What comes to mind when you imagine a glamorous career? Movie stars? High profile CEOs? Secret agents? Or perhaps a globe-trotting interpreter or translator? The last option may not have immediately come to mind for the readers here in the United States but there are places in the world where it would.
In China, the show “The Interpreter” in which a young Chinese girl trains to be a professional French interpreterhas already surpassed over 100 million viewers. The interpreter position portrayed in the show offers both the prestige and an access to the world which enthralls viewers all over China, some even admitting in a Slator interview that before viewing the show they dreamed of teaching English, but changed their goals due to the show. The cultural difference of how much value we place on linguistics is evident in this statement.
I’m not sure I know many people in the United States who dream of teaching another language. Ironically, speaking a foreign language has opened more doors, or at least the most exciting doors, for me, more than any other skill I have cultivated.
Understanding and communicating in another language really pushes one to understand that there is not just one way to express an idea or feeling and there is a poetry deeply rooted in each language that inadvertently shapes how we view life and society. To understand this would seem to be an admirable skill. However, the more I started researching different countries’ perspectives on translators, I uncovered a market as diverse as the world’s languages.
High Stakes Translators
The United Nations, one of the world’s most prestigious organizations, develops relations and communication between world nations, doing its best to generate peace and fairness amongst borders fostering extreme cultural differences. The U.N. carries out arguably one of the most important tasks on the planet, and it does so due to the help of numerous interpreters working in multiple languages. Working alongside world leaders, the life of a U.N. interpreter/translator is not solely glamorous but also comes with high stakes. Their interpretations of U.N. conversations dictate how each speaker is perceived and shape how world politics unfold. Idioms, the meaning of vocal inflections, as well as numerous other language nuances must be dissected and translated so they may be understood in their originally intended meaning. One could argue world communication and hence the spokes of modern international politics are largely kept running by interpreters and translators.
Big Industry Translators
The world is getting smaller each day with internet information sharing, social media connection and global markets expanding. Every market from fashion to medicine to technology to, well you name it, is filled with companies selling products and services to various countries and regions. Marketing slogans don’t work the same in Japan as they do in India, so the need for translors has increased on many fronts. If China’s show “The Interpreter” was recreated here, showcasing professionals in top tier companies working to translate ideas and products across borders, would the ratings be high? I’d definitely watch.
A translation career may be currently underrated by many in the U.S. and by Hollywood (although they did make ‘The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman), but as the world grows smaller each day I believe we may see more glamour tied to the concept of a translation career. Perhaps we will even have a show like China’s “The Interpreter” one day soon. However, after researching for this article I did find one section of the translation industry that I wanted to bring to light, if only to create awareness and promote a respect greatly needed by one unique part of the translation community…
Translators Between Borders
Outside of the U.N. there are other political translation jobs that are extremely high risk, but are perhaps the least glamorous and require the most courage. During each war, many people are needed behind or on enemy lines to help foreign military forces communicate with local people.
For example, when the United States declared war on Afghanistan, numerous people were called upon to help the U.S. troops communicate on the battlefield. Translators based in the United States were mainly called upon to assist with administration roles, given visas which allowed them to travel freely between war-torn countries, the U.S., or wherever they were most needed. However, many local people who lived on what had become the battlefield were also recruited to help the U.S. military translate.
Many English-speaking locals from war torn countries were promised protection and visas in exchange for their cooperation. These translators usually accompanied troops daily into the most extreme situations, sometimes giving up family ties because they were considered traitors to their own people.
Unfortunately, as reported by Vice, the same civilians who risked their lives daily to assist the U.S. in what they hoped would be an effort to rebuild their country, were later denied their U.S. visa or were placed in a bureaucratic visa process limbo. Also, many of the translators who had been granted visas to travel freely between the war torn countries and the U.S. to translate, were green card holders and have recently been reported by the NY Times to be battling the travel ban restrictions imposed in 2017. Hopefully we can all keep them and those like them in mind for the future, as their jobs deserve some of the most respect of any type of translator.
High Value Translators
As with any career, there are pros and cons, but despite whether it be a translator for a school, in a corporate office, between country leaders, or between country lines, no one can dispute that the role of a translator is infinitely valuable. The value translators contribute to society is seemingly invisible at times but always present. Perhaps one day more societies will shine the spotlight on this value but regardless, the amount of good translators help generate in the world, will always be inherently glamorous.
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