According to the latest Census (2011), almost 4 million Australians, or more than 23 per cent of the population, speak a language other than English at home. Without quality translation and interpreting services, many of these people would not be able to do the things most of us take for granted, such as seeing a doctor, accessing government services, or simply going to the bank.
Many people have an idealised image of translators (who deal with written words) and interpreters (who work with spoken or signed languages). The popular image of an interpreter is of someone in a booth at the United Nations or at a global summit or conference.
In reality, though, most interpreting work occurs in in the community, at hospitals, government offices, schools and courtrooms. Not all interpreting is done face to face. Much of it in Australia is done over the phone, via video conference or other technology.
Similarly, the idealised image of a translator is of the literary translator, rendering great works of literature from one language into another. However, much of the work in Australia consists of the translation of marketing communications, government documents or official documents, such as birth or marriage certificates or documents proving identity.
There are currently more than 40,000 accredited translators and interpreters in Australia, with accreditations spanning 117 languages, though not all those accredited work in the profession.
Translators deal with the written word. They translate written text from one language to another.
Interpreters deal with the spoken word or signed languages. They interpret what each speaker is saying or signing into the other person’s language.
This depends on a number of factors, such as the demand for the particular language, your accreditation level and your skill.
Some language communities may be quite small, so there may not be much work. In others, a large number of accredited practitioners may already exist, which may mean greater competition and fewer opportunities.
The only way to find out if there’s demand for a particular language and, if so, at what accreditation level, is to do your research. For example, you could contact translating and interpreting agencies, or organisations that employ interpreters or translators.
This will depend on many things, such as the demand for the particular language, and your skills and experience. For some languages, there may not be much work.
If you are able to find full-time work, the Open Universities Career Guide indicates a salary range for translators and interpreters of between $36,000 and $75,000, with an average salary of $55,000.
If you run your own business, you will need to decide how much you wish to charge. You can get an idea of appropriate rates by doing a web search – some agencies publish their rates online.