Translators enjoy growing demand
Setting qualified apart is struggle.
Columbia Daily Tribune Wednesday, May 18, 2011
PHILADELPHIA — Dale Eggett, who will finish a master’s degree in less than three weeks, will go to work the week after, having had no problem landing a job.
“I did have multiple, multiple job offers,” said Eggett, whose Spanish and computer skills put him in the forefront of a burgeoning field. The global marketplace for interpreting, translating and other language services was estimated at $26.3 billion in 2010 and is projected to reach $38.1 billion by 2013.
Most people are familiar with translators, who deal with the written word. Interpreters handle oral communication in government agencies, courtrooms, doctors’ offices and businesses.
But Eggett, 28, of California, who will graduate from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, will be paid $50,000 a year to work in a relatively new discipline: localization management, which provides one of the best chances for steady employment in language services.
Localization combines language expertise with computer savvy. “I’m kind of behind the scenes making the job easier for translators,” Eggett said. When a website needs to be translated, it’s Eggett’s job to strip out the coding and send the translator only what needs to be translated.
The work is painstaking. Imagine a complex website with multiple drop-down boxes, leading to more drop-down boxes. Each element on each box needs to be translated.
Like many other sectors, language services face unique challenges, said Jiri Stejskal, president of Cetra Language Solutions, an Elkins Park, Pa., company that supplies translators, interpreters and localization experts to a range of clients.
Stejskal is in a better position to know than most. He recently was president of the American Translators Association and is in line to become president of the International Federation of Translators in Basel, Switzerland.
One issue is machine translation. “It’s not quite there yet,” Stejskal said. He pulled out a screen grab of a Philadelphia government website that used the familiar journalism term “lead story” on its home page. Somehow in Spanish it morphed into a “story about metal,” featuring a photograph of former Philadelphia Mayor Juan F. Calle, or John Street.
But a more fundamental and ongoing struggle is to educate employers about the difference between being simply bilingual and truly qualified.
Top interpreters need to hear what is said and speak it in another language simultaneously. That’s the gold standard used at the United Nations and international conferences, and high proficiency can merit a six-figure income.
That level of ability isn’t the same as language skills gained by growing up in a bilingual household. “Knowing how to cook doesn’t make you a chef,” Stejskal said.
That cook-or-chef question is exactly what the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s human resources director, Raymond Polak, is trying to resolve. The social-services agency has a staff of interpreters but wants to hire bilingual case managers to work with the city’s aging immigrant community.
“We’re trying to develop that capacity in-house,” Polak said.
Geopolitics brings its own demand for language services, and often the supply is not up to the task.
So intense was the need for Pashto, Dari and other languages in Afghanistan that some of those hired were “barely literate,” Stejskal said, “and they were still making six figures.”
Translators typically get paid by the word. Freelance translators can earn $60,000 a year, according to the latest available survey, taken in 2006.
Interpreters can earn considerably less, mainly because their work is paid by the hour and jobs might come infrequently.