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School Outreach Profiles

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School Outreach Profiles


Marybeth Timmermann

Opening Eyes to Career Opportunities in Translation and Interpreting

Working from home as a freelance French>English translator, I live in a small town in a very rural area of southwestern Illinois. I love the slower pace of life and the wholesome environment in which to live and raise a family.

The majority of people in our close-knit, Midwestern farming community have very limited contact with foreign languages, however, and the value of studying or knowing a foreign language is not always recognized. It's simply not seen as a necessary or very useful skill. Only one foreign language is even offered—not required—at the local high school. The idea that translation or interpreting could actually be a viable career option would never occur to most of my children’s peers in high school.

Recognizing this, I wanted to gear my ATA school outreach presentation to juniors and seniors in advanced Spanish who are starting to look toward their future and possible career paths.

After getting their attention by introducing myself in French (and then English, of course), I began my presentation by giving them examples of non-literal English<>Spanish translations, progressing from the simplest differences in word number/order to structural differences, then on to false friends, idioms, and finally culturally-sensitive advertisement slogans.

At that point I had them each write down one example of a non-literal translation they knew of. Many of them came up with excellent examples. They got it!

(Later, the students posed for a picture holding the index cards where they had written their translation examples.)

Next I addressed technology and the myth of "why would anyone be a translator when my phone can do that automatically and for free?", citing the massive and ever-increasing daily production of written material around the globe coupled with the high demand for instant global communication.

To further debunk this myth, I showed some contextual and idiomatic mistakes that even Google Translate makes, which I think surprised them because they tended to rely on Google unquestioningly.

Finally, I used statistics from US Department of Labor Statistics and CareerBuilder.com to drive home the fact that language professions are actually a growing field. This was an important point because high school students today face a lot of pressure to succeed professionally and are often discouraged from pursuing fields that are perceived as not marketable enough.

I followed up with why I love being a translator and what steps they could take in order to become translators or interpreters themselves. I encouraged them to continue with their Spanish in college even while majoring in another field and explained how this would open up so many opportunities for them in the future.

I hope my presentation expanded their view of language professions beyond the small town they grew up in and opened their eyes to the opportunities that lie before them as language students.