Off topic: Do you consider language skills the rarest of the rare skills?
Thread poster: Anil Gidwani

Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 21:02
German to English
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Feb 8, 2009

I read in a magazine last year that the best remuneration in the coming decade would be drawn by individuals possessing"the rarest of the rare skills", in sharp contrast to what has been happening over the past few decades (read: Wall Street bankers!)

I happen to think language skills fall into the category of "the rarest of rare skills".

Despite the large number of translators/interpreters who are members of ProZ and other sites, the absolute numbers are a mere drop in the ocean. Some philosophers and psychologists have also held that language is the most complex of all human cognitive faculties. Language skills are not developed easily, as most friends and family will testify.

For both these reasons, language skills could easily be that "rarest of rare skill" in the coming years, especially in this era of globalization! Ours appears to be an industry that can weather this global recession.

What do you guys think? Do language skills fall into the category of "the rarest of rare skills"?


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David Russi  Identity Verified
United States
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No, I don't Feb 8, 2009

Virtually everyone on the planet without some kind of impairment has language skills, even people who cannot speak spontaneously develop forms of sign language, complete with grammar.

Even multilingualism is rather common, by and large, given the opportunity people learn multiple languages with relative ease, and though not everyone achieves a high level of proficiency in multiple languages, functionally, most people are capable of learning to get by in a language that is not their own.

And unfortunately I don't see translators headed in the direction of being among the best remunerated either, on the contrary, given translators' generally high level of education, we fare pretty poorly.

Sorry...

[Edited at 2009-02-08 03:45 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-02-08 03:48 GMT]


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trebla
Canada
Local time: 11:32
French to English
I don't think so Feb 8, 2009

I've tried integral calculus and playing a complex Bach fugue on the piano. I'd say language skills are a piece of cake compared to these two toughies.

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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
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German to English
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Nice try, Dave! Feb 8, 2009

David Russi wrote:

Virtually everyone on the planet without some kind of impairment has language skills, even people who cannot speak spontaneously develop forms of sign language, complete with grammar.



Nice one, Dave! Of course I meant specialized language skills such as translation and interpretation...


Even multilingualism is rather common, by and large, given the opportunity people learn multiple languages with relative ease, and though not everyone achieves a high level of proficiency in multiple languages, functionally, most people are capable of learning to get by in a language that is not their own.


And there's the rub! Not everyone achieves a high level of proficiency. Good translators and interpreters do. And THAT is a rare skill. We are not talking about just "getting by in a language not their own", just as we are not talking about ordinary motor skills in the case of a gymnast.


And unfortunately I don't see translators headed in the direction of being among the best remunerated either, on the contrary, given translators' generally high level of education, we fare pretty poorly.


I do. I see language services headed in that direction. And precisely because of our generally high level of education. We need to educate the hoi-polloi on the importance of the skills we bring to the global economy and culture!



[Edited at 2009-02-08 06:07 GMT]


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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
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How many jobs are there for playing a Bach fugue? Feb 8, 2009

trebla wrote:

I've tried integral calculus and playing a complex Bach fugue on the piano. I'd say language skills are a piece of cake compared to these two toughies.


I'd say that's comparing apples to oranges. If playing Bach were a marketable skill, I'd agree with you. It's right up there in complexity, I'm sure!


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
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English to German
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Highly interesting topic, Anil! Nice! Feb 8, 2009

First of all, it's not about to what degree a person KNOWS a language - it's about the degree of how a person is capable of using it, like an instrument. That's why I consider it an art.

The best writers are those who can paint pictures with words. And create movies in your mind.

The best painters are those who can tell stories and invent new worlds by the use of a couple of colors on a canvas.

A musician who is playing a Bach fuge is creating a new world as well - by the means of how he or she is perceiving this piece of music personally.

Now we are getting very close to translation.

Among all the various kinds of performing arts that can be used commercially, excellent translation is one of the most challenging ones. However, among commercialized arts, it is one of many.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:32
Member (2005)
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Entirely agree Feb 8, 2009

Nicole Schnell wrote:
First of all, it's not about to what degree a person KNOWS a language - it's about the degree of how a person is capable of using it, like an instrument. That's why I consider it an art.
...
Among all the various kinds of performing arts that can be used commercially, excellent translation is one of the most challenging ones. However, among commercialized arts, it is one of many.


Indeed. I couldn't have expressed this any better or more beautifully.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
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Don't agree with the sentence, but... Feb 8, 2009

Anil Gidwani wrote:
I read in a magazine last year that the best remuneration in the coming decade would be drawn by individuals possessing"the rarest of the rare skills", in sharp contrast to what has been happening over the past few decades (read: Wall Street bankers!)


When I was in my military duty (it still existed when I was younger) a fellow soldier was a nuclear physicist, a bright mind indeed... unemployed and with very little chances of working in the area he had dreamed of and trained for.

