The situation on the market: future perspectives for translators and interpreters
For most prospective students, several factors play a role in choosing a course of studies and a profession.
Even though personal inclinations and skills play a great part, you should also always be fully aware of the market situation for any given profession. What is the point of a dearly-bought degree course when in the end only the best of the best in the year won't have to worry about the future? For this reason we would like to explain the situation on the market to young people interested in becoming translators or interpreters.
Prospective translators or interpreters should be aware that they will most probably end up working on a freelance basis. Only around 10% of the approx. 20,000 translators and interpreters in Germany are employed full-time and are able to enjoy the resulting benefits. Such benefits include:
- Protection against dismissal; a full-time position in a good economy is practically untouchable
- Protection through unemployment benefits; if dismissed, the former employee receives unemployment benefits
- Pension contributions; pension contributions are automatically paid into the pension fund from the gross salary
The majority of translators work on a freelance basis. The great advantage to this is independence: you are your own person and can determine your own working hours and location. You can also refuse work which does not appeal to you, or alternatively can accept as much work as you wish. The downside to this independence is the business risk: you must obtain all your work yourself, you must make yourself known to potential clients and you must set money aside for a rainy day yourself.
The market situation for freelance translators is currently somewhat difficult. This is because other professions are demanding increasingly excellent language skills, which makes many translations unnecessary. In many companies, translations into German are not done by educated or trained translators, rather by consultants, industrial clerks, foreign language secretaries etc. who normally fulfil other tasks.
Can you become rich as a translator?
Probably not. While prices and salaries have generally risen in the past 20 years, translators' fees have stagnated ever since. The so-called price per line, the basis for most translations, has either barely increased or not at all for the majority of translators. In some cases it has even fallen. In times of price pressure, clients often only select a translator based on his/her price: whomever offers the lowest price gets the work. This mentality is reflected in Google adverts, where many clients offer extremely low prices. According to a study by the BDÜ (the German Federal Association of Translators and Interpreters), these low prices are far below a level which can be seen as a minimum subsistence level or a break-even point. This trend is especially severe with English translations, which constitute the largest but also the most competitive submarket.
In 2005, approx. 1,400 interpreters/translators were registered as unemployed. If you would like to work professionally with languages and cannot gain a foothold as a translator after graduating, there are other ways open to you: alternative professions include, for example, positions as foreign language secretaries, foreign language correspondents for companies with foreign connections or consultant positions in export divisions.
Translators of literature
Translating literature is what most people imagine our profession to be. This is the most fun type of translation, and the most well known by the public. Because so many translators try to find this type of work, demand has overtaken supply and prices are therefore affected. Translators of literature are currently the lowest-paid translators. Whereas the author of a bestseller may earn millions, the translator would still receive the same low price per page which he/she would receive for any job.
One incentive for many translators of literature to accept such work regardless are certainly the numerous grants and prices regularly given to them by publishers, foundations and unions.