BITS and Pieces

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Making a career in foreign languages

If I have realized one thing in my years of counseling, it is this: while we Indians are greatly fascinated by all things “foreign”, more often than not, this fascination is replaced by a fear of the unknown when it comes to foreign languages. But like most acquirable skills, learning and mastering (and going further, making a career out of) foreign languages is challenging but not impossible. It takes years of dedication and consistent practice.

While formal education is both available and required for a career in foreign languages, self learning is an important aspect for aspiring language professionals. Along with the career specific training (that has been detailed in the following sections), it is important to acquire soft skills like time management, typing skills, proficiency in basic computer functions, etc. to be able to procure jobs in this highly competitive era.

Choosing the right path

FAQ: I am sure I want to make a career in foreign languages but I can’t understand which the right path is for me. Translation, interpretation or teaching?

The answer is a simple one, actually. It will usually be after you complete your basic education in a foreign language that you can finally gauge your actual strengths. People with excellent writing skills usually opt for translations while those with a fluency in two or more languages opt for interpretation. But along with this rule of thumb, it is essential to take into consideration your interest and willingness.

Translation – The wordsmith’s career

Translation is essentially the process of transferring a written text from the source language to one or more target language(s).

Prepping up

It is often recommended for aspiring translators to sign up for language courses at private institutes like the Alliance Française, Instituto Cervantes, Max Müller Bhavan, etc. as early as after their 10th or 12th standard. Universities offer certificates, diplomas and degrees which include a component of translations as well. But coupling a language diploma/degree from a university with the various levels at private institutes is your best bet.

Tools of the trade

Contrary to commonly held misconceptions, translating is not simply “glorified typing in a foreign language”. Neither will just a degree in a foreign language suffice to make you a decently good translator. Along with an in-depth knowledge of your language pair(s) and excellent writing skills, you will need to develop, what is commonly called, domain knowledge.

Domain knowledge refers to the knowledge pertaining to a particular field (for eg. Law, engineering, medicine, etc.) More the domain knowledge, better will be the growth prospects for a translator. Reading any and everything you can lay hands on is the best way to increase your domain knowledge.

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Reviewing and editing are allied activities which most translators have to do some or the other time. It is, therefore, essential to have an impeccable command over the target language. Going further, expanding their skills sets a little will also allow translators to take up project management and quality control.

It is through experience that one stands to learn the most; on-the-job learning. How then should one gain this valuable experience? Offer to translate voluntarily for friends and relatives or at institutes and always be on a look out for possible internships.

Interpretation – More than chit-chat

Interpretation is the process of transferring one spoken language to another spoken language, either simultaneously or consecutively.

Simultaneous interpretations require the interpreter to translate (orally) what the speaker is saying as they speak while in consecutive interpretations, the speaker speaks at length for a few minutes, after which the interpreters orally conveys the speaker’s message.

Prepping up

Similar to aspiring translators, aspiring interpreters need to have a thorough understanding of their languages and a solid vocabulary at their disposal. Hence, it is only logical to sign up for language courses as soon as possible. Private language institutes offer interpretation-specific courses in select cities. It is, however, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that heads the list for the best courses in interpretation in India.

Tools of the trade

Interpreters need to be extremely fluent in both the languages and must have a thorough understanding of the cultures of the regions where the languages are spoken. Moreover, they need to have research skills to be able to prepare themselves for any type of gathering that they may have to interpret.

Due to lack of ‘thinking time’, simultaneous interpreters need to be decisive and extremely attentive. Consecutive interpreters, on the other hand, need to possess good note-taking skills.

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Good interpreters usually have endless opportunities in governments or in political organizations like the United Nations or the European Union. The UN also offers interpreting internships for talented interpreters. Keeping an eye on their career portal will also give information about other language-related internships and job openings.

Teaching- because imparting is noble

Today, not only is it glamorous to be learning a foreign language but is also one of the many things that students normally do to enhance their CVs; be it aspiring engineers, management students or chefs. And, therefore, the number of students willing to learn foreign languages is only increasing by the day. Now, what is more motivating for aspiring teachers than a readily available student base?

Prepping up

No matter how much expertise one has in a language, one still needs to learn to teach. Along with the Bachelor’s in Education (B.Ed) degree, a high school teacher would normally require a BA in a particular foreign language while a junior college teacher requires an MA. Lecturers for Senior Colleges need to qualify through the eligibility tests such as the NET conducted by the UGC.

Private language institutes have their own set of rules and conduct intensive internships for aspiring teachers.

Tools of the trade

Since a language envelopes a region’s culture and history in entirety, a foreign language teacher needs to be well versed with the culture, history, politics, economics and the general current affairs of the country(ies) in which the language is spoken. This makes his class enriching and helps the students develop a global outlook.

Apart from the basic qualities like planning, time management, the ability to gauge individual needs, etc. that every teacher needs to possess, a foreign language teacher needs to have good oratory skills in both the language of instruction and the target language. He also needs to have the skills and the willingness to research and keep himself updated at all times.

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Since job openings as foreign language teachers at schools, colleges and universities are scarce and erratic in India, it is a smart option to start private tuition classes individually or in collaboration with teachers of other subjects. Such alliances are commonplace in India and, depending on the quality of teaching, have a good student base. However, many prefer the jobs at private language institutes as they have a sure student base and one gets to experiment with newer teaching techniques due to the availability of the required technology and other resources.

Something different

There are other career paths such as research and pedagogical studies that are less trodden. An MA or a PhD in Linguistics can be pursued after a Bachelors degree in any language. MA and PhD holders have many opportunities in academic research.

Speakers of foreign languages can also opt to venture into the hospitality industry. Candidates need to clear the All-India Joint Entrance Examination conducted by the National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology (NCHMCT) to get into the B.Sc course in Hotel Management colleges.

Localization jobs combine languages, computing, business and culture. So are there many possible ways of landing a job in the localization industry. Language professionals can take up localization translation and project management. Coupling your language skills with a technical degree will open greater horizons in localization.

Summing up

But no matter which career path you finally end up choosing, staring early and dedicating time and energy towards perfecting this craft of languages will only increase the chances of hitting the jackpot in this rapidly blooming sector.

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Dr. Shreeram Geet – Career counselor Originally a family physician in Pune, Dr. Geet is also the founder of the General Practioner Association, Pune. But having personally counseled more than 6,500 students, Dr. Geet is widely known to be one of the best in the business. He has authored many career-related books and is also a columnist for the Marathi dialy Maharashtra Times. More information can be found on his official website