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Talking up a storm

The American Translators Association held their 50th anniversary convention last weekend in New York. More than 2,200 interpreters and translators descended upon the city for three days of sessions and seminars given in at least 10 languages.

Former ATA President Marian Greenfield said the turnout was much higher than the organization had thought they would get, with a 50 percent increase in turnout compared to last year's. Greenfield said the increase speaks to the growth of the industry.

According to Greenfield, the industry is growing 11 percent per year.

The ATA is the largest group of translators in North America, supplying translators and interpreters to multiple industries, including the pharmaceutical, import-export, legal, financial and national security businesses.

Greenfield said that the government demand for translators in the counterterrorism sector contributes largely to the industries growth, but other factors, such as a cheap dollar, are driving the need for translators as well.

"A weak dollar means U.S. companies have increased selling their goods abroad," Greenfield said. "Companies that are selling their product outside their home country need website and product manual translations."

Translating and interpreting can be a lucrative field, with salaries from mid-to-high five figure incomes to six figure sums, Greenfield said.

Students interested in pursing a career in translating or interpreting will have to demonstrate a sufficient mastery of their native, source language as well as their target language.

"(Translators and interpreters) have to have a good general education and a broad knowledge base," Greenfield said. "They have to have to be able to translate and interpret into both their source language, usually English, and a foreign language, have excellent native language grammar skills and excellent reading in their target language, like Spanish."

Additionally, translators and interpreters have to specialize in certain areas, such as business or international relations. Greenfield said that students should not think that four years of studying a foreign language in high-school and one year in college is not enough to become an interpreter or translator.

The rise in demand for interpreters has also driven demand for interpreters in particular languages.

"Across the board, the industry is booming and any language will suit you well," Greenfield said. In particular, "all of the Arabic languages are very much in demand, along with Asian languages" she said.

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Requests for comment from the Whitehead School on the demand for foreign language skills and the increased demands for translators and interpreters were not returned.

Brenden Higashi can be reached at


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