So you know a lot of languages and want to monetize your skill…that’s great! Now it’s time to figure out language profitability. That is, what languages will net you the most when it comes to translation jobs?
Figuring out what language will net you the highest paying translation jobs is difficult. Why? There are a lot of variables involved in determining language profitability.
One variable is location. If you live in Saudi Arabia, the most profitable translation jobs are probably not the same ones as in the USA. Location matters, both in terms of which languages and in which sectors are most highly prized. Therefore, it’s hard to pinpoint which languages are the most profitable across the board.
For the sake of this article, let’s say you live in a certain unnamed US city. What languages will make you the most money when it comes to translation work?
Japan currently has a lot of trade deals with regards to technology and products coming in and out of the USA. In fact, the United States and Japan partner on many, many things. Therefore, companies from both countries are always looking for translators that can help them with all types of communications.
The good news is that while there is a high demand for Japanese translators, the competition is relatively low due to the complexity of the language. Therefore, Japan has a high language profitability in the USA.
There’s a little more competition when it comes to Chinese translation jobs, mostly due to the fact that it’s the most widely spoken language in the world. Many Chinese citizens often snag these jobs because they learn another language as their second language. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other translators in this market.
Also like Japan, China has a lot of reason to need English-to-Chinese translations and vice versa. There’s a lot of demand, quite a bit of competition and a lot of money involved.
German is considered to be a rare language in the United States. Despite there being a substantial German population within many states, it’s not a commonly spoken language. If you walk into a building and ask if anyone speaks German, there’s likely to be a low positive response. Especially compared to other languages like French or Spanish.
This is a circumstance in which there’s a large population with little outside fluency. Meaning, many companies are willing to pay top-dollar for German translators that can help sell products and services to an untapped market.
Swedish (and Other Nordic Languages)
Swedish, as well as other languages that exist in the Nordic region, is also gaining popularity among translators. Why? Because jobs dealing with Nordic languages pay well. The Nordic countries are quickly bringing in more and more Western influences to their major cities, which means they have to acclimate to Western languages.
The good thing about learning a language like Swedish is trans-language fluency. If you know Swedish, you’re more than halfway there to learning Norwegian and Danish. Learning any one of these languages and studying the other two lightly can net you three potential translation pools.
Finally, countries in the Middle East are also looking to communicate more and more with countries that speak English. Larger companies are already on top of this, especially if they’re in the oil industry. Now, the little guys are looking to cash in on business deals with companies in the United States, too. Arabic isn’t a language commonly learned in the United States unless you’re specifically looking for work in the Middle East.
Remember that the above example is for the USA, and language profitability depends on your location. Therefore, if you live in England, the languages that will net you the most may be different. Be sure to ask your fellow translators working in similar locations or in similar sectors for advice. What languages have netted them the highest paying translation jobs?
One of the surprises we all encounter as we travel is the realization of how widespread English has become. Sometimes I have entertained myself walking through the markets and browsing the stalls that attempt to lure me in to shop. They are using what they consider to be convincing English:
- the “Pet Chop” that was just down the street from my hotel in the Dominican Republic
- the children’s t-shirt that said “Crap Your Hands” in a southeast Asian market
- the newsletter from my local Spanish wine shop that offers “special prices to natural persons.”
It may make me laugh, but it also causes me to recognize something very important about doing business in English. English is evolving and spreading around the globe. The English I know and consider to be commonplace is no longer the only kind of English out there.
(and which they unfortunately hear way too often)
Here are some of the comments I have heard firsthand from potential customers, over my many years working in the field of translation. I think that all translators have heard these at some point …
1 – You say you’re a translator and you can only speak three languages???
Or: You’re a translator and you don’t know how to say “Best Regards” in Chinese?
2 – I have about 45 pages to get a rush translation on by tomorrow, can you give me a discount?
3 – The document I have enclosed is a PDF created with InDesign. I absolutely need the formatting to be maintained.
4 – US$ 300,00 to translate 3000 words ? I am not prepared to pay that much. My nephew studied one month in France, he can handle this translation perfectly well for US$ 50,00 .
5 – You are a thief! I know a translator and he only gets a few cents per word, and you want US$ 400 to translate 5000 words !!!