So my assessment is: a rare skill is something you pursue and cultivate as your personal dream, but it will not necessarily make a wealthy or famous person of you. You treat it as a friend, but a friend which might never be able to pay you a dinner. So you need to find a way to putting part of that skill to work for you economically.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:32
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Steven Pinker Feb 8, 2009

David Russi wrote:

Virtually everyone on the planet without some kind of impairment has language skills, even people who cannot speak spontaneously develop forms of sign language, complete with grammar.

Even multilingualism is rather common, by and large, given the opportunity people learn multiple languages with relative ease, and though not everyone achieves a high level of proficiency in multiple languages, functionally, most people are capable of learning to get by in a language that is not their own.

And unfortunately I don't see translators headed in the direction of being among the best remunerated either, on the contrary, given translators' generally high level of education, we fare pretty poorly.

Sorry...

[Edited at 2009-02-08 03:45 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-02-08 03:48 GMT]


I agree, David. Read Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct" and other works. Fascinating.
All but the most severely disabled learn at least one language instinctively at a very young age. Acquiring languages non-instinctively at a later age is much more challenging. As many here have said, it's the ability to use his/her languages gracefully that sets the genius wordsmith apart.
No, I don't think it's one of the "rarest of skills", as is the ability to sculpt or compose music brilliantly, for example, or to devise new concepts in science, medicine, and so on.
But it is a skill, nevertheless, and some are better at it than others, even at non-genius level.
Best wishes,
Jenny


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:32
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My view Feb 8, 2009

Hi Anil,

It is as rare and special as much as it is developed in an individual's brain / personality, just like any other skill !

All babies can swim, but not all babies will become Michael Phelps.

All toddlers acquire their mother tongue pretty easily , but not all will be Shakespeare or James Joyce.

All toddlers can sing, but not all will become Etta James.

All toddlers can run, but not all will grow into Michael Johnson.

It depends on cognition and imagination, because mind and language are closely related to these mental processes.

Therefore, I'd say it can be special if developed in a special, creative way ( it requires imagination, ambition and consistent work ).

Imagination = the power of visualization, creation of mental images. It is commonly something we are born with, like blue / brown eyes, and some people simply have better imagination than others and thus can create more / in a better way. However, imagination can be boosted with mind stimulation - reading, arts etc...


[Edited at 2009-02-08 12:18 GMT]


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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 21:02
German to English
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Language - the substratum of knowledge Feb 9, 2009

Nicole Schnell wrote:

The best writers are those who can paint pictures with words. And create movies in your mind.

The best painters are those who can tell stories and invent new worlds by the use of a couple of colors on a canvas.

A musician who is playing a Bach fuge is creating a new world as well - by the means of how he or she is perceiving this piece of music personally.

Now we are getting very close to translation.



Well put. Once we get past arts such as painting and music, and even writing, we start approaching translation. Translation is of course more than just writing (even though good writing requires great creativity, and good translators have to be good writers first, if not original ).

What I find striking about translation is that it involves not just the five senses with which we perceive the world, but also the mind. These five senses are instruments with which we perceive the world around us. The mind is also an instrument by which we process all that we perceive with the difference that it is an internal instrument and cannot itself be perceived. Translation is the process of converting the mental images and concepts conveyed by the source text from one framework (linguistic, cultural, economic, legal) to another using the instrumentality of the mind.

Well, lots of professions and occupations use the mind. What makes translation so special, one might well ask.

A subtle difference is that every profession deals with a subset of the real world (be it physics, chemistry, electronics, law, economics etc.) but translation deals with language, which deals with a superset of the real word. All knowledge is possible through language alone, language is therefore the substratum of and a superset of all knowledge.

Just as the light of the sun is the very essence of the sun’s ability to illumine, language is the very essence of all knowledge.

That's what makes translation an intricate and difficult process. When you translate a mathematics text, you have to get into the mind of a mathematician. Ditto for an economics text or a legal text. Such skills are difficult to acquire and hone. And rare.


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Niraja Nanjundan  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:02
German to English
That's why we need specialists Feb 9, 2009

Anil Gidwani wrote:
That's what makes translation an intricate and difficult process. When you translate a mathematics text, you have to get into the mind of a mathematician. Ditto for an economics text or a legal text. Such skills are difficult to acquire and hone. And rare.


A mathematician with the necessary language skills could accomplish this, ditto for an economist or a lawyer. I think it's when we come across areas so highly specialised that it's difficult to find translators working in them that translation could, in fact, become the rarest of skills.


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:32
German to English
Remuneration in inverse proportion to utility Feb 9, 2009

Anil Gidwani wrote:

I read in a magazine last year that the best remuneration in the coming decade would be drawn by individuals possessing"the rarest of the rare skills", in sharp contrast to what has been happening over the past few decades (read: Wall Street bankers!)


I've long held that wages are paid in inverse proportion to a job's utility in society. Prime examples of "useless" job holders include athletes, entertainers and Wall St. bankers. This also explains why teachers earn so little in comparison. Garbage collectors earn even less.


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