I've just received the following message, and since I think that it might be of interest for other aspiring translators, I'm positing here my answers to this person who is considering translation (or interpretation) as a future profession:
I'm interested in interpretation and translation. I was looking on your website and wondered if you could take a few moments to answer some questions:
Q. How realistic is it to expect to make a living with interpretation/translation?
A. Perfectly realistic. I've been working full time in translation since 1985 (so, 27 years now - how time flies!). My wife also, after a career as an engineer, switched to translation and has been a full time translation for the past fourteen years. I know many people with successful full-time careers as translators or interpreters. Bear in mind, though, that my view may be skewed, as I tend to associate mostly with other translators, and I might have lost track of other people who started out as translators (or interpreters), but then abandoned the field.
Q. Is it difficult to find full time employment in either field?
A. Yes. Most translators who work as translators (or interpreters who work as interpreters), do so as freelancers. There still are, however, some companies who have a translation department with staff translators, and of course many translators and interpreters are employed by international organizations, most notably the European Union (and other European organizations).
Q. Do opportunities and pay increase with education (such as obtaining a Masters or PhD) in either field?
A. Yes, though it also depends on which subject the Master or PhD was earned in. Bear in mind that a PhD is mostly useful if you are pursuing an academic career.
Q. Would combining a degree in interpretation/translation with a major in another program be beneficial to my success?
A. It certainly would - a key to success in translation (and interpretation) is knowing what you are translating
Q. If you could go back in time, would you still go into interpretation/translation?
A. Sure: it's been a very rewarding career.
Q. Would you recommend this field to someone just starting out?
A. Yes... but with two provisos:
- Translation (and allied fields) are increasingly dependent on technology (computer assisted translation tools, etc.). This career is no longer suitable for technophobes (if it ever was).
- Since most work opportunities are as freelancers (and I don't see this changing any time soon, if at all), you need to be the kind of person who is able to work on your own. You also need to learn what "being in business" really entails (but see my book recommendations below).
Q. Is there any other information that you think a prospective student should know about the fields?
A. I can highly recommend three books, to start with: How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, by Corinne McKay, The Entrepreneurial Linguist, by Judy and Dagmar Jenner, and The Prosperous Translator, by Chris Durban.
A final consideration, perhaps unrelated to your questions: many people seem to think this is a career suitable for part-timers. I strongly believe that, in most language combinations, this is definitely not so – becoming a good translator or interpreter requires a very significant investment in time and study.