If you’re looking for a way to turn learning Chinese into a career or side income stream, why not consider going into Chinese translation? Both translation services and interpretation need people who are native English speakers and who can also speak and write in Chinese fluently.
People learn Chinese for many different reasons and use their new language skills in many different ways. Some individuals will be moving to China in order to teach their native language but may want to learn Chinese in order to make their daily life easier, and to be able to enjoy life in China to the full. Others may be learning simply because Putonghua or Mandarin Chinese is one of the most common languages on Earth and they feel inspired to do so.
Whatever your reason for learning Chinese, once you have mastered the language to any degree of understanding, you can begin using your newfound language skills to build a means of supplementing your income or even a full career. The question then becomes: How do you find the best career choices for Chinese translators and interpreters?
Below we’ll cover the basics of Chinese translation and interpretation, what the career looks like and how you can break into the field.
Translation services versus interpretation – which do you need?
Many people use the terms translation and interpretation interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Translation services convert text from one language into another. Translation covers a wide variety of documents, including books, marketing messages, business presentations, technical documents, contracts, meeting minutes and more. If it is written down, it can be translated! Many businesses provide translation services that involve specialist expertise. Simply let them know what your Chinese translation requirements entail.
Interpretation deals with translating spoken language. This is often done in-person or over video/phone in real-time. Interpreters may translate during speeches, conversations between patients and doctors, business meetings or court proceedings, as a few examples.
Translation does not necessarily require any formal training, though a Chinese language degree can certainly help. It’s more important that you can prove you’re fluent in both English and Chinese, in this instance. Interestingly, some translation jobs do require a bachelor’s degree, but not always in a foreign language specifically.
Some types of Chinese translation or interpretation, such as court interpreting or medical interpreting, require you to have a certification. You may have to check with local regulations by searching terms like, “How to become a Chinese medical interpreter in [your area].”
Where Do Chinese Translation Professionals Work?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the US:
- 34% of interpreters and translators work in professional, scientific and technical services
- 21% are self-employed workers
- 18% work in educational services
- 8% work in hospitals
- 6% work in the government
Interpreters can be found in hospitals, courtrooms, detention facilities, meetings rooms, conference centres and schools. Conference interpreters and judiciary interpreters often travel frequently. Many now work remotely thanks to phone or video technology.
Translators may often work remotely and submit files online. Others work through translation companies.
Deadlines can be tight for translators, but interpreters can have the stress of needing to translate accurately in real-time. If you wish to go into interpretating, you have to be at a level of fluency where you can translate live conversation on the spot. While translators have the luxury of translation files they can reference, the tight deadlines and sometimes by-word pay structure still mean translators need to be fluent and organised enough to work quickly.
How to Become a Chinese Translator
Wondering how to become a Chinese translator? If translating or interpreting sounds like something you want to pursue as a career, there are a few ways to go about finding jobs in this field.
Like any career, it will help to have some type of experience under your belt to show employers – in this case, that means Chinese translation experience. In addition to language courses, you might think about volunteering your time as a translator or interpreter, taking an internship, getting a certification or joining a professional organisation. These all show potential employers or clients that you are serious about your translation services or interpreting career.
If you’re searching for these kinds of positions, check job sites like Indeed.com for Chinese translation or interpretation jobs. Or you can look up translation services or interpretation companies directly. You might also search for translation companies that work with remote or freelance translators. Some translators work freelance or start their own companies, working with clients directly by setting up a website or portfolio.
Chinese translation is a very flexible field that you can do on the side, turn into a full-time career or even turn into a business. As such, you might be surprised by just how far your new language skills can take you!
Ofer Tirosh is CEO of Tomedes, a language services provider specialising in Chinese translation and interpretation.