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What Should I Study?
Thread poster: CillianD
CillianD
Ireland
Oct 24, 2013

So, I have a passion for languages and study french in school, and I'll have to choose what to study in college in a few months, I'd strongly consider being a translator if possible however I can only study French with Spanish near where I am, or I could go further away and study Portuguese or Chinese with French, I assume Spanish is quite oversubscribed with translators, is it worth going further afield to study either Portuguese or Chinese, or should I stay close to home and study Spanish and try and work for cheap rates at the start and build experience?

TLDR = Is Spanish oversubscribed? Are Chinese/ Portuguese better?


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Think money Oct 24, 2013

Have you considered studying French and German. I think that it must be winning combination.

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CillianD
Ireland
TOPIC STARTER
.. Oct 24, 2013

Yes I would, would that be a better combination than learning Chinese??

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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Some thoughts Oct 24, 2013

1. I think it's better to move further away from home if you can afford it. Otherwise you don't get the full benefits of going to college.

2. You shouldn't necessarily put all your eggs in one basket by assuming you're going to be a translator. Nearly all of my fellow language graduates ended up in careers that had little or nothing to do with languages.

3. Spanish isn't necessarily oversubscribed - lots of us translate it for a lot of the time - but you'll make more money from Chinese, and it has huge potential as China becomes a global superpower. The same goes for Portuguese and Brazil.

4. Chinese is a difficult language, and it will take you longer to reach a high standard of proficiency.

5. Don't assume that you'll have to start out by charging low rates. It may be necessary if your translating career gets off to a slow start, but it undermines the market and encourages exploitation. If you charge high rates, it shows that you have confidence in yourself and your ability.

6. Translation is potentially a satisfying and well paid career. If you do end up going down this road, good luck!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:02
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Only do what you can do excellently Oct 24, 2013

philgoddard wrote:
1. I think it's better to move further away from home if you can afford it. Otherwise you don't get the full benefits of going to college.

As someone who's aiming to use the language professionally, you would be very well advised to spend time (working, study or just living) in the country where the language is spoken. There's a world of differnece between classroom language and "real" language.

[quote]4. Chinese is a difficult language, and it will take you longer to reach a high standard of proficiency./quote]
It'll take you longer than a couple of years at uni to learn ANY language to the level of being to use it professionally.

5. Don't assume that you'll have to start out by charging low rates. It may be necessary if your translating career gets off to a slow start, but it undermines the market and encourages exploitation

Once you start charging low rates, you have to work so fast that you don't have time to think of marketing, training, development, anything. You're on a treadmill.

Nothing to stop you studying a second foreign language, but don't expect to be using it any time soon.


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CillianD
Ireland
TOPIC STARTER
.. Oct 24, 2013

Nothing to stop you studying a second foreign language, but don't expect to be using it any time soon.


But I'm only in secondary education now and have to decide on what language to take as well as French in college. Is German in demand?


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:02
Hebrew to English
Not so simple... Oct 24, 2013

CillianD wrote:
Is German in demand?


I would agree with Tatty. If you can combine German with a Romance language this may be preferable than taking two Romance languages. (imo)

However, I think it's more important to do what you enjoy. You'll never acquire a sufficient level of language if you have no real interest in the source culture. Wanting to learn Chinese is great, having no great desire (or ability) to spend time in China is not.

I wouldn't worry so much about demand and rates. If you are good (in ANY language) there will be demand and you'll be able to command decent rates.

Truth be told, most of the Romance languages are oversubscribed, but they also have quite a lot of demand. Portuguese is more niche, but you face cheap competition from Brazil. Demand for Chinese is huge, but rates can be abysmal.

In a nutshell, it just isn't a simple matter, and choosing a language like this and trying to predict future markets is folly. This is why I always come down on the side of "do what you enjoy".

That said, if I had my time over, I might be inclined to study German & Russian (as I did as a child but dropped both)...but at the same time I don't regret my choice to stick with and focus solely on Hebrew.

Decisions, decisions.


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Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:02
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Portuguese is probably better from a business standpoint Oct 25, 2013

As someone who works in both Spanish and Portuguese, I would say that the job market for translation is in fact better for Portuguese - I see (and get) a lot of Pt > En work at decent rates for decent clients.

HOWEVER,

as others have said, the middle and upper parts of the market are doing fine in every combination. If you are good, you will find work. Also, it is very true that you need to do what others have said: serious studies, living somewhere, working, volunteering, having friends, etc. Go to the culture that speaks to you. A strong push to learn more is what you really need at this stage.

As for interpreting, it depends a LOT on where you are. I'm in Chicago which is a major hispanic center, and so I get 10-20x more interpreting requests for Spanish than for Arabic. I'm sure each place has its own interpreting needs based in large part on the populations present.