6 – My secretary is bilingual and read your translation into Spanish. She thought it was absolutely terrible.
7 – Can you translate “Revenge is a dish best served cold” into one single Chinese character? It’s for a tattoo…
8 – I need my website www.domain.com translated. Part of it is Flash and the remaining part is dynamic content managed via a database. Please look at the website and send me a detailed quote.
9 – What does “XXX” mean (word taken out of context)? If you are a real translator, you should know!
10 – What did you study in order to become a translator? Literature?
Or: Translation isn’t a real job.
Or the ever popular: You spend your life sitting at home, working at your computer in your pajamas, and you earn your living doing that?
11 – The document to be translated is confidential and I can’t send it to you, but I need to know how much you are going to charge for it to be translated!
12 – Why are you charging so much when there are free software programs that do machine translations?
13 – Why do you need dictionaries? Aren’t you a professional translator?
14 – There’s no way that could take so long. This text is only about 20 pages long and that shouldn’t take you any more than two days to translate!
15 – Please provide me with a rush translation of this 10 page contract. My customer is waiting in my office to get the document in his language.
We’ve all heard (or said) it: “Italian sounds so romantic!” – “French is the most beautiful language in the world!” – “German sounds ugly” etc. Nobody summed it up quite as succinctly as Roman emperor Charles V when he declared: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”
But why is it that certain languages sound poetic and melodious while others grate on our nerves?
At The Guardian, Matthew Jenkin explains that sociolinguistic have so far not been able to find any intrinsic reason that certain languages should be objectively “more beautiful” than others. Instead, a language’s attractiveness seems to depend entirely on our own background.
For instance, the attractiveness of a language depends on the perceived value of speaking it: Chinese is increasingly considered valuable because of that country’s economic rise. Our subjective impressions of a country or region also influences what we think of the language spoken there: if hearing Italian puts us in the mind of the canals of Venice or sunsets in Tuscany, the language will automatically seem more “beautiful” to us.
The closeness of a language’s sounds to one’s own mother tongue also influences their impression of it. Consonant clusters (as they are common in German) or the tonal distinctions used in Thai and Mandarin will sound unnatural and harsh to a native English speaker.
“There hasn’t been any research that has directly exploited the attractiveness of a language and didn’t eventually tie it back to the social evaluation of the speaking community,” Dr. Vineeta Chand of the University of Essex says in the Guardian. In other words: it’s all subjective.
And if you want an idea what your language sounds like to someone who doesn’t understand it, listen to this amazing video of a woman imitating a dozen languages without actually saying anything…
Now that the 2014 FIFA World Cup is underway, one persistent language question rears its ugly head yet again: what is the proper English word for that “global round-ball game” being played by teams from 32 countries in Brazil until July 13? Is it “football” or “soccer”?
The Atlantic reports that according to sports economist Stefan Syzmanski of the University of Michigan, the term “soccer” is not an American invention. Rather, it has its origin in England and was imported to the US.
According to Syzmanski, the history of the word begins in 1863, when young men met in an English pub to standardize the rules for the sport. Two divergent variants of the game were developed, one known as “Rugby Football” or “‘rugger”, the other as “Association Football”, or “‘soccer” for short.
By 1905, the word had made its way into American English, as a letter to the editor of the New York Times shows. “In the first place, there is no such word [as socker],” the angry letter from one Francis Tabor states, “and in the second place, it is an exceedingly ugly and undignified one.”
The curious thing: the more popular “soccer” became in the U.S., the less the English wanted to use it. As a map at The Atlantic shows, the word is now generally used in countries that have another sport called “football.”
We’ll leave you with John Cleese, who explains it in the most basic terms: “It is a game played with a ball that is struck with the foot. Hence: foot-ball. Are you following this, America? The clue is in the title. It is not that difficult.”
Children who grow up with two languages gain cognitive advantages beyond just being bilingual — that much has been known for some time. Now, Annals of Neurology, the journal of the American Neurological Association, has published findings that show that acquiring a second language, even as an adult, benefits the brain.
Using data from a group known as the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, the study shows that people who spoke two or more languages had “significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline.” The strongest effects were observed in overall intelligence and reading.