Every two years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its job forecasts. In growth potential, translating is projected near the top, up 46.1 percent by 2022, the nation’s fifth-fastest-growing occupation.
When Dawn Taylor, 37, a doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State University, started her part-time translation business in February 2013, she earned $15,000 that year.
This year, because business is good, she expects to make $45,000 — for part-time work.
Taylor’s job helps prove what the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2012 — jobs for translators will grow by 2022.
“These professions support commerce and diplomacy in an increasingly globalized world,” said Donald DePalma, the founder of Common Sense Advisory, a Cambridge, Mass., research group that charts business for translators.
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“We are in a world economy where companies operate internationally,” he said. “This is an industry that operates behind the scenes. Most people don’t recognize its value until they need the services.”
The global market for language services is worth $38 billion, a 6.5 percent increase over last year, Common Sense’s work shows. The work is rising by a similar rate in the United States.
Every two years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its job forecasts. In growth, Taylor’s field is projected near the top, up 46.1 percent by 2022, the nation’s fifth-fastest-growing occupation, even though it is predicted to add only 29,300 jobs.
By contrast, the occupation of personal care aides, growing at a rate of 48.8 percent, is projected to add 580,800 jobs.
Factors driving demand
Americans consume a lot of foreign goods, DePalma said. User manuals in Korean or German need to be converted into English.
Language services also are crucial in health care as diverse patients seek care for increasingly complex treatments.
“When (patients) have limited proficiency in English, they can just nod and say yes, but in actuality, they have no idea,” said Mary Walton, director for patient and family centered care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“To provide the best care possible, we make them repeat what we said in their own words, and if we think they didn’t understand us, we bring in the language service,” she said.
Patients also will need to understand how to care for themselves after they leave the hospital, so instructions have to be in a familiar language, Walton said.
That’s the kind of work that Dawn Taylor does, translating admission and discharge papers, as well as patient instructions.
“I started getting so many requests that I had to tell myself to focus on my (studies),” she said. “I have to set boundaries. … I’ve seen probably a 60 percent increase in workload in the past year and a half.”
Entry-level language service providers can earn between $30,000 to $50,000, while experienced ones can see earnings climb into six figures.
“The more specialized and the more technical the content, the higher the pay,” said Tony Guerra, president of the Delaware Valley Translators Association.
Will machine translators help or disrupt the industry?
Guerra, 63, who came to the United States from Cuba as a young boy and has been interpreting between Spanish and English, cautions against replacing humans.
He recounted seeing the website of the City of Philadelphia translated into Spanish. Former Mayor John Street’s last name became “calle,” the Spanish word for street. In professional translations, names that are nouns aren’t translated. Humans would not have missed such a mistake, he said.
Yet, technology can help. Translators can pay for access to online glossaries, so interpreters no longer need to be on-site.
Ruth Karpeles, who owns Language Services Consultants, said she had seen a drop in demand for on-site interpreters but more need for interpreting over the phone, because it reduces costs.
“As technology improves, on-demand telephonic and other remote-access interpreting options are increasingly being considered as alternatives to more costly on-site interpreting,” Karpeles said.
Interpreting deals with voice communication, while translating focuses on written documents. Translators often charge per word while interpreters charge per hour or event.
Going the independent route
Freelance translator Anne Connor, 55, who translates Italian and Spanish into English, charges 12 cents per English word. She translates 4,000 English words a day, which equates to $480.
Connor, who specializes in legal and medical work, enjoys the flexibility her job affords her. As long as she has a laptop and her material, she can translate. Most of her work comes from Europe, so she begins her day by checking emails at 6 a.m.
In a perfect world, when translating Spanish into English, Connor would charge her clients by the Spanish word, because multiple words in Spanish sometimes become a single word in English.
Beef, one word. “Carne de res,” three words.
Not everyone who grows up in a bilingual household can be a translator. The work is intense and specific. Connor can spend hours looking up the translation for one word.
“Being bilingual is a great start, but there are very technical terms that you wouldn’t normally use in everyday conversations,” she said.
The work also does not require a foreign language or translation and interpreting major.
“Don’t just be a language major,” she said. “Study other things like business or economics. Study both languages simultaneously. Specialize and learn the complex technical terms.”