Dale Eggett, who will soon finish a master's degree, will go right to work, having had no problem landing a job. • "I did have multiple, multiple job offers," said Eggett, whose Spanish and computer skills put him in the forefront of a burgeoning field. The global marketplace for interpreting, translating and other language services was estimated at $26.3 billion in 2010 and is projected to reach $38.1 billion by 2013.
Most people are familiar with translators, who deal with the written word. Interpreters handle oral communication in government agencies, courtrooms, doctors' offices and businesses.
But Eggett, 28, of California, who will graduate from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, will be paid $50,000 a year to work in a relatively new discipline: localization management, which provides one of the best chances for steady employment in language services.
Localization combines language expertise with computer savvy. "I'm kind of behind the scenes, making the job easier for translators," Eggett said. When a website needs to be translated, it's Eggett's job to strip out the coding and send the translator only what needs to be translated.
Like many other sectors, language services face unique challenges, said Jiri Stejskal, president of Cetra Language Solutions in Elkins Park, Pa., a company that supplies translators, interpreters and localization experts to a range of clients.
One issue is machine translation. "It's not quite there yet," Stejskal said. He pulled out a screen grab of a Philadelphia government website that used the journalism term "lead story" on its home page. In Spanish, it morphed into a "story about metal."
But a more fundamental and ongoing struggle is to educate employers about the difference between being simply bilingual and truly qualified.
Top interpreters need to hear what is said and speak it in another language simultaneously. That's the U.N. gold standard, and high proficiency can merit a six-figure income.
"Knowing how to cook doesn't make you a chef," Stejskal said.
Translators typically get paid by the word. Anne Connor, president of the Delaware Valley Translators Association, loves if the client pays by the Spanish word. Spanish uses more words than English to convey the same idea. Freelance translators can earn $60,000 a year, according to the latest available survey, taken in 2006.
Interpreters can earn considerably less, mainly because they are paid by the hour and jobs may come infrequently. The best chance to earn the most is to work in a highly technical field, or to be certified in a language in demand, such as Arabic.