ERIC Identifier: ED345540
Publication Date: 1992-04-00
Author: Hammond, Deanna Lindberg
Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
The Translation Profession. ERIC Digest.
This ERIC Digest is based on an article published in the September 1990 issue
of "The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science," Volume
511, titled, "The Translation Profession in the United States Today." For more
information, write to "The Annals, 3937 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
The translation profession has been in existence for a long time. Translators
have enabled the works of great writers to be read by many people of different
cultures and linguistic backgrounds. In school, students learn about scientific
discoveries, great voyages, and different philosophies, thanks in part to the
work of translators. Translation has long played a role in the dissemination of
scientific information. With increased contact between nations in the past few
decades and with increased communications through satellites and other products
of modern technology, it has become easier and faster to learn about what is
happening in the rest of the world. The exchange of ideas and printed matter
between different linguistic communities has necessitated an unprecedented
amount of translation. In the last decade, the need for translation has
continued to rise, reflecting the needs of businesses, the scientific community,
and other areas. Today, the majority of individuals working in the translation
field deal more with technical and semi-technical works than with literary ones.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRANSLATOR AND AN
Translation involves the skill of working with written
language, whereas interpretation involves working with spoken communication. A
translator renders written materials in one language into written form in
another language. "Interpreters attempt to transpose statements given orally by
speakers representing one culture into the spoken form that is characteristic of
the culture of those listening to the interpretation" (Weber, 1990).
WHERE CAN TRANSLATORS FIND EMPLOYMENT?
generally work either in-house for a business, translation agency, or other
institution, or as freelancers. Most are freelancers who either find their own
clients or translate for firms or translation bureaus, and who are paid
depending on the length and difficulty of a translation. Fees may also reflect
supply and demand of a particular language or subject.
Salaried translators are part of the in-house staff of an agency, firm, or
institution. For the vast majority of this type of translator, expertise in a
specific subject matter, such as chemistry or economics, is necessary. In-house
translators may be called on to do foreign language research and other
language-related duties because they are readily available. They may need to be
able to translate from several languages. Translator positions in the United
States Government, for example, require the ability to translate from at least
two languages, and World Bank translators must be able to translate from three.
The number of full-time positions is limited.
The leading employers of translators in the United States are the U.S.
Government; U.S. and multinational corporations and their subsidiaries;
importers and exporters; commercial and non-profit research institutions;
manufacturers; engineering and construction firms with foreign connections; the
publishing industry; patent attorneys; the news media; the United Nations and
other international organizations; and foreign, diplomatic, commercial, and
scientific representatives in the United States (American Translators
WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS OF A COMPETENT
Translators must be capable of expressing, in the target
language, ideas that someone else has formulated in the source language. They
need to understand the language from which they are translating and be able to
write well in the language into which they are translating. This requires
understanding subject-specific terminology and having an awareness of style and
grammar, regional language, and nuances and idiomatic expressions. Translators
must understand the technical area in which they are working and are often
expected to possess an in-depth knowledge of highly specialized subjects.
Subject matter is becoming so important that the European Economic Community has
recently changed its language-specific translation divisions into subject matter
ones. Translators are required to stay up-to-date with respect to terminology
and must be able to look at a text for meaning and not necessarily translate it
literally. For learning technical vocabulary, translators should frequently
consult subject-specific articles, have access to new glossaries, and have
contacts in a given field. Freelance translators also need access to word
processing equipment, a fax machine, and a modem.
WHAT KIND OF TRAINING IS BENEFICIAL TO PROSPECTIVE
In response to a multitude of needs in today's world, foreign
language enrollments have been increasing in high schools, colleges, and
universities. Translation courses are part of the curriculum at a number of
universities, whether as separate classes or part of certificate or degree
programs. Some institutions, such as Georgetown University (Washington, DC) and
the Monterey (CA) Institute of Foreign Studies, offer translator-interpreter
College graduates with degrees in foreign languages who are interested in
entering the translation field often do not possess translation skills because
the emphasis on language instruction in the classroom tends to be on oral
proficiency. The ability to speak a language is not necessarily an indication of
written language ability. In translation, reading and writing become the primary
language skills, and a comparatively high level of proficiency in them is
required (Larson, 1987).
To assist would-be translators in preparing for a career in translation, the
American Translators Association (1987) has outlined some suggestions in its
"Profile of a Competent Translator and of an Effective Translator-Training
Program." Recommendations include the following curriculum:
* courses that provide an extensive knowledge of, and ability to
reason in, the subject matter of the translation: mathematics, pure
sciences, social sciences, history, business administration, and
* courses that provide a sound reading knowledge and grasp
of the language or languages from which one will be translating;
* four years of a major language, two years of a minor language, and
as many basic language courses as possible, including at least two
years of Latin;
* courses that provide the ability to express oneself
in lucid and straightforward English: writing courses, including one
in newspaper writing and one in technical writing; and
* periodic participation in advanced postgraduate workshops,
notably in specialized subject-matter areas.
WHERE DOES THE NEED FOR TRANSLATION EXIST?
In order to
understand the languages and cultures of the nations with whom the United States
does business, many companies have turned to translators to render
advertisements into the language of the client. Translators may be called on to
provide companies with information that will enable them to find out what their
competitors are doing to improve their products; to facilitate communications
with subsidiaries; and to translate company publications, such as employee
manuals, safety regulations, and company policy. Information on research or
marketing efforts within the company must be provided to foreign subsidiaries in
order to promote the technological advancement of the firm as a whole, and
countless letters, telegrams, and telefaxes sent from one subsidiary to another
must be translated.
Many scientific journals are now written in languages that have not received
much attention in the United States, such as Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, and
Chinese. Currently, one-fourth to one-half of all scientific scholarly
production is in languages not handled by U.S. scientists, and only about 20
percent of the 10,000 technical journals published in Japan are translated into
English (Fedunok, 1987). Translators are needed to keep up with the discoveries
taking place in research throughout the world.
Scholarly papers to be presented at conferences in foreign countries may need
translating, and individuals seeking U.S. citizenship may need to have their
birth certificate or other relevant documents translated into English.
The demand for competent translators is at an
all-time high. With the internationalization of science and the global market,
materials are being produced in many languages, just as American products are
being marketed in many countries. Because of the advanced state of science,
subject-matter specialization is a must for a translator, as are highly
developed writing skills. Whereas a few years ago, the United States could rely
on its immigrant population to do much of its translating, in the future it will
have to rely more on the educational institutions of this country to prepare
students in technical subjects and to provide them with excellent writing skills
in English and translation.
American Translators Association. (1987).
Profile of a competent translator and of an effective translator-training
program. Croton-on-Hudson, NY: Author.
Fedunok, S. (1987). Translations in science and technology libraries. In
Kummer, K. (Ed.), Across the language gap: Proceedings of the 28th annual
conference of the American Translators Association. Medford, NJ: Learned
Hammond, D.L. (1990). The translation profession in the United States today.
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 511,
Larson, J.W. (1987). Using the ACTFL proficiency guidelines to assess reading
and writing in the translation programs. In Rose, M.R. (Ed.), Translation
excellence: Assessment, achievement, maintenance. American Translators
Association. Scholarly Monograph Series, No. 1, p48. Binghamton, NY: University
Weber, W.K. (1990). Interpretation in the United States. The Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science, 511, p145-158.