What to say

  • Translation is written and interpreting is spoken: they’re two different skills. Demonstrate the difference with a few basic examples.
  • Being bilingual isn’t enough to make you a translator or interpreter: you need additional training. Highlight education requirements and helpful life experiences, and point the students toward more information on translator and interpreter training programs. Emphasize the need for excellent English vocabulary, grammar, and writing in addition to foreign language skills.
  • Translation is more than word-substitution. Give specific examples of bad or literal translation and challenge the students to improve on them.
  • Machine translation isn’t going to replace human translators anytime soon. Provide concrete examples from Babelfish or another source and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of MT.
  • Foreign language skills pay off in the workplace. Highlight the need for language proficiency in hospitals, the schools, the courts, in social services, and in international law and business. Emphasize that language skills are an advantage in any of the well-known professions (doctors, engineers, nurses, business executives). Point out that employees with a second language are more likely to keep their jobs when companies downsize, merge, or lay off.

How to say it

Make it personal

Begin by introducing yourself and identifying the languages you use. As you talk about your work, use anecdotes from your own experience. Some examples:

  • Describe how you became interested in languages and how you entered the profession.
  • Describe your working conditions (flexibility and portability of translation; travel involved in interpreting; multiple options in economic downturns; pros and cons of working in a home office).
  • Tell the students what a typical day is like, and be sure to use examples of any high-profile work you’ve done (interpreting at a well-known trial or political summit, translating or reviewing for National Geographic). If you wish, include a brief anecdote or two on your most _________ experience (interesting, exciting, nerve-racking, embarrassing, etc.).

Make it interactive.

  • Ask questions and encourage the students to do the same. If you don’t already know, ask how many of your listeners speak or have studied languages other than English, how advanced foreign language students are in their studies, and what they already know about translation and interpreting. This simultaneously breaks the ice and allows you to adapt your presentation to your audience.
  • Hand out sample translations (of non-confidential material!) and the corresponding source text, highlight difficult or ambiguous terms, and challenge the students to find solutions for them. It’s also helpful to describe the research you did to arrive at your translation.
  • Recruit a student or teacher who speaks one of your languages and do a brief interpreting demonstration.

Make it concrete.

  • Compare and contrast the skills, traits, and talents needed in translation and interpreting. Point out that translators are essentially writers and need excellent English writing skills in addition to high-level foreign language proficiency (teachers love this!). Describe the experience of living and working in another country.
  • Discuss the tools of the trade: computers (PC, laptop), dictionaries, terminology databases, the Internet, email, fax, computer programs, etc.
  • Use personal anecdotes illustrating job opportunities for multilinguals. Point out that if the choice comes down to two equally qualified candidates, being bilingual can be an edge. Show transparencies of classified ads seeking bilingual candidates.
  • Handle the issue of compensation with care: use ranges rather than isolated figures, and point out that there are no standard rates within the profession. For example, ATA’s Translation and Interpreting Compensation Survey found that average 2001 income for full-time independent translators and interpreters ranged from $30,090 to $64,234, depending on level of experience.
    The bottom line: you can earn up to six figures as a translator or interpreter if you work full time, specialize, invest in yourself through professional development, and diligently build up your practice.
  • Provide specific information on career resources for translation and interpreting and discuss the role of mentoring in becoming a professional. See the links below for more information.

Make it fun.

  • Challenge the students to solve some translation problems themselves. Hand out a sample translation or list of translation problems and challenge the class to come up with idiomatic solutions. Try to include one example that has no satisfactory equivalent, and ask the students how they would write around the problem. Stress the point that translation and interpreting go far beyond word substitution. In longer presentations, this can be a useful springboard for discussing the limits of machine translation and the role of cultural differences in translation and interpreting.
  • Use funny translation bloopers. Humorous examples of machine translation are another good option. Signs and bizarre menu items also work well, but be careful to avoid any suggestion that foreigners are dumb or “can’t talk right.”
    Once the laughter has died down, challenge the students to come up with an idiomatic translation into English. Stress the point that a qualified professional translator or interpreter can avoid this kind of mistake through training and excellent knowledge of his or her languages and subject area. This is a good starting point for discussing education requirements and the limits of machine translation.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of bribery, even with adults. Ask a few challenging questions and hand out prizes for intelligent or entertaining answers. These could include chocolate bars, posters, maps, bumper stickers or buttons in foreign languages, English-language books about a foreign country, and even ATAware (this is your opportunity to get rid of that extra tote or coffee cup!).

Make it count.

Leaving something tangible behind will magnify the effect of your visit and ultimately produce a better return on the time and energy you’ve invested in your presentation. Give the students sample translations (non-confidential ones!), a handout summarizing your presentation, a resource handout with web addresses and other pointers to more information, a flier about your job, or a brochure on your employer. Give the professor a resource handout with pointers to further information on careers in translation and interpreting.

For More Information

Bureau of Labor Statistics
Statistics on the size and growth of the translating and interpreting professions.

For extra credit

Spend some time with the teacher before or after your presentation.
This could be anything from a five-minute chat about the resources handout for this level to a cup of coffee or a lunch date. One seasoned presenter reports that teachers are very eager to learn more from her and that she finds the contact with them extremely rewarding.

Cultivate a relationship with your local college or university.
Make them aware of your profession and offer to speak on foreign language-related subjects and at the school’s career-oriented events. And don’t forget materials: the foreign languages department might be thrilled to get your old issues of Le Point or Der Spiegel.

Organize a panel presentation on language careers..
Panelists could include a court or medical interpreter, an in-house translator, a freelance translator, translation company owner and/or project manager, and/or bilinguals who use their language skills in practicing another profession.

Volunteer for “job shadowing.”
This involves inviting a student into your workplace for all or part of a workday to give the student a hands-on, “day in the life” experience of your profession.

Offer to serve as a resource or mentor for students who are interested in pursuing language careers.
This could range from a periodic 15-minute phone call to an in-depth relationship with one special student.


Sample Slideshow

ATA has assembled a sample slideshow that you can download and adapt.
Download Slideshow

More presentation materials

Each of the links below will take you to a sample presentation that can be adapted for your needs. If you use or adapt any of these materials, please be sure to acknowledge the author’s contribution appropriately. All materials are in English unless otherwise noted.

Slide Presentation
Presentation providing an outline presentation for high school students.
Please acknowledge: Sarah L. Garriott and the Academy of Languages Translation & Interpretation Services

Slide Presentation
Slides providing a detailed look at the translation profession, including the advantages of working in-house vs. freelance and how to work with agencies.
Please acknowledge: Kim Vitray

Slide Presentation
Good information for students considering translation or interpreting as potential career. Includes how to find work as freelancer; a typical day.
Please ackowledge: Tess Whitty

Classroom Exercise
A basic 911 information sheet in Spanish and English that can be used as a short interpreting exercise. Presentation tips included.
Please acknowledge: John Shaklee

Tips for Students
Ways students can prepare for learning a foreign language.
Please acknowledge: Dana Scruggs

Tips for Presenters
2006 School Outreach Contest Winner offers ways to engage students and tips for finding student groups for your presentation.
Please acknowledge: Rosario Welle

Ten Qualities of a Good Translator.
Please acknowledge: Marise Lashley and Paul Hopper

Short essay on the translation profession in Spanish, originally used in Introduction to Translation classes.
Please acknowledge: Claudia Giannini-Coll

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