These days everyone who has a knack for languages (or even those who don’t!) are being urged to learn ‘Chinese’. As amused as I am to hear people refer to a collection of at least 10 distinct and well-supported dialects as a single language, I can understand the sentiment – China is one of the fastest-growing economies and world powers, is modernizing at a breakneck pace, and is clearly where a lot of the action will be in coming years. Many of my friends with children ask me for my advice regarding learning Chinese in general and translation work in specific. So, I’ve collected here the benefits of my experience.
Becoming a Translator
There really isn’t one language in China. There are numerous dialects and they differ enough that you really have to study them. Very few people can become fluent in all of these dialects, of course; the most common strategy is to study as many as possible to some degree for familiarity, and then specialize in one or two. The choice of dialect concentration will be guided by your goals as a translator: The regions you’d like to work in and the industries you’d prefer to be involved with.
Although many very successful translators learned their language skills in school – and academic work is essential for true mastery of any language, I think – many of us augmented that study with immersion. There is no better way to get a ‘feel’ for a language. Living and breathing a language will prepare you for the demands and rigours of translation work. There are numerous graduate-level programs in China itself that you can apply to, combining your study of the language with immersion in the culture.
Working as a Translator
While many Chinese speak English reasonably well, there is still a demand for excellent for Chinese-to-English translation, especially at a very high level. Traditionally there was an attitude among Chinese businesses that imperfect English translations were ‘good enough’, resulting in fewer stigmas against electronic translation services, but this trend has changed in recent times. As China competes to become part of the modern Western world, perfect Chinese-to-English translations are increasingly in demand.
At a high enough level, there is also demand for ‘simultaneous’ interpretation, where a translator works in real-time translating speech. This is extremely difficult work and requires a great deal of separate training, but if you have the skills you can earn a very good living performing this sort of work. Many of the professors teaching Chinese in China are well-establish translators of this sort, usually with connections at the United Nations and similar organizations.
Overall, Chinese is a very rewarding language to study, and the country itself is a dynamic, adventurous place! I encourage anyone with the desire and basic skills to investigate a career in Chinese-to-English translation – it’s a great way to make a living.
This content was added by Philip Hicks on behalf of One Hour Translation, a professional translation firm that specializes in Chinese Translation Services. To know more please visit their website.
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