May 01 2006

Speaking in (Many) Tongues Can Be Profitable

Published by at May 1, 2006 8:40 pm under Interpretation,Translation

WANTED, and in many instances urgently needed: translators and interpreters of numerous languages into English. Opportunities especially good in New York and other cities with large and highly varied immigrant populations. And in government agencies where certain Middle Eastern and Asian languages have surged in priority in the post 9/11 world.

That, labor market and other experts say, sums up the outlook in the United States today for translators and interpreters, professions that have grown sharply since the 2001 terrorist attacks, though not solely in response to them. And with the routes into these specialties diverse — they all require a mastery of English and at least one other language, but there is no single form of certification in the country — people can enter them with varied educational backgrounds.

Although many people call anyone who renders one language into another a translator, practitioners reserve that word for people who convert written material in one language into written material in another, or speech in one language into a transcript in another. They refer to those who convert speech in one language into speech in another as interpreters.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 31,000 translator and interpreter jobs in the country in 2004, up 40 percent since 2000, and estimates a further increase to 37,000, or 20 percent more, in 2014. (The bureau notes that the number of people in the business is “probably significantly higher” because many work part time.) The average full-time salary in 2004 was $38,000, with those employed by federal agencies averaging more than $70,000. About 2,000 of the jobs in 2004 were in New York State and about 500 in New Jersey and Connecticut.

But Kevin Hendzel, a spokesman for the American Translators Association, which represents about 8,000 translators and interpreters, predicted even sharper future growth, “based on the current demand.” Aside from a severe shortage in “national security languages,” among them Arabic, Farsi, Pashto and Dari, the demand, he said, is being driven by, globalization and by the need for interpreters in hospitals and courtrooms. The need at hospitals has been made more acute by a 2000 requirement that institutions receiving federal aid provide more effective service to people lacking English proficiency, he said.

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