Translations Careers for Foreign Language Students to Consider

Foreign language student translating on blackboard

Are you passionate about language and communication? When you learn words in a foreign language, does it feel as though you are exploring a delightful new world? You may have what it takes to pursue a career in translation.

The most common translation careers are those as interpreters and translators. You do not have to decide which path to take right away. Regardless of which translation career you choose, you first must earn a translation degree. This guide will help you begin the process of determining your specific career goals.

An Overview of Translation and Interpretation

The roles of translators and interpreters are often confused as being the same thing. It is true that both translators and interpreters are responsible for converting words from one language into another language. However, they work with different mediums.

Translators work with written language, whereas interpreters work with spoken language. Translation and interpretation are distinct, separate professions, although some people provide both translation and interpretation services.

Note that those in both professions must possess excellent language skills; they must also be culturally aware. This is because all cultures have words and phrases that mean something other than their literal meaning. Think, for example, of the following sayings:

  • It’s raining like cats and dogs.
  • He wore his heart on his sleeve.
  • It rubbed me the wrong way.
  • Let your hair down.

Each of these sayings has a hidden meaning. It is the job of a translator or interpreter to translate the meaning of the words, rather than their literal interpretations.

Cultural competencies are particularly important for translation careers in healthcare. For instance, in some cultures, it is customary for people to automatically accept the treatment recommendations of a healthcare professional without asking any questions. A skillful, culturally competent interpreter will understand this and will advise the healthcare professional accordingly.

Are Translations Careers in Demand?

As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for interpreters and translators to increase by about 24% from 2020 to 2030, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 19,300 in the field.1

Careers in Translation: Exploring Your Options

It can be difficult to choose between a career in interpretation and a career in translation. One way to determine which option is best for you is to consider each profession’s typical work environment.

Because interpreters work with spoken language, they must often accompany their clients. For example, they may attend conferences, hearings, medical appointments and corporate meetings. Some interpretation work can be done remotely via teleconferencing, but most interpreters should expect in-person work.

By contrast, translators work with written language. Because of this, they most often work in an office setting, which may be a home office or a corporate office. The pace of the work can be less hectic for translators than for interpreters, although translators sometimes face tight deadlines. Within the translation and interpretation professions, there are many specific career paths to consider, including the following:

United Nations Language Careers

The United Nations (UN) is a highly prestigious intergovernmental organization. It hires both interpreters and translators to facilitate international relations.

Interpreters provide real-time interpretation during meetings for world leaders and their representatives. Translators convert documents, including reports and statements, into various languages. If you aspire to work for this prestigious organization, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of world history, international relations and current affairs.

Marketing and Advertising Careers

The marketing and advertising industry drives the growth of all other industries. It is the backbone of capitalism and the fuel that determines the success of companies ranging from small start-ups to international corporations. Despite this, many copywriters are only fluent in one language.

Businesses must appeal to a broad audience, including demographic groups that speak languages other than English. This is particularly important for companies that wish to advertise their products or services in other countries. Before a marketing campaign can be launched in a foreign language, it requires the attention of an interpreter or translator.

Interpreters can convert TV and radio commercials into another language, and translators can do the same for written copy. In this industry, cultural competencies are particularly important. Not all copywriters are keenly familiar with cultural differences, so translators and interpreters may need to adjust the language so that it is more appealing and easier for the target demographic to understand.

Healthcare Language Careers

There is a pressing need for interpreters and translators in the healthcare field as it is vital that patients fully understand what their healthcare providers are telling them. Hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities contract with interpretation and translation firms to facilitate clear communication. Within hospitals, interpreters tend to be in higher demand than translators; however, translators are needed to translate medical documents, and they may also find employment at insurance companies.

If you aspire to become an interpreter or translator within the healthcare field, it will be helpful for you to take health-related classes in addition to your language courses. Medical terminology can be tricky, which is why healthcare interpretation is a highly specialized subfield. You will need a basic knowledge of human anatomy, medical conditions, diseases, medications and treatment procedures.

Healthcare interpreters and translators must have a strong commitment to maintaining professional ethics. They work with highly personal, sensitive information, and it is essential that they respect patients’ right to confidentiality.

Judiciary Interpretation and Translation

The judicial system is a major employer of interpreters and translators. Like the healthcare field, judiciary interpretation and translation is a highly specialized subfield. It extends to professionals who work in the following settings:

  • Federal, state and local courtrooms
  • Detention facilities, including juvenile facilities
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Out-of-court settings pertaining to legal cases (e.g., legal depositions)
  • Law firms

Judiciary interpreters and translators work on all types of cases, including civil, criminal and immigration cases. Interpreters provide real-time language services for limited-English-proficient (LEP) individuals who must attend hearings, trials, depositions and similar legal proceedings. Judiciary interpreters also perform a variety of tasks behind the scenes, such as by facilitating meetings between attorneys and their LEP clients or police officers and LEP victims.

Similarly, judiciary translators make legal documents accessible to LEP individuals. They translate documents including trial exhibits, court transcripts, petitions, confession letters, probate documents, property titles and many more.

