Whether it’s in a boardroom, on a computer screen, or on their block, Americans are more likely today to interact with people who speak a different language than ever before. The number of Americans who speak languages other than English is at an all-time high. And if you’re bilingual, you might have a leg up on one of the most important professions of tomorrow.
Translation and interpretation services is the fastest-growing industry in the country by job growth, according to a report released last week by the website CareerBuilder. According to the report (which collects data from 90 government sources), the industry is expected to add about 12,400 jobs between 2014 and 2019, or a 36 percent increase.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also predicts a 46 percent increase in translation job opportunities between 2012 and 2022—much higher than the 11 percent average growth for all careers. The only occupation the agency predicts will have a higher growth rate than translators and interpreters is home health care aides—expected to grow at a rate of 48 percent—which are also near the top on CareerBuilder’s list.
Two factors are powering the translation industry’s growth, Jiri Stejskal, a spokesperson for the American Translators Association, told Fusion: businesses expanding into new markets abroad and increasing immigration into the U.S.
Most translators and interpreters work on a freelance basis. The average pay is $45,430 per year, according to the BLS, but there’s a big difference between translating at a local senior center to whispering in President Obama’s ear during an overseas visit.
“Good translators can get six-digit salaries easily,” Stejskal said. “There’s a huge range.”
If you’re ready to start translating your cover letter, however, here’s a less encouraging statistic:
“I receive 25 to 50 resumes a day,” Tony Guerra, the director of interpretation services at CETRA, a translation company with offices around the world, told Fusion. In part, that’s because of the low barrier to entry. “Almost anyone who is bilingual could potentially have access to this as a job as a translator or interpreter,” Guerra said.
But Guerra noted that “being bilingual does not make you capable of being an interpreter or translator, just as having two hands does not make you a concert pianist.” There’s a lot of hard work and study that goes into the perfect translation.
While some translators and interpreters first go through a training program or get a degree, others start out without formal training. The best, Guerra said, are often immigrants who have experience in another field—medicine or engineering, for example—and then use the specialized vocabulary of their former profession for their clients.
The job has something for everyone: Translators generally work on texts—a role that’s more research-intensive and writing-based—and interpreters deal with simultaneous in-person translation at events or meetings, a job that’s more social and “more of a performance,” Guerra said.
Some might think that Google Translate and other digital translation services would make human translators irrelevant, especially as translation technology has made leaps and bounds in advances over the last few decades. But people in the industry say that machine translation tools are an opportunity, not a challenge.
“Technology is here to stay, and it’s going to become more and more prevalent,” Guerra said. “Google Translate has a role: it can provide a very rough and overall sense. But it does not understand or distinguish certain phrases.”
Guerra once saw a shoddy English to Spanish translation service read the phrase “take once a day” in directions for a medicine and assume “once” was already in Spanish. Once means 11, so the final translation suggested that the pill should be taken 11 times a day. (Luckily, a human reviewer prevented any overdoses.)
Translation can be a high-stakes job, especially if you’re working in diplomacy, criminal justice, or medicine. “Every word counts,” Guerra said.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.