Why Translation and Interpretation are Growing as Home-Based Business

The global pandemic has changed society as we know it. Travel and face-to-face meetings are curtailed. Conferences and tradeshows are cancelled. But the world remains interconnected by the Internet, and the best hope for earning income for individuals and businesses comes from working online. Thinking globally and acting locally applies here. Language services which localize communication are increasingly important in keeping the wheels of commerce spinning.

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The global language services market, like many others, took a hit from the coronavirus / Covid-19 crisis, especially in the first few months of widespread lockdowns. Two mainstay specialties of language services are translation and interpretation. It soon emerged that online interpretation and translation services solve face-to-face difficulties facing many professions and industries. You can take advantage of this market need to build a home-based business.

Coming to Terms: The Differences between Interpretation and Translation

Although translation and interpretation have much in common, converting from one language to another, they have significant differences. Translation deals with written documents while interpretation deals with spoken communication. Translators adapt textual documents from a source language to a target language. Interpreters adapt speech.

The way these two professions are carried out also differ fundamentally. Translation can take place anywhere, asynchronously, whereas interpretation is performed at the same time as the speech is taking place. There is simultaneous interpretation, where the interpreter is rendering speech in one language so that it may be understood by listeners in another language. Or sequential interpreters, where the speaker and interpreter take turns.

This distinction is important when looking for suitable work you can do from home. Some bilingual people are naturally gifted with spoken words, while others are more comfortable working with written texts.  Interpretation is more pressurized: you need to think, and interpret, “on your feet” – even if you are listening and speaking via webcam from your kitchen table.  Translation, on the other hand, can be done more leisurely, in your own time, although tight deadlines can add stress.

Translation vs. Interpretation Services: Where Can You Make the Most Money?

There are many bilingual people in the world, and therefore there is a large supply of potential translators and interpreters. Some language pairs – like Spanish to English or English to Spanish – are common, almost commodities.

Happily for translators and interpreters, there is also a high demand for linguists who can translate or interpret between the two, in one direction or the other. Other language pairs are rarer or more in-demand in certain industries: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, the average annual salary is just shy of $50,000, but that doesn’t factor in freelance potential as well as variations between locations.

The biggest factor affecting what you can charge is specialization in a field. Knowledge of medicine or law or engineering disciplines enables you to command the professional jargon. This can be worth a bump of 15-25 % in the rates that you charge, both for translation and interpretation. Medical and legal linguists are in high demand these days.

Another factor affecting compensation is certification. Translation and interpretation are not highly regulated professions. You can do either without a diploma or a certificate. However, in head to head competition, these can give you a competitive edge and pursue more lucrative opportunities. Government and academic jobs are likely to have such requirements, with rates often set relatively high by tender.

What are the rates for translation and interpretation?  Taking the above factors into account, native English speakers in either translation or interpretation can expect hourly rates in the range $30-$90, according to JobMonkey. Specialization, “rare” language competence, certification and seniority can elevate that baseline. After 5 or 10 years of experience, rates may be double or more what a novice would command.

Bear in mind that translation tends to be measured according to the words in the source document, while interpretation is measured by the hour. So an efficient translator has more flexibility in terms of earning potential: the faster you work, the more you make. Interpreters are limited by the clock, often measured according to an event or recording duration.

When speaking of recording, it’s worth noting an additional language services specialization: transcription. This is the process of converting audio or video material into text transcripts, with or without translation. Those who perform this service, called transcribers or transcriptionists, usually make less than translators or interpreters, usually in the $10-15/hour range. But those skilled at subtitling video recordings can command up to $12 per minute of recorded video.

How Do You Break into the Business or Translating or Interpreting from Home?

The Covid-19 crisis has moved many on-site translation and interpretation jobs online. For social distancing reasons, it is impossible or undesirable for a language professional to be physically present in a hospital. In the past, an interpreter would need to be present, often as a legal requirement, when there was communication between a health professional and a patient who was not proficient in the dominant language. In the United States at least, the right to understand is protected by the federal Civil Rights Act Title IV.

As a result, for decades businesses have arisen to provide Over the Phone (OPI) and, more recently, Video Remote Interpretation (VRI). Each time interpretation is required, a health care provider will call an OPI or VRI service provider, which will in turn connect to an interpreter in the required language pair.

If you have the skills, you could qualify as one of those remote interpreters, sitting at home and bridging the language gap between doctors and patients or between business people speaking different languages. Instead of being in the same room, you’ll be in a videoconferencing window.

Translators have it easier. They don’t need a webcam and microphone. A good way to start is by signing up for one of the many freelance marketplaces. Upwork, Freelancer.com and Fiverr all have a generous supply of language professionals, but they are relatively easy – and free! – to set up an account.

There are also translation-specific marketplaces, but they tend to be harder for newcomers. You create a profile, list your language specialties and skills, and set your rates.  A good tip is to start low till you have good reviews and ratings. From there you may well be discovered and recruited by translation agencies or VRI or OPI companies.  Good luck!


Interesting related article: “Choosing a good translation service.”