Interpreters and translators are responsible for facilitating cross-cultural communication through the process of converting one language into a different language. Along with simple translation they also relay ideas and concepts between different languages. To be successful in this profession, it is important to thoroughly understand the subject matter in which a translator or interpreter is working in order to convey information accurately. Furthermore, translators and interpreters must be culturally sensitive.
Language Interpreter and Translator Job Responsibilities
Although it is possible to translate as well as interpret, most people choose to specialize in either translating or interpreting. Interpreters handle spoken words while translators work with written words. Distinct skills are required for each task. For this reason some people tend to be better suited for either interpreting or translating. Translators tend to translate only into their native language. Interpreters frequently interpret into and from more than one language.
An interpreter is responsible for converting a spoken language into another language. Attention to detail is crucial, along with understanding what is being communicated in both languages. Interpreters must be able to clearly express ideas and thoughts. Exceptional memory is important as well.
There are two different types of interpreting; consecutive and simultaneous. Simultaneous interpreting involves interpreters listening and speaking (or signing) at the same time that another person is signing or speaking. In an ideal situation a simultaneous interpreter will be familiar enough with a subject that they are able to anticipate how a speaker’s sentence will end. This type of interpretation involves a high level of concentration. Simultaneous interpreting may be used in courts or at international conferences.
Consecutive interpreters will begin interpreting only after the speaker has finished speaking. A consecutive interpreter may take notes while listening. This type of interpreting is frequently used in one-on-one communication.
Translators convert written words from one language into another language. They must have excellent analytical abilities and writing skills. In addition, they should have good editing skills. Translators must keep in mind cultural references that may need to be explained, including colloquialisms and slang as well as other expressions that may not be able to translate literally. Translators may be needed in social services, education, business and entertainment.
Interpreters and translators may work in a variety of different settings including hospitals, schools, conference centers and courtrooms. While interpreters may work with others, translators typically work alone. Tight schedules and deadlines are not unusual. The availability of computers and the Internet makes it possible to freelance within this career field. Interpreting and translating may require long hours that may sometimes be irregular.
The employment outlook for interpreters and translators is expected to grow faster than average. Employment prospects will vary according to language and specialty. This increased demand will result from an increase of international ties. Demand will be strongest for translators in languages that are frequently translated including Italian, German, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Demand should also remain strong for translators of Middle Eastern languages, including Arabic as well as for East Asian languages such as Korean, Japanese and Chinese. The demand for American Sign Language interpreters is also expected to grow at a rapid rate.
Language Interpreter and Translator Training and Education Requirements
Translators and interpreters must be fluent in a minimum of two languages. Educational backgrounds can vary; but most often need a bachelor’s degree. Individuals interested in this career can prepare by taking classes that include foreign languages, English writing and comprehension and basic computer proficiency. It can also be helpful to spend some time abroad to engage in direct contact with a foreign culture. Extensive reading in more than one language can be helpful as well.
Specialized training is also typically required. Formal programs in translation and interpretation are offered at colleges around the country. Individuals who work as conference interpreters or in technical areas, including engineering, localization or finance, often have master’s degrees.
Experience is critical in this career field. Most companies require interpreters and translators to have a minimum of three years of experience or have a degree in translation studies.
Language Interpreter and Translator Salary and Wages
In 2008 the median annual wage for interpreters and translators was $38,500. Specialists that work for the federal government earned an average of around $79,000. Earnings can often depend on subject matter, language, experience, skill, certification, education and type of employer. Those knowledgeable in languages that few people are able to translate will typically have higher earnings. Interpreters and translators that are not salaried may have fluctuating earnings, depending on the amount of work available to them. Freelance interpreters commonly earn an hourly rate. Translators that freelance usually earn a word per hour rate.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Language Interpreter and Translator Certification
At this time there is not a universal form of certification that is required for interpreters and translators in the U.S. There are many different exams that can be taken in order to demonstrate proficiency. Certification is offered in 24 language combinations by the American Translators Association. Certification is also available through the Federal courts for Navajo, Haitian Creole and Spanish interpreters. Certification for general sign interpreters is offered by the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.
Language Interpreter and Translator Professional Associations
Professional associations for interpreters and translators include the American Translators Association.