People are now looking for alternative sources of income in order to cope with the economic fallout as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Freelancing comes to most people’s minds since it’s mostly done online. You go online, do your work online, and get paid online. There’s plenty of freelancers out there from artists, writers, developers, graphic designers, to language specialists (translators and interpreters).
However, if you have a particular knack for foreign languages, then translation and interpretation might be a good fit for your skills! We reached out to Tomedes on how being a freelance translator and interpreter can get you by during these trying times. Not only that, you’ll see why both are not only good temporary side-hustles but also why it’s worth considering both as a long-term career!
COVID-19 and the Recession Is Impacting Global Industries and Jeopardizing Incomes
The long and short of it is that the recent months have brought unprecedented changes to people’s lives around the world. The recession was bound to happen as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in shop closures, travel restrictions, social distancing, and quarantine measures on a global scale never seen before.
There are nearly 2.5 million infected worldwide as of writing and climbing. Many businesses, industries, organizations, and all forms of employment that relied on customers physically walking through their doors are experiencing difficult times, and that’s putting it mildly.
Many businesses have now moved online to keep skeletal operations going at the very least. However, even many eCommerce businesses are not doing well. Since the outbreak started in China, which produces many of the world’s manufactured goods and parts, the global supply chain has been tremendously affected. Thus, many eCommerce businesses were not able to resupply in time.
Those stocking luxury goods, consumer gadgets, and other non-essential stuff either closed or are hanging by a thread. However, those selling essential goods (food, toiletries, hardware, consumer medical devices, etc.) are seeing higher demand, a level that many say rivals the holiday shopping season.
As for global employment in general, hundreds of millions to even billions around the world are unemployed or have reduced hours. But many were fortunate enough to have their jobs relocated to the comfort and safety of their homes. Work from home is not only the norm but the only choice for many people. However, it’s not a rosy picture for everyone as some of those working from home have had their hours reduced.
Is There Still Demand for Translation and Interpretation Services
Before the pandemic, it has been forecasted by Statista that by 2024, revenue in the language service industry will reach US$ 4,727.8 million in the US alone. There has been tremendous growth in the language service industry due to heightened demand from businesses of all industries and also international organizations of all kinds, including governments.
But since COVID-19 has tremendously affected industries and organizations around the world, is there still demand language services? Especially considering the fact that translation and interpretation clients usually belong to the business, manufacturing, travel, and tourism industry. There still is! Actually, the language service industry is actually one of the handfuls of industries in the world with increased demand for their services.
Translation has always been rendered digitally so it’s business as usual for translators at the comfort of their homes. Interpreters can still render their services remotely over the phone and through video conferencing software such as Zoom and Skype. But where is the demand now for their services coming from since the circumstances have changed?
Of course, many businesses are sparing every expense now so there’s not a lot of demand coming from them as once were. But there is still demand from businesses nonetheless. Global businesses with both foreign customers/clients and personnel need to have company communications translated. Also, now that meetings are mostly held online, remote interpreters are highly requested by those who have meetings with multilingual parties.
But there are critical areas in which translation and interpretation are absolutely necessary and instrumental. One of which is public communications. Since this is a global health crisis, there needs to be constant accurate communication between governments and organizations across borders. Advisories and public statements need to be translated for the entire world to know. Also, meetings with multinational and multilingual public officials need to be interpreted simultaneously for all parties to understand each other and formulate sound policies.
Another critical but specialized area where language services are highly in demand now is in the medical field. Researchers around the world are still struggling to unlock the complete behavior of COVID-19. The more they understand about the virus, the higher the chances of formulating a successful treatment and vaccine. As they continue their crucial work, they need to be constantly updated with the latest translated findings from their foreign colleagues.
Even medical interpretation is in high demand. The sudden and extensive reach of COVID-19 means that many citizens found themselves stuck in foreign countries. If they were to encounter a medical emergency and are unable to speak the local language, then they would need to have a medical interpreter to accurately relay their symptoms and medical history accurately.
But it’s not only demanded by tourists as even residents residing in their native countries need interpreters. Multilingual countries such as the US have residents with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). A 2018 survey by Statista showed that 50% of Hispanic adults relied on professional translators to communicate with their healthcare providers. But translating and interpreting for the medical field requires specialized skills and credentials, for which you’ll know more about it later on. All in all, the demand for language services still exists which might be enough to convince you that it’s worth taking a shot since there is money to be made.
How to Become a Translator?
