April 20, 2021 by Jade Cintron
Re: Hiring Bilingual Professionals? Read This First…
In recognition of bilingual professionals, Translators, and Interpreters.
The importance of specificity cannot be stressed enough when you are looking for someone who is “bilingual”, so let’s discuss what the really means and also what it means to you, the person who is hiring, so you can best put a call out for whom you need and set yourself and potential employees up for success.
Question: Do you need someone to translate or interpret?
You might be asking yourself…Translator? Interpreter? Aren’t those basically the same thing? No, they aren’t. Though in everyday oral and written English we tend to conflate the two, here’s the specifics:
Translator: [noun]Works on translating written text from one language to another.
Interpreter: [noun] Works on interpreting orally from one language to another.
Both these titles require very specific skill sets that are not automatically met if a person is bilingual. In fact, one can get degrees or certifications to become both Translator and/or Interpreter.
Potential Issues When Creating a Job Listing
If your job listing says that you need someone that is “bilingual” but does not list that translating and/or interpreting will be a part of the job, you will get a slew of people who can communicate in your target languages, but perhaps aren’t the most efficient or skilled at translating or interpreting. At the end of the day, you will not have the work done that you might need done or at best, not in a timely or well done manner. You will also be putting your new employee in a rough spot. Translating and interpreting should not be an automatic part of a bilingual person’s work…but more on that in just a bit..
What You Might Actually Need
Potentially, you might be looking for someone who can communicate with members of two (or more) target languages/communities. For instance, if you need someone who can fluctuate between specific languages depending on who they are communicating with at the workplace or for a project, you might just need someone who is proficient in those two languages, ergo, a person who is “bilingual”. If a part of this work is also to be regularly translating documents or interpreting for other members of the workplace, you might additionally need someone who is a “Translator” and/or “Interpreter” or who has proficient experience translating and/or interpreting. Depending on the work, you might find that having two different people for these roles to be most efficient.
Why This Is Important
Conflating bilingualism with translation and interpretation often leads to stressful, unsuccessful and draining situations because you’re asking an employee to “prove” a set of skills that most professionals train for academically. A person who grew up speaking French with their grandmother at home, doesn’t necessarily have all the vocabulary, idioms, and language nuance that you might need them to convey at a place of work. Some might view this as just a learning curve, but in reality it can be very stressful as an employee to have to do something that even you expect yourself to be able to do. Perhaps this employee has quickly translated a text message or interpreted a small non-pressure conversation before. That wasn’t such a huge ask. The question is when they are asked to translate entire song lyrics, documents, powerpoints, or interpret an interview in real time in front of a camera or crowd. Now imagine that happening often! This is a huge ask! Professional Translators and Interpreters often have training, practice and knowledge of the subject or “script” beforehand to research potential words and nuances for the people they are communicating with. Set yourself and your future colleagues up for success by being specific as to what exactly you’ll require from them.
That’s right. All of the above are highly sought out, necessary skills. And yeah you gotta pay for them. Need I say more?
Hey! I’m a Bilingual Person and I Can Both Communicate *and* Serve as Translator/Interpreter!
If you feel confident in your ability to do one or the other on a whim and intend to do this frequently in a professional setting, you should consider a crash course (at the very least) in order to do this in the most efficient way. There are a lot of nuances to consider such as dialects, colloquialisms, more direct ways to communicate what you need to get across and more. And as mentioned above, are you getting compensated for this additional skill you offer? Fairly?
Ultimately, you should decide what falls on your desk and what does not. If you haven’t already, create an itemized list of what falls into these categories and how much time you spend at each of these tasks. Compare it to what your job without the bilingual, translation or interpretation aspects would be. Perhaps you have other colleagues whom you can compare with. Set yourself up for success and don’t sell yourself short. You are what links your employer to an another community and that is invaluable. This is not something that falls into “other duties as assigned”. To be used in this way is exploitation.
Language Skills For Community Work (A Whole Other Topic For Another Day)
While this article is meant to focus on the hiring process and definitions, it must be mentioned that if there is a meaningful community component to this job, it is important for the employer to seek out someone that is from that very community or at the very least the cultural community that they are serving. There are jobs that are for those that are not members of a community and others that are best served by ones who are. If an organization or company really does their homework, they will find the right person for the job.