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What is the most profitable language to pair with English?
Thread poster: xxxtjnisonger
xxxtjnisonger
United States
Jul 24, 2013

I'm about done with prereq's and I need some pointers as to which language I should pursue intensively. I've tried out Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese. All of these seem to be languages I feel confident in being able to grasp, although I've had the most luck with German. I am unsure about what I should be focusing on though. Is it better to aim for a language that many people speak or to focus on languages that are not widely spoken? I like the idea of Russian or Japanese the most. I am open to other languages I haven't had exposure to, though. I would probably focus on government or business projects. I guess it comes down to this:

1) Aim for widely spoken languages or no?
2) How does English-Russian or English-Japanese sound for someone interested in either government or business backgrounds?

Thanks for any help.


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Ali Tuna  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:56
Turkish to English
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Proz Community Rates Jul 24, 2013

I am not sure, but you may want to check out the Community Rates at http://search.proz.com/employers/rates.

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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 09:26
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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You can't choose your language Jul 25, 2013

If you plan to do the translation yourself, then there is hardly anything you can do to choose the language you want to work in. It is the other way round. You choose to work in those languages you learnt in early childhood.

A language pair may fetch the moon in terms of rate, but if you were not exposed to them in your childhood, there is hardly anything you can do to profit from this situation.

If you are past 15, it would be very difficult for you to acquire proficiency in any language that would be considered sufficient for the purpose of translation.


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Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:56
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
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I would disagree that you can't choose your language Jul 25, 2013

I moved to Spain at the age of 24 and have picked up the language to the point that Spanish people often believe I'm Spanish when I talk to them.

I would therefore disagree with the statement that it is impossible to learn a language fully past the age of 15 (but based only on my personal experience).

To learn a language thoroughly though, I would recommend living in the country for a number of years and to fully absorb the culture as well as the language. Especially for business translations, you need to be familiar with the language of business in your source language and it is vital to be au fait with current affairs in that country.
This may be a factor that may sway you in terms of language choice. Do you prefer to live in a German-, Spanish-, Russian- or Japanese-speaking country?

To answer the question of the OP, there are indeed languages that are more profitable than others. If you want a general rule, I would say that you need to find languages that not many native English speakers speak. This will limit competition and increase your cachet.

This is not the case with Spanish, French and German, which are the three languages most commonly spoken among native English speakers although of these three, I would say that German is the most profitable and Spanish the least, with French pretty high up close to German.
This is mainly, I think, because German and French are the main languages of the banking world.

It is true that Spanish is widely spoken but from my personal experience, many Spanish to English translations are done by Spanish speakers who are familiar with English (with often disastrous results). The system (in Spain) for sworn translators requires people to translate both ways, most English teachers in Spanish schools are Spanish, and there doesn't seem to be much respect for quality in foreign languages. The blasé attitude to language quality is clearly evident every time you go to a touristy location in Spain and see the weird English translations on signs, or laugh at terrible translations on menus. Spanish is my least profitable language pair in another way too: I have to chase 8 out of 10 Spanish agencies for payment. This means that they use up more of my time overall, although you don't necessarily always get Spanish work from Spanish agencies.
In terms of Spanish and English from over the pond, there are also very many fully bilingual South Americans in the world so there is lots of competition.

I have no knowledge of the Russian or Japanese markets (perhaps someone else can help you with information on those) although, of all the languages you have expressed an interest in, I would guess that there are fewer native English speakers who have skills in these languages than in the others.

In conclusion, out of Spanish and German, if I were you I'd choose German.

It still remains however for someone to help you with the other two.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:56
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Which way round? Jul 25, 2013

English-Russian and English-Japanese are not the right choices for someone whose native language is English unless these languages are known to native speaker level. Russian-English and Japanese-English would be better.

You can generally charge a slightly higher rate for Russian than for German or French in Europe, but if you want work from Russia you may have to accept a lower rate. There is quite a good demand for it.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:56
Russian to English
+ ...
You have to study the language you love, related to a culture Jul 25, 2013

you have interest in -- otherwise your life will be a torture, and your translations flat. If you insist, however, on learning a language that there is a huge demand for, I would think Arabic or Chinese.