The translation is the process of converting/replicating content written in a source language to a target language (Ex. English to Chinese, Chinese to English, etc.). Everyone can see the process itself in free online translation tools; Google Translate is the most popular. But if Google Translate exists, why is there a need for translators?
Language is more complicated than people think and Google Translate actually is highly inaccurate. If the source text is kept short and simple, then Google Translate will do just fine. But if you give it highly contextual lengthy expressions, then it falls apart. All in all, the demand for quality translation warrants the existence of translators. Here are the skills needed;
Advanced Foreign Language Skills (Writing)
It’s a no-brainer that you need to have advanced foreign language skills if you want to do work in the language service industry. But do you need a language degree? Of course not! In fact, many in the industry actually don’t as many of them are native speakers.
But what if you took extensive foreign language classes in high school and college, but didn’t earn a degree in one? You can easily show your foreign language abilities through language proficiency exams. Each language has its own set of accredited and internationally-recognized proficiency exams.
Strong Work Ethic and Time Management
Most translators work alone as it’s very much a solitary work lifestyle. That being said, you need to develop a strong work ethic. What I mean is being able to motivate yourself to get projects done with quality before deadlines. Meeting deadlines as you can expect also requires time management skills. When you have so many distractions at home, it’s quite easy to procrastinate and lose track of your work.
But even if you manage to kick the procrastination habit for good, there’s still the issue of how to complete multiple projects at once. That’s a situation many encounters frequently whether they choose to or not. In that case, you need to know how to evenly allocate enough time for each project. You need to correctly judge which one deserves the most and least attention compared to the rest.
Cultural Understanding and Awareness
Language is alive and is continuously influenced by its native speakers. Mother languages are naturally spoken differently across regions; each reflecting the culture, society, and territory of its native speakers.
A good translator is one that acknowledges these differences and tries to render not only accurate but appropriate outputs for the target audience in question. For example, if a client has a letter specifically intended for a Venezuelan reader, then they will need to find a Spanish translator with local knowledge Venezuelan Spanish, so nothing gets lost in translation.
How to Become an Interpreter?
The term ‘translator’ is sometimes used interchangeably, albeit incorrectly, with ‘interpreter’. But the fact of the matter is that they’re inherently different. Interpretation is done live orally in the presence of the parties at hand. With the help of today’s technology, it can now be easily done remotely over the phone or through video conferencing technologies such as Skype and Zoom as mentioned earlier. Here’s a list of what it takes to become an interpreter;
Advanced Foreign Language Skills (Speaking)
As with translators, being an interpreter requires advanced foreign language skills with an emphasis on speaking skills for obvious reasons. It’s fair to say that you’ll be frowned upon if you continue to rely on dictionaries and translation apps while on the job. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them to help you learn and grow along the way.
Rather, you need to be able to reach a threshold of oral linguistic prowess in which you don’t need to rely on them constantly on the job. After all, it would be awkward for two conversing parties if you needed half a minute to look up a word or phrase you’re unfamiliar with. In the end, they’d always choose an interpreter that can be both accurate and immediate on the spot.
Knowledgeable on Slang, Dialects, and Regional Vernacular
Classes alone can’t teach you much about how the language is naturally spoken by its speakers in their native country. That’s why teachers always insist on participating in immersion programs abroad for a couple of weeks to an entire semester or longer. This is so that students are able to familiarize themselves with how their language, Spanish for instance, is spoken locally in Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, etc. The linguistic distance between dialects can be so great that regional speakers are sometimes unable to understand each other!
As an interpreter, you must be equipped with local linguistic knowledge, especially if you plan to specialize in specific audiences. If you want to specialize in Spanish and towards a specific audience group (Ex. Mexican, Venezuelan, etc.), then take advantage of immersion programs. Not only that, connect with local Spanish speakers in your neighborhood and let them teach you how their Spanish is spoken.
The act of interpreting is an interpersonal activity, which means you can’t devoid of the social aspect that goes with it. In other words, you need to learn how to feel comfortable and confident around new people with varying personalities on a constant basis. You’ll have to befriend your clients since you’ll be their sense of security in a foreign environment. It only makes sense that you have to make them feel comfortable around you to make them rely on you fully.
Special Set of Nerves
This is where interpreting is substantially different compared to translating. You will be depended on to provide accurate and flawless on-the-spot interpretation. That alone is enough to give a lot of even experienced interpreters sweaty palms throughout their careers. If you’re tagging along with tourist groups, then there’s not a lot of worry about it.
