Despite an increasing number of Chinese people who are able to converse in English thanks to the nation’s growing exchanges with the world and the spread of higher education, professional translators and interpreters who can work with English and Chinese still fall short of demand.
The translation market in China was worth about 30 billion yuan ($4.72 billion) in 2008 and expected to grow at an annual rate of 30 percent, according to the Translators Association of China.
In order to satisfy market demand for high quality translators and fully develop the translation sector, Chinese educational authorities approved 40 leading universities to set up special training programs for professional translators in 2009.
However, only a small number of the graduates from these programs are now working as professional translators after finishing their two-year study despite holding a master’s degree in translation and interpretation, said Mu Lei, a senior professor at the School of Interpreting and Translation of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. She was speaking at the China Translation Profession Forum in Beijing on Saturday.
Most of the graduates succeed in landing good jobs at government agencies and well-known multinationals thanks to their training as professional translators, Mu added.
Compared to student translators and interpreters from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, mainland Chinese students excel at language skills but lack interpersonal skills, which prevents them from becoming successful professional translators, according to Wang Lidi, dean of the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).
After decades of fast economic development, China is now stepping up its cultural exchanges with other countries, in the process of which translators have a crucial role to play, said Zhao Haiyun, head of the international division of the General Administration of Press and Publication.
Another side of the coin
Unlike in China, where a large number of people want to become translators and interpreters, most English-speaking countries and regions such as the EU have far fewer people willing to take part in translation training programs and even fewer ready to learn the extremely difficult language of Chinese.
Globally speaking, there are fewer than 10 qualified interpreters whose mother tongue is English and who can translate between English and Chinese, according to William White, an experienced freelance interpreter who used to work for the Delegation of the European Union to China.
White is now based in Beijing, and his daily fee has been increasing at an annual rate of about 10 percent in recent years thanks to the tight market. “In peak seasons like April and September, it’s really hard to find professional interpreters, as there are many international conferences and qualified interpreters are all occupied.”