidly. E-commerce enables even the smallest companies to have access to people all over the globe who don’t speak English, provided they can transact business in the languages of these new customers. Even though the eventual target of computer scientists and programmers is to achieve fluent two-way machine translation, it appears at least a decade away. Except for the most repetitive of translation needs such as real estate contracts, weather forecasting and technical manuals, automated translation done by computers is not expected to readily replace humans who can master nuance.
While English is said to be the language of business, people in other countries want contracts drawn up in their local language. Of course, marketing communication is more effective in the local language, respecting the norms and idioms of the area. At this point, the largest growth in Internet usage is by people accessing in language other than English. For those people fortunate enough to speak more languages than English, that ability can be the ticket to an interesting and rewarding home business. People with knowledge of one or more foreign languages can start a translation business or become employed locally by companies, courts, hospitals, and international companies like myGengo that hires translators from over the world.
Of the 3,000 U.S. translation companies, most are small, home-based operations, launched with a few thousand dollars for basic office equipment. All you need to get started is your know-how, some dictionaries, and a computer. Translators can live almost anywhere and service clients around the world.
As in so many other businesses, specialization is an asset in this field, although some specialties, such as translating literary works, prose and poetry, for publishing houses usually don’t pay well. If you have a technical background of any kind, however, particularly one in a growing technology, you can earn a good living in this high-demand specialty. Another growing specialization is translating the content of Web sites into other languages so companies and organizations can attract more people to their sites.
The world of entertainment needs translators, too, doing such things as translating scripts for dubbing, translating stage plays, and subtitling films—as the American film industry begins to depend more and more on foreign markets for their product, this will become even more important. Interpreters can specialize in cross-cultural training for businesspeople, community relations, crisis intervention, or sign language. Conference translation is a possibility for people living in the cities where international organizations are located, such as New York and Washington.
Translation work is incredibly flexible, depending on how many projects you take on and the nature of those assignments. But there will always be projects. The “field is booming,” says Walter Bacak, Executive Director of the American Translators Association, and there is little chance that that situation will change. Almost every type of translation allows you to work flexible hours at a location of your choice; you can have a very profitable part-time job working in your pajamas! And the costs of getting started are minimal; all you really need is the ability to connect to the Internet and the language skills which will allow you to do this job in the first place, although if you wish to be employed, professional certification is important.
Which is not to say that everything is sunshine. Since clients may not be aware of the process of translation or appreciate the time involved, and you may encounter sticker shock when you quote your prices. Therefore, in the process of selling your services, you will need to educate your clients in order to reach an equitable business agreement. There are still many businesses in which translators are not adequately reimbursed, considering the substantial time and difficulty of their job. In fact, managing to convince people that they need to hire you at your price is much of the battle, since the jobs themselves are so plentiful. Walter Bacak says, “The difference between those who are successful and those who are not is business skills.”
Both in-person interpreters and translators of written texts are not easily or are expected to dependably replaced by technology. Though translation software has gotten more and more sophisticated, Alison Anderson, a translator in San Francisco who specializes in French states the scuttlebutt among translators is that it is still catastrophically inaccurate and unable to detect the subtleties of a human translator. As the United States aligns with other nations in loosely defined but powerful economic federations, the job of translation will become more important. If you have the skills, translation and interpreting can be a career that will afford a middle class lifestyle.
You can learn more about professional certification from a a number of organizations for translators and interpreters. These include:
American Translators Association
American Literary Translators Association
Association of Canadian Literary Translators
International Association of Conference Interpreters
The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators
Thank you for your comment. My contacts for this were interviews with translators and a number of the resources listed in the blog. We have tracked translating and interpreting services for over ten years, profiling this as a business in a number of our books.