First, the good news: Translation was listed as one of the “hottest jobs” in the annual “what people earn” article Sunday (April 15) in Parade magazine, which is inserted in newspapers across the United States. What prompts this blog entry? Seeing translation listed as one of “The Hottest Jobs (No College Degree Required),” in a context that suggests it’s an occupation requiring no special training â€“ unlike “auto technician,” for example.
At the Translation Summit in Salt Lake City in 2006, a panelist answered the question, “How long does it take to grow a linguist?” with the firm statement: “It takes twenty years.” That’s twenty years of language experience including study of translation itself—an understanding of theory and practice, usually with a subject specialization and knowledge of sophisticated computing tools.
True â€“ no college degree is required. But a college degree alone wouldn’t be enough. A good translator isn’t just someone with a working knowledge of a second language, any more than a good “auto technician” is anyone with a box of wrenches.
Kevin Hendzel of the American Translators Association (ATA) points out that 95% of ATA members do have college degrees. A degree isn’t required for someone to enter the field, he says, but it’s a requirement for success. Hendzel’s standard example is an airline pilot: no, the pilot doesn’t have to have a college degree, but you want to know that he or she has the kind of specialized training that ensures a safe flight. Would you want to fly in a 767 with a pilot whose prior experience was three years in small Cessnas?
Many people are asked to interpret or translate without professional qualifications. The result? In the legal field, for example, a quick internet search reveals dozens of examples in which trials have been stopped, appeals upheld or verdicts set aside in courtrooms from Indiana to East Timor because of inadequate translation or interpretation. Ask the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) whatâ€™s needed for good court translation.
The US need for translators/interpreters is expected to rise by 26% in the next seven years, according to the Parade article. A hot field indeed. Letâ€™s hope that a great many future linguists started their training 13 years ago.