Interpreter and translators are needed whenever information needs to be converted from one language to another. Interpreters work with spoken word whereas translators work with written word. This is a very broad definition, and that is because interpreter/translator is a very large field. The applications of the career are numerous: business, education, military, law, etc. Interpreters and translators are needed in all of these environments. Courtrooms, hospitals, and conference centers are all typical work environments for interpreters/translators. Due to increase globalization and an increased number of non-English speakers in the US, the field in expected to increase greatly in the coming decades. The projected growth of the field in the next twenty years is 46%. Education required for entry-level jobs in the field is a bachelor’s degree, but degrees in many fields open possibilities for becoming an interpreter/translator, including English. An English degree provides many of the skills necessary to become an interpreter/translator, including cultural sensitivity, speaking and writing skills, and interpersonal skills. However, the main educational requirement to become an interpreter/translator is of course the ability to speak a second language. If you have that ability, regardless of your field, you can be valuable as an interpreter/translator.
Interpreter and Translator
People in the career of Interpreter/Translator, simply put, “convert language from one language into another language” (BLS). Translators focus on written word, whereas Interpreters focus on spoken word, or sign language. The work environment for interpreters/translators can vary greatly, as can the subject matter they translate. They are often self-employed and work from home. Oftentimes, however, they work at hospitals, courtrooms, conference centers, and schools.
The career of Interpreter and Translator is an exciting field today because of the tremendous growth it is expected to undergo in the coming decades. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the field of interpreters and translators is expected to increase by 46 percent by 2022,, a growth driven by increased globalization. This is compared to an 11 percent increase for all occupations. Languages that are expected to remain in demand include French, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
There are three main “modes” of interpretation: simultaneous, consecutive, and whispered. Simultaneous interpreters, as their name suggests, interpret simultaneously as the speaker is speaker. This type of interpretation is high-pressure, and the interpreters often work in shifts. Consecutive interpreters do not interpret simultaneously. They take notes on what is being said and give their translation after the speaker has begun. Whispered interpreters sit next to a specific person and interpret directly to them at the same time as the speaker.
There are a variety of jobs that interpreters and translators do. Some types of interpreters are
- Conference interpreters – These interpreters generally work in the field of business or diplomacy. They interpret simultaneously to attendees at conferences who are not native english speakers.
- Guide/escort interpreters – These interpreters accompany non-native English speakers to make sure they can communicate abroad.
- Literary Translators – These translators convert media (Books, articles, etc) into another language.
- Localizers – A form of technical writing, these translators adapt the text of a product for use in another region.
An interview with Colonel William Prokopyk, who interpreted Ukrainian as part of Operation Peaceshield in 1999, as well as worked as official army translator at Fort Bragg under commanding general Hugh Shelton, solidified the notion that fluent knowledge of a second or third language is by far the most important training in becoming an interpreter/translator. He said that simply knowing the language made the opportunities come up. To this day, he says, he will be cold-called by the Bismarck police department to come in whenever they need a Ukrainian interpreter, which apparently happens more than you would expect. His work was in a military context, not a civilian one, but the main points carry over. Speaking multiple languages is the most important thing, the second most important is having something to speak about. Expertise, though not necessarily a degree, in a second field greatly helps one’s chances as an interpreter/translator. Military translators, of course, need to understand all the technical aspects and jargon of what they are translating. Colonel Prokopyk, for example, was required to interpret U.S. soldiers as they explained weapons capabilities in English to the Ukrainian troops. Without prior knowledge of the specific vocabulary associated with the weapons, interpretation would be impossible. Similarly, in civilian role as an interpreter/translator, one must have knowledge about whatever the topic they are focusing on.
Undergraduate and Extra-Curricular Education Required
The most important educational requirement in the field of interpreter and translator is simply the ability to fluently speak another language. In order to achieve this, secondary language classes should be taken at a University level. However, that will not prepare an individual to fully speak a second language. It is necessary to spend considerable time outside of school to learn the language. The language I would focus on is German, since it is the only non-English language I have experience in. I have studied German for four years throughout High School and up to third-year level in college, but my proficiency is still not even close to fluency. In order to become an interpreter or translator, I would need to focus intently on my German skills. There are many opportunities for me to do this. Absorbing German-language media, including news and film, is a key way to become more familiar with the language. I also have a lot of family in Germany who would happily let me live with them for, say, a summer. That sort of opportunity would allow me to greatly increase me German-speaking ability.
The BLS recommends that students in High School study English writing and comprehension, foreign language studies, and computer skills. In college, a degree in a foreign language is not necessary to become an interpreter or translator. There are many educational tracks that allow one to enter the field. One way to enter the field that the BLS recommends is to have a background in a subject matter, not necessarily related to language, that requires the use of a translator or interpreter.
The BLS lists the following skills as important for Interpreters/translators:
- Business skills
- Cultural sensitivity
- Interpersonal skills
- Listening skills
- Speaking skills
- Writing skills
All of these skills, with the possible exception of business skills, are highly prevalent in the field of English studies, and therefore a course plan around them can be created for an English major. I have also completed the foreign language requirements for a BA in English.
|Core||Intro to English Studies||Literary Analysis||Introduction to Writing Studies||Intro to Writing Studies||Capstone|
|Linguistics||Grammatical Structures||Language Bias|
|400 level English||International Technical Writing|
|Foreign Language||German I-III||German Culture and Society|
Low-level knowledge of language is a particularly important skill when learning another language or translating between languages. Because of this, courses regarding linguistics are recommended. English 360: Grammatical structure, focuses on “structures and components with attention to application in teaching, stylistic analysis, and editing.” Studying language in this way can give a student a perspective on the English Language that is similar to the way one learns a second language, which can make it easier to transition between the two. Another linguistics course that would aid me is English 454, language bias. This course covers the “Application of current linguistic, rhetorical, and literary theory to examine and analyze the ways in which the social asymmetries of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity are reflected and sustained through discourse practices.” This course would help me view English from a unique perspective, since it is being deconstructed in order to remove the assumptions we, as native speakers, have about our own language. This would allow me to view English similarly to how one views a second language.
The field of interpreter and translator is exciting. The job prospects for the field are phenomenal, and the diverse backgrounds that people in the field have make it attractive to me. The language I focus on, German, is one of the languages expected to be in demand in the coming decades. A bachelor’s degree in English can work well as a basis for becoming an interpreter/translator, though many other course plans work equally well. Deep understanding of the mechanics of language is an important attribute for an interpreter/translator, so linguistics courses would be a good choice. I believe that interpreter/translator would be an excellent career, and the experience gained from having such a career would be valuable to future careers as well.