According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an interpreter/translator is one of the top paying careers with the highest demand between now and 2024. In fact, employment of Interpreters and translators is projected to grow 29%, much faster than the average for all occupations due to increasing globalization and immigration of non-English-speaking people in the United States.
For job seekers who are interested in pursuing a career as an interpreter and translator, this may not be news to you. There may be aspects of this career that you are not aware of and may have difficulty finding online.
Luckily, we are providing some insight for job seekers from an interpreter/translator.
Interview With An Interpreter and Translator
STEPH: Kekoa, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers and curious job seekers. Would you mind describing how you got started as an interpreter and translator?
KEKOA: I lived abroad in Mexico for a couple years after high school. Prior to my experience, I didn't know Spanish, but I returned to the States with a nearly-fluent level.
One thing you don't realize before you have an international experience is that American culture and products are very popular around the world. While in Mexico, people would ask me all the time to translate songs, explain movie plots, and even help them understand how to use electronics and medical products. Helping people with my language abilities was very fulfilling to me.
Upon returning to the States, the first thing I did was look into becoming an interpreter. It was only a few months before I was certified as a medical interpreter. After a year of working, I wanted to improve my abilities and enrolled in the Spanish Translation program at Brigham Young University.
STEPH: Job seekers can typically search online to discover what an interpreter and translator does. What would you tell a job seeker based on your experience? What does a typical day look like for an interpreter and translator?
KEKOA: A day in the life of a language service professional will look different depending on what kind of service you offer. You can work as an in-house employee, a subcontractor, or even as a remote service provider.
As a medical interpreter, I worked as a subcontractor through an interpretation agency. Every night, I received an email from the agency with a list of appointments for the following day. I would accept the appointments with a reply email and drive to the different appointments the following day. Typically, I would get two or three appointments per day, but in the summer and fall I could get maybe five or six. Agencies will always try to keep your schedule at or around the same clinic and in consecutive blocks, but it doesn't always work that way. Obviously, the majority of appointments take place during busy doctors’ hours (before and after work), but physical therapy and sleeping disorder appointments can have an interpreter up early or late into the night.
The interpreter's job is always to facilitate communication between parties; however, your specific field might define that differently. In the medical field, the interpreter must always ensure that a patient understands without inappropriately interjecting; but a court interpreter serves the purpose of putting those present on an equal communication playing field. Essentially, a language service provider will translate or interpret but must always do so according to the code of ethics and certifications related to his or her field.
STEPH: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?
KEKOA: I truly love being an interpreter. I cannot think of many things I find difficult about the work because I find all of it rewarding.
However, a translator and interpreter must be well-trained and always up-to-date in their specialty. The best translators and interpreters listen to and read the news in each of their working languages and attend professional development events whenever possible. Your ability to speak a language may stay with you just like riding a bike, but your ability to translate or interpret will wane if you don't exercise it.
Additionally, translation and interpretation is a skill and it must be acquired. Providing language services without proper training can have devastating and dangerous results.
STEPH: So then what makes being an interpreter and translator so rewarding?
KEKOA: Interpretation comes with an instant gratification factor that is very rewarding. You work directly with a distributor of a product or service and with the consumer, and both benefit from your presence. Their interaction could not take place without your service, so you fulfill a vital role in communication. When translation or interpretation services are needed, other vital services are often also needed and it is very fulfilling to play a role in meeting another person's needs.
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STEPH: I’m sure you had expectations when you first started pursuing this career. What hasn’t lived up to your expectations or caught you off-guard?
KEKOA: Something that has been surprisingly difficult has been to maintain a professional relationship with clients. Often, clients will offer you money, food, or even to come over for a barbecue after an appointment. As an interpreter, you have to make sure you adhere to the code of ethics, which includes avoiding unethical compensation.
Of course, it's not hard to say "no," but you also want to maintain a relationship of trust with a client. Depending on your language culture, turning down money or food can be very offensive and possibly affect how you fulfill your role as an interpreter.
Another thing that was different than I expected was how my income was affected by being a subcontracted worker. First, my hours were variable week by week, even day by day. Second, although my hourly rate is very competitive among interpreters, I pay a larger percent in taxes than a company employee. In short, the job is great in terms of work and schedule, but my actual income as an interpreter is lower than I initially expected.
There are many ways an interpreter can increase their income, but this was something that initially caught me off-guard. My solution to this was obtaining a degree in translation so that I could become an in-house translator.
STEPH: This happens to be one of the careers projected to have the highest demand over the next 5-10 years. What challenges do you anticipate for interpreters and translators?
KEKOA: The industry is undergoing many changes due to changes in technology and the social programs in our country. For example, the Affordable Care Act changed the qualifications for medical interpreters and technology just like machine translation is changing how translators complete their jobs.
Challenges facing translators over the next several years are related to the developing technology. A professional translator in any specialty must know how to use computer-assisted translation software. Working knowledge of translation software is essential to today's translation process. Machine translation is also changing that process. Many translation agencies are featuring post-edited machine translation and many translators are being reassigned as post editors. For some, this is a challenge. For others, this is a blessing.
Interpreters face similar challenges as mobile devices make remote and computerized interpretation possible. Remote interpretation is becoming more popular, meaning that interpreters can work from home in their pajamas. For many, this may be a positive thing, but this also means that there is less need for in-house and on-site interpretation opportunities.
STEPH: Thank you so much for providing some insight into what it takes and what it looks like to be an interpreter and translator, Kekoa. I’ll wrap up this interview with one more question.
Is there anything else a job seeker should know either before deciding to pursue this career or while they’re seeking employment options within this field?
KEKOA: If you are interested in becoming a language service provider, look into local opportunities for training. Most community colleges have some sort of course for interpreters and many other programs exist. Be aware that you may need to have a certification or license to provide professional services.
Technology has a firm grasp on language services; in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.