Another industry in the United States continuing to grow despite economic downturn: interpretation

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Apparently Peru is a pretty good place to learn Spanish on a budget.

There's a fairly long article here about the growth of the interpretation industry in the United States in spite of the economic downturn. Interpretation and anything else related to language is generally a necessity, and has little to do with the current economic situation, given that a great deal of interpretation happens during criminal cases, immigration and refugee issues, and so on. Here are some particularly interesting parts from the article:

When a group of Chinese illegal immigrants were picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol in southern Arizona late last month, the challenge for the arresting officers was how to talk to them.

"As an agent I don't speak Chinese, so it's very hard. Usually, the only word they understand is 'passport,'" Border Patrol agent Mike Reilly said of the eight migrants nabbed on Nov. 24 near the border town of Sasabe.

Like a growing number of clients -- from U.S. law enforcement agencies and the courts to hospitals and financial services firms -- the agency reached out to an interpretation service to help make themselves heard through the Babel of an increasingly polyglot world.

To pierce the barrier of incomprehension the duty agents processing the Chinese nationals put in a call to Language Line Services, the largest of several U.S.-based firms offering on-demand interpretation either by telephone or on site, around the clock.

The California-based firm has 5,200 interpreters on hand speaking 176 languages, from relatively common tongues such as Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Polish and Vietnamese to several more obscure dialects spoken by some African tribes and even Mayan villagers from Mexico.

and some numbers:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau some 54.4 million people, or nearly one in five of the total population, spoke a language other than English at home last year, up from 47 million in 2000.

Every 19 seconds an individual needing language assistance arrives somewhere in the United States, presenting a challenge for professionals such as police officers, doctors and pharmacists nationwide.


Demographic projections suggest that minorities - classified as those of any race other than non-Hispanic, single-race whites -- will become the majority in the United States by 2050, creating an ever-more diverse, polyglot society.


The American Translators Association pegged the value of U.S. language services at $14 billion in 2008, and sees annual growth of 15 percent, driven by demand from both the government and private sectors.


Looking forward to the time when the unfolding recession comes to an end, growth is likely to continue for firms in the sector as they help companies reach out to a growing base of non-English speaking customers in the United States, he said.

"The consumer who doesn't speak English is four-times more likely to buy from a company that speaks their language," Provenzano said.

15 percent growth in 2008 is phenomenal considering the current situation, and looking at demographic trends alone tells you that this industry has nowhere to go but up. In concrete terms, this means that if you're a person with a functional fluency in a certain language and not happy with your current job / in danger of losing it and not really inspired to work that much harder just to avoid being laid off, it might be worth the while to find a way to bring yourself to full fluency in order to switch to another field. Arranging for an intensive few months in a relatively inexpensive Central American country for example if you're pretty good at Spanish but not quite fluent enough to work as an interpreter.


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