Due to the specialized nature of this career path, judiciary interpreters and translators must often be certified. Various certification options exist, such as the certification exams administered by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). Similarly, the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination is available for language professionals who aspire to work in the federal court system.

Corporate Language Careers

There is an ongoing need for skilled translators and interpreters in the corporate world. Companies that do business overseas or that wish to acquire an international presence rely on the services of language professionals.

As a corporate interpreter, for example, you might accompany a businessperson on an overseas trip to a conference or meeting. Corporate translators are needed to translate documents ranging from meeting minutes to vendor contracts.

Cultural competencies are critical in this field, as not all corporate executives and managers understand the nuanced cultural differences of the countries they travel to. A corporate language professional can provide invaluable guidance in this area, preventing executives from making serious social blunders in the host country.

Sports Translator or Interpreter

The passion for sports transcends national borders, and the sports industry is truly multicultural. On any given Major League Baseball (MLB) team, for example, you may find players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Japan, South Korea, Cuba and many other countries. These professional athletes rely on knowledgeable interpreters and translators to facilitate their work.

In the sports industry, interpreters tend to be in higher demand than translators, as professional athletes most often need assistance with speech. A sports interpreter may help a professional athlete communicate with their teammates, coaches and management, for example.

Many internationally born athletes who play on sports teams in the United States learn sufficient English to communicate with their teammates and coaches. However, even if an athlete speaks good English, they might not feel confident enough to speak English directly to members of the media. Because of this, the greatest demand for sports interpreters tends to be for services rendered during press conferences and interviews.

Just like other subfields in the language services profession, sports interpretation requires specialized knowledge. Each sport has its own distinct idioms, words and phrases. Aspiring sports interpreters should have a thorough understanding of one or more sports so that they can effectively preserve the meaning of the language.

For example, if a baseball hitting coach says that a player is “coming out of his legs,” the sports interpreter should not tell the player that he is “at risk of losing his legs.” Rather, this means that the player is not sufficiently using the power of the body’s base to drive the ball. In short, sports interpreters must understand the nuances of the idioms they work with.

Language Careers in the Tourism Industry

Because opportunities abound in the tourism industry, it is a top choice for many interpreters and translators. Translators may work on everything from a translation app or dictionary to tourism-related websites, advertisements and guidebooks. Similarly, interpreters can work for a range of organizations.

An interpreter may work for an international hotel or resort, providing real-time interpretation services to globetrotting guests. Interpreters may even work as tour guides, helping travelers to better understand and appreciate the various attractions at their destinations and facilitating communication between travelers and locals. Some interpreters may work for travel agencies, aiding travel agents as they finalize the details of an individual’s or group’s trip.

Language Careers in the Entertainment Industry

If you love all things Hollywood, consider a language services career in the entertainment industry. There are many options to choose from. For instance, you might become an interpreter or translator for a movie-making company shooting a film in a foreign country.

Language services professionals are also needed to create subtitles for films. For instance, you might watch a Spanish-language movie and create its English subtitles.

The video gaming industry also offers possibilities for language services professionals. Video games are often launched internationally, and these require translators to provide the written text for the game and interpreters to convert spoken language into the target country’s language.

Language Careers in the Publishing Industry

The publishing industry is all about language, and there are plenty of opportunities for language services professionals. In this industry, demand leans more heavily toward translators than interpreters. Translators are needed to translate books, articles, related websites and even academic journal articles.

Writers may sometimes contract with interpreters to facilitate their research. For instance, an interpreter may help a writer interview an expert in another country to acquire factual material for a book or article.

Earning a Translation Degree

If you are still in high school and you already know that you want to be a translator or interpreter, you should begin taking as many language classes as possible. It is also helpful to take additional world history courses, as historical perspective is important for increasing cultural awareness. As you near your high school graduation date, you can begin to explore language studies degree options.

For a future translator, choosing a degree program is usually fairly easy, and it’s best to major in a foreign language, such as Spanish. However, you should give some thought to your electives, and you may want to choose a minor.

Think about your career objectives. Do you envision yourself providing interpreting services in a hospital, for example? If so, consider taking health-related courses, particularly those that pertain to medical terminology. Use your electives and minor (if applicable) to support your career aspirations.

Your core language curriculum will empower you to build your grammar knowledge, conversational skills and similar language competencies. You may also study topics such as the literature, culture and history of the people who speak your chosen language. Beyond your courses, look for additional ways to expand your knowledge.

For instance, the library may offer books written in your target language. You could also stream movies and TV shows and read online newspapers in that language. These activities provide an immersive language-learning experience that will help you become a better translator.

Students who are passionate about language studies are invited to apply to the Bachelor of Arts in Spanish degree program at Grand Canyon University. This rigorous curriculum is designed to build advanced conversational skills and grammar knowledge as well as cultural competencies and historical perspectives. Graduates will emerge fully prepared to pursue a rewarding career in language services.

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1COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2020 to 2030, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Interpreters and Translators.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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