Most translation professionals enjoy learning new languages, but if you’re planning to do so to increase earnings, you have to make sure it’s worth it.
Most of us in the language translation business got here through a combination of factors that certainly included a love of language and an enjoyment and curiosity about other languages aside from our native tongue. I’d be hard pressed to think of a fellow translation worker who doesn’t love language the same way some carpenters love working with wood and other materials, or an artist loves working with clay or paint. Most of us have long histories of passionate self-learning when it comes to languages and words in general.
When you become a professional, of course, you have to make choices based not only on your passions but based on your bottom line – you have to perform a cost-benefit analysis on the way you spend your time. For a translator, the question of learning a new language (a third language, or more!) has to come with a reasonable answer as to whether it makes sense for you.
Passion Trumps All
Don’t get me wrong – if you just enjoy studying and learning other languages, and do so on your personal time, that’s up to you. And it is encouraged!
The scenario discussed here is if you’re considering adding a third language to your repertoire for professional purposes. If you want to learn a new language in order to expand your professional offerings, that’s something you have to analyse. If you’re doing it because you can’t think of a better way to spend your free time, that’s something else entirely.
Keep in mind: If you’re doing it for professional reasons, you’ll have to achieve a high level of fluency for it to be workable.
The Cost-Benefit Analysis
The first thing to consider when thinking about learning a new language is whether or not there is a market for that language pairing. Keep in mind that for most professional assignments, your clients will want you to be a native speaker in one of the languages paired; for example, if your native language is English and you’re thinking of learning Romanian, you should start off by determining how much work you might be able to get in an English/Romanian pairing.
Next, you’ll have to consider the time required to learn the new language and whether or not it will reduce your earning potential (it probably will); time spent studying, practising, or attending classes is by default time you’re earning any money.
Finally, project forward how much more money you might earn when you’ve reached fluency and can start working in the new pairing. At some point, you should be able to predict earning back your investment, and your overall earnings should be higher in general. Since you’re just a single person, this has a pretty hard limit; you can only work so many hours in a day.
We all like to learn new things and expand our skills, but when you’re in business for yourself you have to consider the cost-benefit ratio.