David Lauman

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Required language proficiency for translators and interpreters

In In your shoes on August 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM

By David L. Lauman

20/20 Translations, Inc.

A high degree of proficiency in one’s foreign language(s) and native tongue is just one fundamental requirement to become a professional translator and/or interpreter.  How can one define this degree of proficiency, however?

First, let’s start by ruling out two categories of individuals whose proficiency can be questionable: (1) so-called bilinguals and (2) those who have studied a foreign language (3) individuals from either of the prior two categories who have little or no translation/interpretation (hereinafter referred to as T&I) training nor experience.

The term bilingual can be deceptive.  A person who speaks two languages can claim to be bilingual, but that may simply mean that he learned the foreign language at home and therefore only knows enough to communicate in familiar, non-technical situations.  Such a person may have a limited speaking vocabulary, and not have developed the ability to read, write, nor speak about complex, abstract topics.

While language courses provide important basics, on their own they rarely allow a person to reach the level of proficiency required for professional T&I.  Most often, studying abroad and taking courses with regular degree-seeking students is instrumental for developing foreign language/cultural expertise.

The Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) has useful guides for determining language proficiency and T&I proficiency.  Level 4 proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding a foreign language is generally a good starting point for an individual to develop effectively as a translator and/or interpreter.

As to the ILR’s skill level descriptions for interpretation and translation performance, Level 4 proficiency can also be considered a good baseline for selecting a practitioner.  However, it is wise to seek the guidance of a professional to better understand these proficiency standards.

Bio: David L. Lauman holds an M.A. in Translation and Interpretation from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and is a federal and state court certified interpreter.  He specializes in Spanish translation and interpretation for the legal, financial and medical industries and can be reached at david(at)2020translations.com or 303-667-6082.