I believe some really talented people (linguistically) who already speak some languages may successfully learn another language after puberty if they have interest in it, or if they happen to live in a country where it is spoken. I have learned all the languages I speak in my childhood-- quite early, except Spanish which I learned in my twenties, and I understand that language quite well, although I usually don't translate from it. I translated two poems and a Birth Certificate. Where I live you are constantly exposed to Spanish, in everyday life, in addition to many other languages, besides English.

Russian too might be a good language to study and work with -- quite interesting culture and a lot of commerce. It is not a very easy language though. It might be actually better to move to Russia after you have studied the language for two years and live there for at least five years. I think that might might be sufficient to learn it quite well, if you work on it everyday.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:44 GMT]


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 06:56
Turkish to English
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beware of rash generalisations Jul 25, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

If you plan to do the translation yourself, then there is hardly anything you can do to choose the language you want to work in. It is the other way round. You choose to work in those languages you learnt in early childhood.

A language pair may fetch the moon in terms of rate, but if you were not exposed to them in your childhood, there is hardly anything you can do to profit from this situation.

If you are past 15, it would be very difficult for you to acquire proficiency in any language that would be considered sufficient for the purpose of translation.


You should beware of making rash generalisations. I first started learning Turkish at the age of 31 and this is now my main source language. I have passed the Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation from Turkish into English, obtaining a merit grade in all sections, and I have no doubts whatsoever about my proficiency in this language.

However, it certainly takes many years of great effort to attain this kind of proficiency in a new language. The idea that you can pick a new language to translate from and learn it in a few months, or even a couple of years, sufficiently well to translate from is mistaken.


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 11:56
Member
Chinese to English
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Why? Jul 25, 2013

I don't know why you would want to learn a language just to become a translator. The returns on the average lottery ticket would be higher, and years of intensive language studies are living hell unless you are continuously reaping its benefits, which you cannot do through translation.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:32 GMT]


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:56
German to English
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I don't think you are asking the right question Jul 25, 2013

Most translators don't ask themselves what's most profitable when they start translating, but what languages do I love the most? No amount of proficiency will help if you are not completely in love with the language(s) and - extremely important - the respective cultures - you are working with - that's what elicits your passion and creativity in using them, which in turn often lead to a respectable income.

If you are looking at translation as a moneymaker - you should probably choose another profession. The price pressure is enormous because of growing competition, and it's getting harder and harder to find clients who pay a living rate. Obviously, there are still opportunities and those translators who are well-established know the ropes and have their long-time clients, but for newcomers it has become much more challenging. If money is your prime motivation in choosing a career, then I question whether translation is the way for you to go and be happy doing it.


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:56
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
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Living hell? Jul 25, 2013

Lincoln Hui wrote:
... years of intensive language studies are living hell

[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:32 GMT]


Really? Are they? Well, yes, I guess that's one way of seeing it...


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:56
Hebrew to English
Agree Jul 25, 2013

Woodstock wrote:

Most translators don't ask themselves what's most profitable when they start translating, but what languages do I love the most? No amount of proficiency will help if you are not completely in love with the language(s) and - extremely important - the respective cultures - you are working with - that's what elicits your passion and creativity in using them, which in turn often lead to a respectable income.

If you are looking at translation as a moneymaker - you should probably choose another profession. The price pressure is enormous because of growing competition, and it's getting harder and harder to find clients who pay a living rate. Obviously, there are still opportunities and those translators who are well-established know the ropes and have their long-time clients, but for newcomers it has become much more challenging. If money is your prime motivation in choosing a career, then I question whether translation is the way for you to go and be happy doing it.


100% , I'd only add that the journey to becoming sufficiently proficient in a language is itself a costly process, both in time and money. So you need to consider the HUGE costs involved in acquiring a new language and whether the eventual gains you MAY accrue in a career in translation will offset them. Given the realistic picture given by Woodstock it's not always clear that this will be the case.

Consequently, translation (when you haven't even learnt the language yet) is more likely to sap money from you than provide you with it.

