Translation is a profession that requires as much training and hard work as any other, but the lack of standard certifications and willingness to accept low wages has damaged the overall reputation of translation as a profession.
All industries and professions have their struggles with the concept of what the term ‘professional’ means to both the clients it serves and the workers who perform the labour. This usually comes in the form of a conflict between the Easy Way and the Hard Way, and of course the ancient conflict of what wages the workers demand and the wages the clients are willing to pay.
The first step towards gaining a higher standard of living from your work is to declare yourself a professional, bolstered by your educational and training standards. In the translation industry, we have an ongoing problem when it comes to being regarded as and paid as professionals – in fact, the struggle to be regarded as true professionals continues to this day, a situation that doesn’t afflict any of the other industries or professions we intersect with every day. The simple fact is, translation is sometimes given short shrift in the world, and at least half of this perception is the fault of translators themselves.
Problem One: Lack of Consistent Standards
At least half the problem of professional perception for translation professionals is an utter lack of any sort of certification. Yes, there are university courses and degrees, and yes, there are certifications offered by organisations. The problem is, no one insists on them. Anyone who happens to speak two languages fluently can offer their services for translation – and at a certain, casual level they probably have all the necessary skills. In fact, some of them may even perform at a very high level, though for the most part ‛amateur’ translators usually hit the glass ceiling pretty quickly, especially when it comes to technical and legal documents.
As long as companies are able to hire people calling themselves ‘translators’ who have absolutely zero in terms of training, the overall reputation of our industry will suffer, because it will seem like translation workers are, in fact, always amateurs working part time instead of highly-trained professionals. I have nothing against people leveraging their existing skill sets to make a living, but a simple standard, international certification process would solve much of this perception problem.
Problem Two: Undervaluing Our Own Work
The second problem is that even translators who have considerable training and experience often charge ludicrously low fees for their services. While I understand the freelance mentality that low-paying work is better than nothing, the fact that any company can find translation professionals who will accept whatever budget they’ve graciously decided to pay continues to reinforce the idea that translation work is duffer territory that isn’t worth very much.
If we as an industry want to be regarded as professionals, we have to set some minimum rates that all of our fellow translators will adhere to and insist upon. But if companies can go online and find newly-minted translators willing to work for peanuts, it reduces that sheen of professionalism and value that we work so hard to achieve.
Image courtesy arabictranslationexperts.com