Fluency in a foreign language is hard to find. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the job of interpreters and translators is one of the 15 fastest growing jobs in the United States and that between 2010 and 2020, there will be more than 25,000 jobs that will be open for translators (written word) and interpreters (spoken word). This is a 42% growth that is only representative of the public field and not the military, which has been increasing its recruitment of people with this type of special skills. Almost each week, new job postings for people that are bilingual can be seen.
Those mentioned above are examples of mainstream job opportunities. The intelligence community is one with the highest demands, particularly for languages spoken in Africa and the Middle East. Interpreters and translators that specialize in scientific or technical knowledge, medical and legal are also highly needed. Hospitals, courts, schools and Fortune 500 companies are just some of the institutions that are always in need of professional translators and interpreters.
The pay for translators and interpreters is very good. They can even work on a freelance basis. Commanding the highest fees are Pashto, Farsi and Arabic for government jobs while the private sector are looking for people fluent in Asian and Scandinavian languages. Interpreters get paid by the hour while translators are paid per word. Rates are higher for obscure languages.
Translation and interpretation is not a speculative business endeavor. It is a solid one. Technology will not obliterate the demand for human translators and interpreters. Even the presence of online translators has not dented the demand. For one thing, the paid work translators and interpreters do deals with sensitive materials, such as proprietary and confidential information and it is highly unlikely that companies will entrust them to online translation services. Two, those online services are only free for short phrases and sentences and not for large scale work. Three, those online services cannot be fully trusted (as yet) to provide the best translation that a professional and certified human translator can do.
The technology to create an automatic translator is still in the far future. It is not likely to be available now. Why? There are about 6,000 to 7,000 languages existing today and most of these do not have a writing system and some are only sign languages. A language translation tool must be in pair, therefore if French is to be translated, it has to be paired with about 6,999 other languages. Think of the massive work to be done, pairing all these languages with each other, which will make one realize that a universal translator will not be a reality now or even in the distant future. While we have to accept that there are projects underway, some of which are quite promising, the scope of the applications is still very limited. It is not yet the time for human translators and interpreters to be replaced by technology.
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