Presuming you are ok with this, then choosing a language based purely on the vulgar economic factor is an act of sheer folly, you might choose Mandarin now because it's all the rage and the Chinese economy is booming, but what happens after 10 years of hard slog learning the language when the Chinese bubble bursts? You simply cannot predict long term markets and what is profitable now probably won't be in 5, 10, 15 years time.

(I'm only using Mandarin/Chinese as an example)

[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:49 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:56
Russian to English
+ ...
I would describe language learning and linguistic studies process as years of Jul 25, 2013

heavenly pleasures, but they are years of study after all -- more like ten at least before you can successfully translate from any language (counting from the time you started to learn the language). Usually it takes more than ten years, in my opinion, to become a successful translator -- if you do not know the language at a very fluent level. If you do -- maybe 4-5 then.

Mandarin may be really the language to learn, if you like it (I think the language has a nice sound), but it may take you closer to 20 years to learn it really well, from what I have heard, and you may need at some point to move to China for awhile.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 08:02 GMT]


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Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:56
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I see it slightly differently Jul 25, 2013

Ty Kendall wrote:

Woodstock wrote:

If you are looking at translation as a moneymaker - you should probably choose another profession. The price pressure is enormous because of growing competition, and it's getting harder and harder to find clients who pay a living rate. Obviously, there are still opportunities and those translators who are well-established know the ropes and have their long-time clients, but for newcomers it has become much more challenging. If money is your prime motivation in choosing a career, then I question whether translation is the way for you to go and be happy doing it.


100% , I'd only add that the journey to becoming sufficiently proficient in a language is itself a costly process, both in time and money. So you need to consider the HUGE costs involved in acquiring a new language and whether the eventual gains you MAY accrue in a career in translation will offset them. Given the realistic picture given by Woodstock it's not always clear that this will be the case.

Consequently, translation (when you haven't even learnt the language yet) is more likely to sap money from you than provide you with it.

br>
[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:49 GMT]



First of all, I certainly wouldn't qualify learning languages as a living hell. I think it's an enriching and fascinating experience that gives you a window on a whole new world. If I had the time and the money, I would dedicate my whole life to going around the world to learn new languages. I couldn't think of anything better or more fulfulling to do with my time. I think that anyone who qualifies it as a living hell is either learning the wrong thing for them, or learning it in the wrong way.

I would always encourage anyone to invest in learning a language if that person is talented in this area, and has an interest in language.

Whether this person ends up working as a translator or in any other of the many millions of fields where working and speaking in more than one language is interesting and profitable is of no import.

The fact is that to me, speaking more than one language is ALWAYS an advantage and can open a world of opportunities that is closed to the monolingual, even if it's just for the appreciation of another culture's literature or humour. I also feel that speaking several languages along with a keen awareness of cultures can make people more tolerant and well-rounded as individuals.


I also wouldn't discourage anyone from becoming a translator. OK. It won't make you a millionaire because it's a profession and it's not scalable, but there are plenty of other things that won't either. I also think that if you spend most of your life working, you might as well be doing something you enjoy, and I for one enjoy translating.

There are plenty of advantages to the profession of a translator that aren't necessarily linked with money (I do earn enough to live on with translating though). One of them is that you can work from anywhere in the world. I value that freedom above anything.


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 11:56
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Reading a sentence in full and taking the context into account always helps Jul 25, 2013

I said, "years of intensive language studies are living hell unless you are continuously reaping its benefits". If you are learning a language because you like it or are interested in language learning in general, you are continuously reaping the benefits. If you are learning a language because there is a clear need in your work or everyday life, you are continuously reaping the benefits because each stage of improvement is yielding something for you.

If you are learning a language in order to become a translator, you are NOT doing jack until 4-5 years of very intensive studies, during which you have nothing to show for. It's like someone who absolutely hates numbers (regardless of his ability) majoring in Engineering or Accounting because it pays, except there's even less guarantee of job prospect.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:56
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
That says it all, IMO Jul 25, 2013

Tim Drayton wrote:
The idea that you can pick a new language to translate from and learn it in a few months, or even a couple of years, sufficiently well to translate from is mistaken.


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