Need a Job? What Languages Do You Speak?

As the number of people who speak one of 200-plus languages other than English at home increases in this country, so do the job opportunities for interpreters and translators. The worldwide market for language access services was estimated at $26.3 billion in 2010, according to a recent article in the Philadelphia Enquirer. Projections for 2013 are as high as $38.1 billion.

The burgeoning Hispanic population is certainly part of the story. A report out in March from the Pew Hispanic Center shows the number of Hispanics counted in the 2010 Census was much larger than expected in most states (out of 33 tallied). Hispanics accounted for the majority (58 percent) of population growth over the decade in those states. The combined census total of 38.7 million Hispanics in those states was higher by 590,000 people (or 1.5 percent) than the bureau's own estimates.

But although Spanish is clearly the most pressing need, that's just part of the opportunity for interpreters and translators. Demand is growing for Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Russian. Other top languages are Japanese, Arabic, Haitian Creole, French and Portuguese. There are dozens of others. The largest increase is actually Vietnamese – up an extraordinary 511 percent over the past 30 years, as nearly one in five legal U.S. residents already speak a language other than English at home. That's more than 60 million people.

In California alone, 6.7 million or 20 percent are limited-English proficient (LEP), and 14.2 million or 42.3 percent prefer to speak a language other than English. This trend is repeated across the nation. While the country's population has grown 34 percent since 1980, the percentage of non-English speakers has expanded by 140 percent, according to the Census Bureau. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the language access industry will continue to grow at a rate substantially higher than many other occupations. Most estimates are about 20 percent growth annually.

Interpreters and translators are increasingly critical for any number of industries to conduct their day-to-day business. Companies often must sell their services to consumers who don't speak English well (or at all), and they must sign contracts with vendors and partners in a variety of languages. For the non-English speakers themselves, the need for language access can be life threatening, as social services struggle to keep up with the ongoing demographic shifts. Interpretations for 911 emergency services and the court systems are key. The No. 1 most pressing need though is in the health care industry. Everyone gets sick. Try explaining what hurts if you don't speak the language.

Opportunities for interpreters and translators include:

Over-the-phone interpretation - Interpret for clients in the medical industry, court system and numerous other industries over the phone.

Document Translation - Translate written English forms, signage, agreements, applications and any other document into the language the businesses customers will understand.

On-site Interpretation – This can be key in medical situations when a face-to-face interpreter is needed because the information is too sensitive or likely to be misunderstood.

Video Interpreter Service - Communicate with the deaf using the latest video technology. Hospitals are starting to use video for Hispanic patients as well.

Almost any industry you can name has a current need for language access. As noted in the book "How To Start Your Own Language Translation & Interpreter Business" by Salvador Soto, markets include advertising agencies, banks, law offices, political firms, small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing companies, government offices, trade associations, non-profit agencies, hotels, food and beverage companies, defense and aerospace plants, consulting firms, insurance companies, debt collectors, cell phone companies, tourist attractions, convention centers and universities.

Translators can earn as much as $60,000 a year. Interpreters average $30,000 to $35,000, with some earning as much as $100,000. The salaries vary depending on where you live (urban areas pay the most), rates from competitors, experience and training such as a language degree or certification.

The certification movement is helping boost salaries even more. There are numerous state court interpreter certifications, a federal court certification, a number of state health care certifications, general certifications and many others. This past December Oregon became the first state in the nation to officially adopt and endorse certification through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters.

The requirements to be an interpreter are different depending on the language access company, according to the report "The Interpreting Marketplace" from Common Sense Advisory. Some require training in interpreting skills (61.1 percent), training in ethics (54.0 percent), language proficiency testing (53.6 percent), subject-specific terminology training (52.7 percent) and training in standards of practice (51.7 percent).

With so many varying demands, certification exams assure the same set of standards, help professionalize the industry, provide recognition and third-party validation for the interpreters. The tests also help interpreters learn where their abilities fall short so they can get better. Interpreters must be well versed in the terminology of the specific industry they support (health care, court systems, law enforcement, etc.) in order to ensure safety and help clients be compliant with new laws and guidelines.

The end result is even more opportunity for skilled interpreters and translators.

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