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Weaving Multilingual Understanding
Special> Weaving Multilingual Understanding
UPDATED: July 12, 2008 NO. 29 JUL. 17, 2008
Lost in Babel
The translation industry in China has to address myriad problems to reap huge returns from building the Tower of Babel

PROFESSIONAL LOOK: Teresa Tang, a self-employed senior interpreter based in China, has completed more than 2,000 hours of simultaneous and consecutive interpretations

By day, Chen Jing is a customs declarations clerk at a Shanghai-based shipping company. After hours, she moonlights as a translator, working on everything from academic thesis abstracts to contracts to product descriptions.

At first, Chen took on the extra work, because like all those who majored in English in college, she was expected to be able of doing professional translations. But gradually, her translation services became an additional source of income, just as it has for several hundreds of thousands of other part-time translators and interpreters in China.

In addition to these amateurs, the country has 35,000 professional translators and interpreters. According to the Translators Association of China (TAC), there are more than 3,000 translation service agencies in China, 800 of which are Beijing-based. The translation industry reaped nearly 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) in revenue last year.

Yet, myriad problems such as varying degrees of quality, a low threshold for entering the profession, a lack of work contracts, a dearth of large, reputable translation agencies and weak professional oversight have prevented the industry from advancing in China.

Work with dignity

Transn (Beijing) Information Technology Co. Ltd., a Beijing-based linguistic services provider, conducted an online survey of translators and interpreters in China last year, shedding light on the living conditions and basic information of translators in the country.

Of all the 14,600 valid responses, 62 percent were English majors, 28 percent were science, engineering and technology majors and only 2 percent had degrees in translation. The majority of them, 62 percent, obtained a bachelor's degree, and 18 percent had a master's degree.

The online survey also showed that 65 percent of participants said they translated to "make a living" and were not proud of their profession. About 69 percent said they worked part-time translators or interpreters.

The Chinese clients of translation services generally assume that if a person can speak and write two languages, they can interpret or translate. And this low threshold for the profession contributes to its quality problems.

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