What Are Good Jobs for Fluent Chinese Speakers?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue if you are fluent in Chinese. Read on to learn more about career options along with education requirements and employment outlook. Schools offering Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are Good Career Options for a Fluent Chinese Speaker?

Individuals who are fluent in Chinese may want to consider a career as a Chinese language interpreter or translator. Interpreters convert spoken words from one language to another. They may perform this service simultaneously, consecutively or whispered. Simultaneous translation refers to listening to the speech in one language and converting it to the second language at the same time. Consecutively refers to listening to a block of speech and then translating the block. Whispered is similar to consecutive interpretation, but the interpreter sits close to the person who is receiving the interpretation and they whisper it in their ear. Translators convert written material from one language to another. They typically work on computers and may translate letters, notes, books or other documents.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Language study that includes a focus on translation and interpretation skills
Subject matters on which translation might focus, such as law, medicine or business
Licensing/Certification Professional certifications available and might be required by certain employers
Key Responsibilities Convert information from one language to another. Interpreter provides oral conversion; translator provides written.
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29%*
Median Salary (2015) $44,190*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Chinese Speakers Do as Interpreters or Translators?

Interpreters convert spoken words from one language to another, while translators convert written words from one language to another. Interpreters can work in simultaneous or consecutive formats. Simultaneous interpretation involves interpreting words at the same time they are spoken. Consecutive interpretation involves listening, taking notes and interpreting once a speaker is finished. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), translators usually work on a computer; many work from home (www.bls.gov). Interpreters may work in courtrooms, educational facilities or other settings where their services are needed.

What Education Do I Need?

If you're a native Chinese speaker, or you grew up in a bilingual home, you might want to earn a translation studies certificate. In an undergraduate certificate program, you'll study the techniques used to perform professional translations. You could also take courses in medical, legal and financial translation.

However, the BLS notes that some employers might expect job applicants to have a bachelor's degree. If you're a fluent Chinese speaker who'd like to provide translation or interpretation services in a specific field, like science or business, you could pursue a bachelor's degree in biology or business administration. You could then acquire professional translation skills through an undergraduate or graduate certificate program. Master's programs in Chinese or translation studies are also available through some schools.

Is Work Experience Required?

Many employers expect job applicants to have 3-5 years of experience in the field, as reported by the BLS. You might gain work experience by volunteering your services or applying for an internship. Earning certification is another way to demonstrate your level of skill to employers. For example, you might pursue the Certified Translator credential offered by the American Translators Association (ATA). In order to earn this credential, you'll need to have a bachelor's degree along with two years of professional translation or interpretation experience; completion of a certificate program through an ATA-approved school can be substituted for this requirement (atanet.org).

What's the Job Outlook?

The BLS expected the number of employed interpreters and translators to increase by 29% from 2014-2024, much faster than average for most occupations. Job growth during this time is driven by an increase of non-English-speaking populations in the U.S. and international trade. In 2015, the median annual salary for interpreters and translators was $44,190, as reported by the BLS. The highest-paying industries for these professions were architectural, engineering and related services, the federal government, and office administrative services.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that interpreters and translators do has some similarities to the work of technical writers and medical transcriptionists. Technical writers need a bachelor's degree. They take information related to a specific subject and produce journals, articles or guides related to that information. An example of the work that a technical writer does can be found in a how-to manual. Technical writers break down information into steps that people can follow. Although they aren't converting one language to another, they are converting a physical process, such as how to assemble a bookshelf, to written form. Like translators, they work on computers and spend most of their time writing material. Medical transcriptionists are like consecutive interpreters. They take information that's been recorded on an audio file and they convert that information to written form. They also work on computers, and they may need to convert medical abbreviations to the proper terminology in their transcription process. Their work is similar to the work of interpreters because they are converting language from one form to another, may have to translate abbreviations to full terms and must produce an accurate written representation of the original material. They do not need a degree but are required to complete postsecondary training to enter their field.

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