In today’s information society, communication is more than just important. It’s crucial. Every business and political message runs the risk of being misinterpreted, especially when it comes to complex ideas, and the results of misinterpretation can range from a failed business agreement to the collapse of government talks. In short, there never has been more demand for specialists in translation and interpretation, which makes these two jobs hot prospects for the coming years.
If you’re fluent in two or more languages, you may find this career area of great interest to you, perhaps as you explore an entirely new vocation or if you’re just starting your career after college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, translators and interpreters will experience faster-than-average employment growth through 2018.
What’s the difference between translators and interpreters? Translators work with the written word, whereas interpreters work with the spoken word. Many corporations are in great need of professionals in both aspects of the field, as are government agencies and other employers.
For instance, the American Translators Association is composed of more than 11,000 members — including translators, interpreters, teachers, project managers, Web and software developers, language company owners, hospitals, universities and government agencies — in more than 90 countries.
Dawn Rosenberg McKay, the career planning guide for About.com, says, "Most employers will only consider candidates who have bachelor’s degrees, as well as specialized training from a formal program."
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Should you decide that your language fluency, education and experience make you a suitable candidate, visit the American Translators Association’s website (www.ATAnet.org) for information on taking the test to become a credited member of the organization. You can take practice tests before paying the $300 test fee and signing up to take your exam.
You will need to provide proof of your education and work experience to qualify to take the test, which is a three-hour proctored exam in a specific language pair of your choice. The ATA currently offers exams for your proficiency in translating into English from Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, as well as from English into Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian.
Be aware that the test is challenging. The current overall pass rate is less than 20 percent, but when you do pass, you earn entry into the ATA, as well as your designation as a certified interpreter or translator, ready to launch into your new field.
How Will You Work?
The next consideration is this: Do you wish to work for a company or organization, or do you wish to be an independent contractor? The former requires that you locate in-house job opportunities — a perk of belonging to the ATA — and go through the process of interviewing in order to land your dream job.
Some companies maintain their employees in an office, and some send their employees into the field to interpret and translate. Consider the travel implications as an important factor in your job search.
If you wish to be an independent contractor, you will need to establish your own business, with resources from the ATA and the U.S. Small Business Administration, set up your home office, apply for a state license (if required), pay quarterly taxes, set up an organized bookkeeping system, market yourself and set your own prices, among other requirements for the self-employed. The ATA reports that it can take up to two years to fully establish your own business.
Just as with any other job, you will need to take smart steps to maximize your career’s potential and advancement. According to the ATA’s website, here are some advised steps:
n Take courses to keep up to date on trends in your field and learn new terminology.
n Join professional organizations to find out more about and network within your chosen specialties.
n Travel abroad, if at all possible.
n Read often, in all your languages, to hone your skills.
n Subscribe to trade magazines in your areas of expertise.
n Add to your hardware/software collection and learn new programs.
n Check your local community college for classes in accounting, taxes, business management, marketing, etc.
n Check out assistance from women’s or minority business organizations if you fit those categories.
n Look for one or more mentors in your field, especially those who already have started their own businesses. A useful place to start is the Service Corps of Retired Executives, on the Web at www.score.org.