There are two main types of translators: textual translators, who work with written documents, and simultaneous translators, or interpreters, who listen and translate a voice as it is being spoken. The former may work on a variety of documents, including legal, business-related, journalistic, or “literary” texts, and is generally paid by the word. The latter are normally paid either by the hour or as full-time staff in such settings as the United Nations, international business, or perhaps within the legal system as a court translator.
There are a few terrific benefits afforded interpreters. Most commonly they exclaim, “The travel is excellent!” They also take pride in the frequency with which others are dependent on their knowledge and attention to detail. Translators find the creativity and mental acuity required of their profession challenging, but some become frustrated by the parameters within which they must perform. Interpreters must be flexible, as they may be called to work at any hour of the day or night, and they must be willing to withstand the significant pressure of a diplomatic or business meeting; textual translators, on the other hand, usually have time to refer to dictionaries and other reference tools, and to polish the final product.
A variety of working environments exists for those with the skills of a translator. Simultaneous translators must have the most versatile backgrounds. A strong business background may be extremely useful to the simultaneous translator. Many companies mandate 60 hours worth of training for these translators once hired. To become a technical translator, applicants must pass an exam and receive special certification. These translators must also posses excellent technical writing skills. Thankfully, many companies offer test preparation classes to ready applicants for the exams. Court translators have the most lenient requirements of the group, but they must be completely fluent even in the slang of their second language. Generally, these translators are required to complete a thirty hour training course before beginning the job. Other translators work in academic fields either studying or interpreting foreign texts. This is where there is often the most room for creative expression. However, it is also the area most likely to be widely scrutinized.
The route into translation is very structured and predictable, particularly for employment in the United Nations or other government agency. Those seeking the greatest opportunities for employment should be fluent in English and in one of the official languages of the United Nations; French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, or Chinese. There are, however, numerous job opportunities for those possessing fluency in other languages. Applicants should have a language degree, preferably a B.S., B.A., or Masters. Employers prefer candidates who have exceptional fluency in at least two languages, though. Candidates should be fluent in at least two cultures. Cultural study is an area that potential translators cannot overlook as it is invaluable to understanding the nuances of any work to be translated. Therefore, courses in history, anthropology, and politics are as germane to the degree as are courses in grammar and conversation. Time spent studying abroad while in college is also a valuable part of an applicant’s resume.
Before interviewing for a position, candidates are normally required to undergo a series of tests to ensure language proficiency. First, the candidate has to translate a general text from the host language into the second, or third, language. Then the applicant must choose a more technical text for translation to exhibit fluency in the area she has chosen for specialization. These tests can take up to seven hours. After the candidate displays fluency the employer will invite the applicant to an interview. For this, the applicant is given some time to prepare a topic for translation and the interview usually begins with the oral presentation of this translation. The interview culminates in an inquiry into her knowledge of the applicable region’s cultural and historical background. Employers will often expect translators, after hiring and training, to work on word processing and other data entry equipment.
During the first year of employment an average of only five percent of translators leaves the field. This incredibly low drop-out rate is due largely to the fact that translators often sign two-year contracts with their employers. Otherwise, the effort exerted in obtaining the job is often enough incentive to remain. Finally, there are few surprises in a career in translation, as the applicant is well prepared for this position from his experience in school, the tests and interviews, and the training programs for new interpreters.