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ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 14:02
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
College Oct 25, 2013

My answer will be plain, short and simple:

Just study whatever you would ENJOY studying because that is what matters the most.


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Valery Shapovalenko  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 14:02
English to Russian
+ ...
Answer deleted. Oct 25, 2013

I deleted my note, but you have it in Proz' forum announcements.

[Edited at 2013-10-25 10:09 GMT]


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Specialisation Oct 25, 2013

Specialisation is the best route to making money as a translator. Have you thought about combining French with Law or some other discipline?

I think that the best way to learn a foreign language, once you have acquired rudimentary knowledge back home, is to spend a year abroad and attend a good language school while you are there.

I used to think that Italian was the most beautiful language in the world, now I think that Spanish is, but I could easily shift to French or German. To me, Chinese would seem like a life-long commitment. Remember, you will have the know the language well to be able to translate it. Nowadays, you may well have to do an MA in translation studies to get a steady flow of work.

[Editado a las 2013-10-25 09:34 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:02
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Know the culture, too Oct 25, 2013

Tatty wrote:
To me, Chinese would seem like a life-long commitment. Remember, you will have the know the language well to be able to translate it.

You could be forgiven for thinking life in France and the UK is reasonably similar, but all those who've ever lived in the two know that isn't true. Even in the Netherlands, where just about everyone over the age of 14 can communicate in English, the culture is significantly different.

Would it really be possible to tackle translations from Chinese without ever having been immersed in the culture? I'm sure some texts would be easy enough, just needing language skills, but surely there would be many others where you would fail to understand the significance of the message behind the words, particularly in marketing texts. Would university studies alone really give you enough knowledge of the culture? I don't know the answer as I'd been living in France for 7 years before I became a translator.

Specialisation is the best route to making money as a translator. Have you thought about combining French with Law or some other discipline?

I absolutely agree that that would be a good idea, probably a much better one than studying another language. It's fine to be an all-rounder, translating any and every text, if you work in a rare pair. But in common pairs, the non-specialist will always be at a disadvantage. Clients who want a legal translation will prefer translators who have degrees in law and who maybe have many years' experience as a lawyer using both languages; engineering texts will go to bilingual engineers; medical texts will go to those with a bilingual medical background... Remember that there are vast numbers of people nowadays who speak at least two languages fluently, and many of them would love to earn some money. The only way to make a good living in these common language pairs is to find a niche market where YOU are the specialist. A language with another discipline, international business, international tourism etc all make good foundations for those specialisations.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Specialisation 2 Oct 25, 2013

Specialisation is a topic that translators disagree about. In my experience, international tourism and business are just not specialisms, nor cosmetics, luxury goods etc. You can access all that information on the Internet. As far as I am concerned, translating specialisms are restricted to: the sciences (including maths), IT, any engineering degrees, medicine or related degrees and law, accountancy and insurance. These are the areas where you can get above market rates. If you are not interested in any of these areas, I would go for a second language.

Culture would probably be important with more exotic languages, but I would disagree with Sheila's point about culture in general. Here in Spain we will have all translated texts about flamenco dancing and bullfighting and some fleeting references to Spanish literature and philosophy, but even if we think we know, we look it up on the Internet anyway just to be sure. Anyway, this accounts for such a tiny amount of our work that it isn't really worth mentioning...

[Editado a las 2013-10-25 14:52 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:02
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I would agree that those things you mention aren't very important, Tatty. Oct 25, 2013

Tatty wrote:
Culture would probably be important with more exotic languages, but I would disagree with Sheila's point about culture in general. Here in Spain we will have all translated texts about flamenco dancing and bullfighting and some fleeting references to Spanish literature and philosophy, but even if we think we know, we look it up on the Internet anyway just to be sure. Anyway, this accounts for such a tiny amount of our work that it isn't really worth mentioning...

What I was referring to (and should have been clearer about) were the rather more intangible differences between cultures. For example, when I lived in the Netherlands, English people were often shocked at the bluntness of the Dutch. Actually, they were just stating facts, but the English aren't used to that - they want to be complimented, to speak in euphemisms about death, etc. That might well affect a translator's use of terminology. Another example, from my life in France, was the gradual discovery that the French use the word "respect" to mean something rather different to the Brits. We use the same word; sometimes you can simply transfer it between languages; but sometimes a translator needs to be aware of the different view behind the word. A dictionary won't help at all in either of those cases.

I haven't been in Spain long enough to really get to know the place (just 18 months), and anyway I'm finding the language difficult, but fortunately we don't have bullfighting in the Canaries.


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:02
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Bullfighting? Oct 25, 2013

Tatty wrote:

Here in Spain we will have all translated texts about flamenco dancing and bullfighting and some fleeting references to Spanish literature and philosophy...


I work from Catalan/Spanish > English I have NEVER translated anything to do with flamenco dancing, bullfighting, Spanish literature and philosophy. And I started out in 1980


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