Myth: Everyone who works in the language services industry speaks another language.
Fact: While the ability to speak another language is beneficial for understanding how other languages work, it’s not a requirement for working in the translation industry. Yes, of course, translators and interpreters must be fluent in two or more languages, but certain in-house positions do not require knowledge of an additional language, although I have found it useful in the past. The most important thing to remember is that the rules of one language don’t apply to all other languages.
(From an insightful blog post of a translation agency titled “Common misconception about the translation Industry”).
If you want to sell legal services, you have to be a lawyer. If you want to make your clients money by trading stocks, you have to know something about how things work on the stock exchange. If you want to sell cars, you have to know quite a bit about the cars that you are selling and the psychology of potential buyers. At the very least you need to know how to drive a car.
But if you want to start a translation agency, or work for one, all you have to know is that “the rules of one language don’t apply to all other languages” (whatever that means). I did not make it up, a translation agency blogger came up with this pearl of wisdom. She found it useful in the past, but it’s not really that important to know foreign languages to sell them. Oh, but you do need to know that you have to buy low and sell high. And that the rules of one language don’t apply to all other languages (whatever that means).
That’s it. Now you’re good to go. You can start your own translation agency or work for one as a project coordinator. You don’t really have much education either? Are you a high school dropout? No problem. There are no dumb requirements for entry into the “translation industry field”. None whatsoever in each and every state in the United States of America. If you want to be a hairdresser or cosmetologist in California, for example, you have to have at least a 10th grade education and first spend thousands of hours as a trainee.
But translation agency project managers are supremely qualified to do what they do from day one. Even if they speak only one language. Even if they are high school dropouts.
The reason for this is simple: they are not the ones doing the work. The actual work is done by somebody else, cheap hired help called “translators”. Project managers just sort of organize everything and you don’t need to understand foreign languages for that!
You do have to know some things, though. For example, you have to know how to deal with translators and translation agency customers. But you don’t really have to know as much about dealing with people as your typical waitress or car rental agency representative must know to keep her or his job.
This is because you don’t really have to talk to translators much anyway. You mostly just send them e-mails. Say you have a translation “job” that needs to be “placed”. You go to your agency’s database, or if you don’t have one, there are many other databases of translators on the Internet, such as the Proz database or the ATA (American Translators Association) database. You find a bunch of translators in a given database who claim to be able to translate a given language in a given field, send each of them an e-mail, and whoever gets back to you with the lowest rate per word will get the job.
Once you have the text translated into English, you will have to “proofread” it. You can do it yourself if it is in English, but of course, you cannot really ascertain much about the translation because you don’t know the original language, so you may have to ask another translator to proofread it.
But remember, you can only do that if the original translator’s rate was really low and the proofreader who actually knows both languages, or says so, is charging next to nothing because your profit margin should be at least 50%.
If you don’t know foreign languages, you can’t know whether the translation really makes sense. But as long as you “know that the rules of one language don’t apply to all other languages”, you should be OK because the notion that “everyone who works in the translation speaks another language” is a myth.
Of course, although most translation agencies claim to be able to translate “all languages and all subjects”, there are translators and translation agencies who specialize in a certain language or several languages and in a given field. They probably know a little bit more about foreign languages and translation in general than that “the rules of one language don’t apply to all other languages” (whatever that means).
I think that buyers who buy their translation from such a translator or translation agency are much more likely to be happy with the end product, which tends to be quite expensive.
The way I see it, buying a translation from a monolingual salesman of a translation agency that translates “all languages and all subjects” is like buying a new car from a car salesman who not only does not know anything about cars, but cannot even drive.
There are probably not many car dealerships that would employ car salesmen who know nothing about cars and who don’t even have a driver’s license because people like that could not possibly understand what it is that their customers are looking for.
But you don’t have to speak another language if you want to work in the translation industry.
People often assume that, but it’s just one of the many myths and misconceptions about the translation industry.