Learning New Languages for Translation Career
Thread poster: xxxKelly McGuir
xxxKelly McGuir
Local time: 14:17
Chinese to English
+ ...
Nov 19, 2005

This is a general question. I don't necessarily intend to try this myself but I'd love to get opinions from others who have been in the field a lot longer than I have...

Would learning a new language with the aim of ultimately adding a new language pair to your translation expertise be a good idea? Or should translators merely focus on those languages they already know? Is this something a newcomer to the business consider?

I think that demand for new language pairs springs up depending on developments in business and politics and was curious as to whether there are translators who would purposefully learn a new language so that they can boost their job opportunities.

Personally, while I'd like to dedicate my time to getting my Chinese>English and Spanish>English translation down to a fine art, I have toyed with the idea of learning a new language for the purpose of boosting my chances in getting translation work. With Romania's likely entry to the EU in a couple of years, I've wondered whether it would be a good idea to start learning Romanian and getting my language level high enough to go for Romanian>English translation.

What are other people's views on this?


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:17
French to English
+ ...
Some thoughts Nov 19, 2005

I think it makes good business sense -- but is more importantly an intellectually enriching experience -- to learn other languages in this increasingly inter-connected world. If I were in your situation, I would consider taking up French or Portuguese, as you already have Spanish. Knowing one Romance language gives you a head start on the others; I myself started with French and went on to learn Spanish and Italian. French, Spanish and Portuguese are probably the economically most viable Romance languages to know; they are all spoken by large numbers of people on multiple continents. The problem with Romanian -- and I visited this beautiful country this past summer -- is that you would be competing with the large number of Romanians who are willing to translate for very low rates. If you are really interested in learning a new EU language, I might suggest that you consider Polish, as it has the largest number of speakers of any of the languages of the new Member States.

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xxxKelly McGuir
Local time: 14:17
Chinese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Portuguese is a possibility... Nov 19, 2005

Richard Creech wrote:

I think it makes good business sense -- but is more importantly an intellectually enriching experience -- to learn other languages in this increasingly inter-connected world. If I were in your situation, I would consider taking up French or Portuguese, as you already have Spanish. Knowing one Romance language gives you a head start on the others; I myself started with French and went on to learn Spanish and Italian. French, Spanish and Portuguese are probably the economically most viable Romance languages to know; they are all spoken by large numbers of people on multiple continents. The problem with Romanian -- and I visited this beautiful country this past summer -- is that you would be competing with the large number of Romanians who are willing to translate for very low rates. If you are really interested in learning a new EU language, I might suggest that you consider Polish, as it has the largest number of speakers of any of the languages of the new Member States.


Hi Richard,

I have actually considered Portuguese and French as possibilities in the past. I have a few years of experience in French from my school days and have often thought of bringing my level up on numerous occasions. As for Portuguese, I can more or less get by with understanding the written language thanks to my Spanish but I have never really learnt it formally (or even through proper self-study). I'm aware that while Spanish and Portuguese are fairly closely related, 'false friends' and differences in grammar exist that I would first need to take into account.

Could someone gain a high level of reading/written fluency without being a fluent speaker of a language? I've had this debate with several people I've met via the Net and some believe it is possible while others don't believe so. I'm confident I could be able to improve upon my reading comprehension and ability to translate from Portuguese into English with some study, but I've always been a little shy about practicing my speaking abilities. I'm much more of a visual person when it comes to language and have always felt far more comfortable with written language.

Currently I'm working in Chinese>English translation and have not yet done any formal (professional) work in Spanish>English translation even though I feel this is my strongest language pair (no demand for Spanish>English translation in Taiwan, where I'm currently living). While I feel my language pairs are in good demand, I would like to expand into a third (minor) pair in future not only for professional benefit but also just for the pure enjoyment of learning and perfecting a language. As I've mentioned above, Portuguese is a probable option as it should be relatively easy to learn with my language background and Galician also appeals to me though it probably would not generate that much demand. I'll also reconsider the Romanian idea based on that fact you mentioned.

I probably will not even attempt to consider a third language pair just yet as I'm still very new to the translation business, but it will be something to consider once I'm established and accredited.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
El que mucho abarca... Nov 19, 2005

...poco aprieta. Not that it's a bad idea at all to learn still more languages, but to translate you must know them intimately, much more so than the time we are given on this earth would allow.

I'd say that if you can get either Chinese>English or Spanish>English (not both) translation down to a fine art then that is a great accomplishment. Don't spread yourself thin; concentrate on excellence.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:17
Flemish to English
+ ...
Supply and demand : Small is beautiful Nov 19, 2005

How many translators are there on the market with Estonian>Spanish or English in their combination. I remember setting in a E.U.-competition where there was one person out of 800 participants who could translate Finnish>Dutch. I wonder whether he got the job or not???

