Written by G. John Cole

The world is getting smaller and, wherever you turn, it seems people are talking and writing to each other in English. But in fact, only 20% of the world’s population speak some degree of English, and it is the native tongue of just 330 million (less than 5%) of us. Translation is still a big deal.

Translators are needed to mediate between many languages, often with no involvement of English at all. And people with English as a second language usually prefer to have conversations and resources in their first language. Translation makes it easier to understand and make use of information and shows respect for the many beautiful languages on Earth and the people who speak them. Plus, we simply respond more favorably to hearing our own mother tongue.

What’s more, the rise and rise of the English language is not guaranteed to continue. Emerging markets are widening the use of unfamiliar languages to more general use. Some, such as Chinese, may significantly challenge the domination of the English language in decades to come.

In fact, job opportunities for translators and interpreters are rising much faster than average. The number of translations jobs is expected to increase by 19% between 2018-2028 in the US, where the average pay for translators is currently around $50,000 per year.

But many translators will tell you that the pay is just part of why they love their job. Working with languages and communication is a fascinating creative challenge. Lots of different industries require translation or interpretation. On top of your love of language, you can work in a field that interests you or where you have a particular skill or understanding. Some translators value frequent opportunities to travel and meet new people, while others enjoy the option to stay at home and work alone translating texts.

Reasons to study translation

Translating at a professional level requires more than just a knowledge of multiple languages. Studying translation is a great way to learn the technical skills and nuances of the work, including specific technology, terminology, and industry norms and etiquette. 

More and more translation vacancies may be coming up, but competition for these jobs is also on the rise. Increasing numbers of translators come to the trade with a degree in translation on their resume to impress employers and increase their market value. College provides opportunities for you to complete professional-style assignments and receive personal feedback and guidance. Your teachers will be experienced professionals, and your classmates will form the basis of your extended international network.

In addition to focused professional training, a translation qualification gives credibility as you develop your career. A bachelor's degree in translation not only says you know what you’re doing, but that you’re dedicated enough to have been to college to study the subject. 

When considering a master's degree, it is a good idea to think about what it will enable you to achieve that you couldn't before. An MA degree can help you specialize in a particular type of translation. It will be useful if you are aiming for the top -- for example, for a position in government or international politics. Or, if you are sure that you want to work in a particular area, you could opt for a translation BA followed by a master's degree related to the industry in which you would like to work.

Seven unique careers 

Translators and interpreters convert text or speech from one language to another. But the technique, style, and skills vary across a range of different translation roles. A translator's schedule is often varied. If you work as a freelancer, you are likely to choose your hours (as long as work is finished on time). You might work from home or at an office. Or you might do your work on location at schools, government buildings, or the courthouse.

Depending on the nature of what you are translating, you may need to summarize or expand the information that you are translating. You may be expected to capture the essence of the original writer’s voice or be asked to put a local spin on the content. In most cases, you will need an element of cultural knowledge and sensitivity.

Here’s a look at seven job types for translators and interpreters.

UN (or other such organizations)

The United Nations is one of the most prestigious and demanding organizations to work for as a translator. The intergovernmental organization has six official languages -- Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish (and documents are often translated into German too).

Content for translation includes reports and statements from member governments, so accuracy and fidelity are of utmost importance. Translators use the eLUNa computer-assisted translation tool to compare texts and terminology with previous UN documents, databases, and other resources.

Interpreters attend meetings and conferences to assist in communication between representatives of the UN’s 193 Member States. Because interpretation takes place in real-time, there is a keen need for interpreters to be well versed in world affairs, technical terms, and the jargon of the UN. 

Copywriting

A copywriter creates text to describe products or services for the information of consumers and businesses. A translator-copywriter takes that text and converts it to the appropriate language -- for example, for a website that has different language options, or for a product that is being distributed outside of its native country.

‘Copy' is very often used to sell something – be it goods or an idea. The translator needs to convey not just the words, but the sense of enthusiasm and the appropriate tone. They need to find the proper local terms and to make adjustments for cultural variation. The text must be persuasive and clear in the local language while retaining the brand’s voice.

Cultural advisor

A cultural advisor may work for the government, an NGO, the UN, or any organization that deals with multiple languages when developing policy or planning international strategy. They research and collate relevant documents and sources, and may translate them, create a summary in the local language, or both. 

The cultural advisor might also meet with local representatives, in which case it is necessary to conduct face-to-face communication and represent it accurately to their employer. They will need to demonstrate and maintain a close cultural understanding of their subject. Analysis, diplomacy, and report-writing are all essential skills for this job.

Event coordinator

An event coordinator plans, organizes, and promotes meetings and events. Companies and organizations with international interests often require their event coordinator to be bilingual so that they can closely manage events in different countries or with foreign guests or foreign contractors. Close attention to detail is a must, and sociability is a distinct advantage, too.

Tour guide

Being a tour guide is a fun job for a bilingual person. A tour guide may plan and publicize local tours, before making a presentation ‘on the move’ around a locality or venue. They may also write and translate hand-out materials and deal with bookings in the visitors’ language via email or over the phone. 

The qualification requirements to be a tour guide are generally less demanding than for other jobs in this article. This makes it a great role to gain experience and build confidence in working professionally across multiple languages.

Social media analyst

Social media is at the heart of contemporary marketing practice. Tweets, memes, and adverts can be instantly viewed around the world, making social media a valuable source of revenue and marketing avenue for today’s companies. Just like a copywriter, the social media analyst must capture the essence of a text and translate it in a way that both retains the freshness of the original and captures the imagination of the target audience in their native tongue. This requires cultural awareness, marketing savvy, SEO skills, and creative flair. In fact, so extensive is this area that even emojis are being 'translated' now! In 2017, business psychology expert Keith Broni was hired by Today Translations as the world's first 'emoji translator'.

Game tester

Video game testers work with game designers to ensure accuracy in the translation of game text and dialogue for international editions. They proofread written text and play games at length to look out for matters of cultural sensitivity, as well as technical bugs. They may have to write reports or summaries and to log errors and bugs in a database for the developers to address.

The present and future of translation careers

It is worth being aware that a lot of translation work in the 21st century takes place within translation management systems, which consist of software and human processes within a carefully-managed workflow. When vast amounts of repetitive texts or types of text require translation, a translation management system automates elements of the process to cope with high quantities of copy while still maintaining the quality of translation.

But as the growing demand for translation professionals show, the human touch will always be essential for a wide range of translating tasks. In the end, language is about communication. A translator must comprehend and convey what comes between the lines rather than simply switch one word one for another. 

Do you have what it takes to help people communicate across the language barrier?

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