Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
Language companies provide a range of services, and are looking for new college graduates for positions in language translation, interpretation, teaching, and testing. How can you help prepare students for jobs in this growing industry?
“Generally speaking, we work behind the scenes, so the outside world doesn't typically see our presence,” says Kathleen Diamond, principal consultant with Kathleen Diamond and Co., and board member of the Association of Language Companies (ALC). “Because of this, we call ourselves the ‘invisible industry.’ Colleges ask, ‘How can we talk to our students about the language industry when we never knew it existed?’”
The ALC—a national trade association representing businesses that provide language services—is working to bring visibility to the industry. The ALC recently formed a task force that is charged with increasing its connections, relationships, and shared learning between the professional and academic sides of the language services supply chain.
This effort starts with education. Diamond says that globalization has led to a steady increase in the demand for language services in recent years. The biggest buyers of these services domestically are the United States government (“Almost every agency now works multilingually”) and the healthcare industry (“Healthcare is no longer delivered in just one language”). There is also high demand in the retail, customer service, and financial sectors, to name a few.
“Right now, there is a daily need for services in 30 to 50 languages, which is challenging,” Diamond notes. “The top 10 languages are predictable, but that next tier changes as populations change. At the moment, you might see a high demand for Cantonese, but that need might change to Polish or Wolof, for example.”
She says the two large areas in the language services industry are interpreting and translating, adding that there is a difference between an interpreter and a translator.
“Simply put, the translator works with the written word, text, documents, and has time to reflect and research, and use dictionaries and other resources,” Diamond explains. “On the other hand, the interpreter works in the verbal arena where oral skills are important. These two professions are dramatically different as a translator is reflective and does research, whereas an interpreter works in the moment.”
By separating these two skills, she notes, the opportunities for skill-based instruction, training, and education become evident.
“However, this is an area that colleges and universities haven't stepped into yet,” Diamond says. “Many colleges and universities still see the language major as someone who is going into literature or teaching, with traditional uses of language.”
She points out that the college hiring pipelines of many of the larger language companies are curently dry, leading some companies to take on the training function themselves.
“For example, there's an increased demand for Korean, so a company might see a student who speaks Korean and English, and invest in training her,” Diamond says. “But doing so takes time, and it also takes the language company away from its normal focus.”
College students looking to enter the language industry need a broad set of skills, in addition to language skills.
“The language is a given,” Diamond explains. “The individual who works for a language company has to be proficient and fluent in one, two, three, or more languages. In addition, an interpreter has to manage his or her voice and work on their body language, among other skills. Individuals going into language testing need a written proficiency, typing skills, test-taking skills, strong cognitive ability, and more. Translators and interpreters need to work with concordance, making sure things don’t just look the same or sound the same, but have the same meaning. That requires a great deal of specialized instruction.”
Diamond suggests career services practitioners help their students explore and prepare for careers in the language industry by:
- Investigating opportunities—They should keep up with trends and developments within the language industry, and help students understand the myriad career paths and opportunities available in areas such as those in operations, training, human resources, IT support, and many more. Contacting alumi or employers in the industry to share insight can be a valuable step.
- Sharing what they learn—Career services practitioners can serve as a resource for others on campus intrested in learning about opportunities in the language services industry. For example, they can work with student groups, colleges, faculty, and others to raise awareness.
- Preparing students to demonstrate their skills—They should make sure candidates for positions in the language industry know that they will have to take tests based on the language service in which they are interested, and help them prepare for the specific tests.
- Having students seek out certifications—For example, there is a national certification for interpreters in healthcare, which candidates can attain on their own and bring to the organization or agency. Although it’s a lengthy process to secure, certifications can significantly boost a student’s candidacy.