But it’s a different story if you have a specialization such as business interpretation. The direction of negotiation also depends on you being able to remain calm and not crack under pressure, or else it’ll significantly affect your interpretation skills.
Cultural Understanding and Awareness
The importance of being able to have cultural understanding and awareness is the same as translators. However this time, it’s something you have to know right from the get-go. Being knowledgeable in local dialects and regional vernaculars is one thing, but to show awareness and respect for cultural and societal differences is another. This kind of knowledge and mentality will help you greatly, particularly when two opposing parties come from countries with completely opposing sets of values and traditions. In a way, you’ll become a cultural mediator.
Do You Need to Be Certified as a Translator or Interpreter?
The rules in the language service industry are somewhat loose and there’s not really much of a regulated career pathway, unlike other jobs and careers. That being said, there’s plenty of language specialists out there without any certification whatsoever and doing great. However, keep in mind that they have been in the game for a number of years now so they’re highly experienced, most likely are native speakers, and have a lot to show for in their resumes.
But what do you do if clients are looking for concrete paperwork for them to know you’re the real deal? What if you don’t have a language degree? Worry not since there are plenty in the language service industry that doesn’t have language degrees. If you genuinely have advanced foreign language skills, you can definitely show it through language proficiency exams as mentioned earlier.
But for those who want to specialize in specific industries such as business, financial, legal, medical, etc., then naturally you’ll need to provide certifications. As to how you can be certified, it’s usually through passing accredited training programs relevant to each specialization. Keep note that getting certified is a long-term career consideration. Since you’re just starting out, then there’s no need to worry about getting certified for now.
But what you need to worry about is knowing how to effectively market yourself. As with all freelancing jobs, it’s imperative that you know how to market your services. Not only do you need a convincing freelancer profile and resume, but you need to price yourself competitively and truthfully. You will have stiff competition so it literally pays to set yourself apart from the rest. Translators usually charge by the word and interpreters charge by the hour. That being said, do some extra digging to find out the going rate for those who just started in providing language services.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for translators and interpreters in 2018 was $49,930 at around $24 an hour. Of course, if you just started, it’ll take time for you to reach that kind of pay. But the pay also depends on how many projects you can finish. The pay also varies greatly between language pair specializations. For instance, you can get paid more if you were to specialize in English to Japanese than English to Spanish since many are already specializing in Spanish compared to Japanese.
Where to Find Jobs as a Translator and Interpreter?
The majority of both translators and interpreters work on a freelance basis either on freelance platforms and translation companies. A translation company frequently provides both translation services and interpretation services, and not just the former despite the term.
Freelance platforms are where you can find freelancers of all kinds. Upwork and Fiverr are one of the most popular freelance platforms. But if you want one that’s exclusively for language specialists, then consider Proz.
But should you necessarily choose between them? Of course not! It’s common to register in as many companies and platforms as you can, even social media forums and language associations such as the American Translation Association (ATA). If you want to raise your chances of getting projects, then it pays to cast your net as wide as you can. But there are reasons why clients would want to hire from a translation company and from a freelance platform.
A translation company will naturally have personnel who’ll know which translator or interpreter on their roster is the ideal fit for the project at hand. There are many projects that require subject specialization that can’t be rendered by those with only a general understanding of the subject.
Of course, you can also find specialists in freelance platforms. But many clients prefer having their specialized projects to be handled by actual companies with a proven track record and accreditations such as ISO certifications.
If clients have projects with plenty of paperwork that needs to be processed, then it requires a team of translators. That being said, it’s more convenient to have a translation company gather the right team, especially if the client is pressed for time.
Having a translation company do most of the processing is naturally going to entail additional costs to the client’s budget. It’s understandable why some clients with limited budgets would prefer to invest the extra time and hassle in freelance platforms, rather than having a ‘middle man’ handle it for them.
Foreign Language Skills as a Long Term Career Asset: Final Takeaway
It’s fair to say that the world that’ll re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession will not be the one we’re familiar with. But the professional value associated with foreign languages will never go away. As a career asset, there’s so much you can do with foreign languages; translation and interpretation are one of them.
You might have already noticed that there’s plenty of info here that is actually meant for those who are considering translation and interpretation as a long term career. In the end, you’ll have to consider not only circumstances now but in the future as well. It’s not only a highly rewarding career path but a flexible one too that can take you to professional horizons you never thought of! So for now, take advantage of your situation under quarantine and strive to improve your foreign language skills while maintaining an additional income stream at the same time.