Journalist, Infiltrator or Ally?

Let me propose a game. It will take just a minute. Can you tell me which of the following job offers are addressed to translators and which to other professional categories? These are all real jobs offered by real employers in the last year or so.  Looks easy, right? Let’s see what you come up with.

  • Here comes the first. Spain has passed a law allowing Sephardic Jews (the descendants of those who were expelled in 1492) to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their citizenship. Their links with the country go back more than 500 years, and proving them is not simple for obvious reasons. They have to prove their Sephardic background through their surnames, language or ancestry, and are then required to get a certificate from the federation of Jewish communities in Spain. The client, a lawyer from Tel Aviv, wanted someone who was capable of working with documents in both English and Spanish to take charge of the research.
  • The second, a patent filing procedure. The client wanted to patent several aspects of a phone application and web-based software system. She was looking for a freelancer with legal knowledge to help her complete the filing process in a foreign country.
  • Third:  “I need help to create a website and make versions in two other languages.”  The person who posted this offer had the technical support and needed a professional to write copy and translate.
  • And the last one: An agency needed someone to translate news article summaries and supplement them with local news. Of course, writing news is something that requires some kind of journalistic training in terms of research, news genre features and basics like headlines, leads, and the inverted pyramid.

Do you have an answer? Well, that’s the right answer. Me neither. And neither did the clients, because in some cases they mentioned a large list of required skills in their job offers, including translation, and in other cases they mentioned none. They simply weren’t sure.

Translators are increasingly concerned about what they see as “encroachment” on their professional turf by workers from other related fields like journalism and even not-so-related fields such as science or law. Translation is a distinct profession, there’s no doubt about it. But let us look at this the other way around. From the translator’s perspective, what’s wrong with learning the tricks of at least one other trade?

  • A growing number of translation students pursue another degree while in college.  Even if only a meager 12% of Spanish translation and interpreting students announce their intention to study for a second degree, there are more of them every year. Their favorite options are law and business administration, philology, social science and, yes, journalism.
  • Learning as part of career investment.  The number and variety of job opportunities has grown thanks to businesses’ very specific needs.

This is precisely the reason to offer flexibility and a wide range of skills.  Somehow, translators are expecting to find more infiltrators within the ranks of their allies.