Work, in Translation – Artigo publicado no Wall Street Journal


• The Job: Translator/Interpreter


Andrea BrugmanJudy Jenner

• The Nature of the Work: Translators and interpreters work fluidly with languages, but their responsibilities differ. Translators work with printed copy. Interpreters specialize in the spoken word and serve as liaisons between two parties, such as a doctor and patient or defendant and attorney. They typically must consider ethical obligations; translators often have to massage copy to make sense of pop culture references. “Being bilingual isn’t enough,” says Judy Jenner, who co-founded Twin Translations with her sister. “We have to shape a message to an international audience.”

• The Pay: Many jobs are free-lance. Interpreters can earn between $15 and $30 per hour, according to Common Sense Advisory, a Boston-based research firm. Translations are paid per word. Ms. Jenner, for example, charges 24 to 27 cents per word, depending on the skill level. Savvy translators can earn six figures per year, says Milena Savova, academic director of the department of foreign languages, translating and interpreting at New York University. Full-time staff at language-services firms earn from $40,000 to $60,000, according to a recent survey from the Globalization and Localization Association, a language-services trade group.

• The Hours: Hours are often flexible. Ms. Jenner, who lives in Las Vegas, says she completes her assignments while lounging by the pool. Her twin sister and fellow translator/interpreter works from Austria. Elizabeth Chegezy, a translator and interpreter in Philadelphia, says free-lancers can work as much or as little as they like. However, she warns that the high-paced role technology plays in the business means some clients will demand unreasonable deadlines. At language-services firms, business hours are the norm.

• The Benefits: Free-lancers are responsible for their own health-care and retirement-savings plans. At language-services firms, traditional health-care packages are common, as are retirement-savings programs.

• Other Incentives: Translators and interpreters can cultivate a specialty in the field—thus leading to higher-paying jobs. Those with a background in chemistry, for example, will be shoe-ins for jobs translating complex documents about chemicals. Ms. Jenner parlayed her M.B.A. in marketing to nab a tourism-related translation job in Vienna.

• Best Part of the Job: For those with a passion for languages it’s a way to flex that muscle for personal satisfaction. Ms. Chegezy enjoys learning different strands of slang from Spanish-speaking countries, from Panama to Mexico. “Languages are an acquired skill for me, and there’s always something new to learn,” she says.

• Worst Part of the Job: Interpreting jobs in the health-care industry can make some squeamish. Ms. Chegezy has seen broken bones and patients vomiting while on the job. In addition, professionals must aggressively look for jobs. “It’s feast or famine,” says Ms. Jenner.

• Education/Qualifications: There are no official certifications required, although several are offered through trade organizations, such as the American Translators Association. A college degree is not required, but most have them. Spanish is the most in-demand language, but other languages are growing, such as Arabic.

• Hiring: Demand for translators and interpreters is expected to increase 24% through 2016, according to the Department of Labor. Joining an industry group such as the American Translators Association, which has its own job bank, can help translators find jobs in both translation and interpretation. The All Language Alliance also connects job seekers and positions.

Write to Diana Middleton at