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xxxKelly McGuir
Local time: 14:17
Chinese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Small is Beautiful... Nov 19, 2005

Williamson wrote:

How many translators are there on the market with Estonian>Spanish or English in their combination. I remember setting in a E.U.-competition where there was one person out of 800 participants who could translate Finnish>Dutch. I wonder whether he got the job or not???


I think it's true, to some extent, that you can boost your chances by offering a less commonly used language pair. However, I think that it can also hinder your chances if there isn't a great demand for that particular combination. I suppose it all depends on where you are based and what the translation market is like.


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xxxKelly McGuir
Local time: 14:17
Chinese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Very true.. Nov 19, 2005

Henry Hinds wrote:

...poco aprieta. Not that it's a bad idea at all to learn still more languages, but to translate you must know them intimately, much more so than the time we are given on this earth would allow.

I'd say that if you can get either Chinese>English or Spanish>English (not both) translation down to a fine art then that is a great accomplishment. Don't spread yourself thin; concentrate on excellence.


I do agree that things begin to suffer once you start spreading yourself too thin. I haven't yet figured which of my language pairs to concentrate my efforts on. I have a Bachelor's degree in Chinese studies and experience in translating in that area and it is quite clear that there is quite a demand for Chinese>English translation. However, Spanish is almost a mother tongue of mine thanks to being brought up as a 'bilingual' in Gibraltar. While I don't have a degree in Spanish, I do have a good understanding of the nuances of the language and have a very high level of fluency, both spoken and written. Spanish>English translation is also very much in demand so I'm not sure I should discard this as an option just yet.


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Kevin Harper  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:17
German to English
+ ...
Balance is Key Nov 19, 2005

From my own experience, expect 50% or more of your work to be in your 'main language', especially if you do not have any easily-recognisable qualifications in the other one(s). Keeping up the other languages can be time-consuming, and the less paid work you do in those languages, the more time you need to spend working on them unpaid.

As far as learning like Portuguese is concerned, if your Spanish is very good that will take very little time to pay off. However, you could also cash in on your knowledge of Chinese characters by learning Japanese. If this interests you (and that is crucial), then this would probably be a better choice financially. I think French would be a bad choice, because although it is a very big translation market, it is also the most saturated.

Another thing to consider is reference materials. You will need to buy a separate set of dictionaries for each language (although you may find a few multilingual ones) and European language specialist dictionaries are much more expensive than Chinese ones.

However, double the languages means double the market, and you may find you get more work as a result. If you have a rarer language it also helps you get onto an agency's database - even if you then end up getting more work from them in another language. In your case, though, this is less important as you already offer Chinese, a language that is in high demand.

Also bear in mind that you can learn other languages at your leisure without working in them. Also, if you haven't already done so, try to get an in-house job at an agency for a while (in project management or checking) - this puts you in contact with a multitude of languages on a daily basis and also helps you understand your customers better.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:17
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
It's not practical to learn new languages for the purposes of work Nov 20, 2005

I have studied a number of languages in the past, and learnt Greek and Hebrew at university for four years, but now I am increasingly finding that the most practical way to earn a good income is to have only one language pair.

Of course it is always interesting to take up new languages or extend your knowledge of old ones, but I have personally discovered that, even using just one language pair, there is something new to learn with each translation, and I believe that the only way to earn well as an individual translator (not owning an agency) is to keep on polishing the one language pair, so that the translations are of good quality and the customers come back. I think it must involve loss of income to have even two language pairs - though of course the perspective might be different with less common language pairs.

When I was 8 years old my ambition was to learn every language in the whole world, but now I would advise anyone to keep working on a single language pair.

Astrid


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:17
German to English
+ ...
Learning New Languages for Translation Career Nov 20, 2005

Kelly,

If you want to learn a new language as a challenge, an intellectual exercise - see Richard's post - or just for the fun of it, then go for it.

If you are looking for a way of boosting your job opportunities, you are better off concentrating on the language combinations you already have, and - very important - building up subject expertise. This will almost certainly give you a better financial return on the time and energy you invest.

Marc


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:17
Flemish to English
+ ...
Two foreign languages required. Nov 25, 2005

If you have a look at http://europa.eu.int/epso/index_en.htm, you will see that there is another recruitment drive.
However, if your secondary compulsory source language is not one of the languages of the New Member States of the E.U., forget about sending in your application. Besides, the tests to evaluate your verbal and logical reasoning abilities are the first hurdle, not matter how good you are at translation.
So, stick to one language only?
Depends on what your goals are and where you live.
If you go outside and you here a myrad of languages around you, sticking to the use of one language would not be very practical.
Wheras I am pondering about adding one Eastern European language, I shall just forget about French,German, Spanish and stick to the combination English>Dutch....


[Edited at 2005-11-25 22:01]


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