What is the “best” language?

I think every language has its pros and cons. For example, I think French and German are very attractive languages ​​for translators living in the United States, because there is a good balance between workload and fees, and because translators residing in the United States have some financial benefits (a usually lower cost of living, and the fact that they don’t pay VAT). In addition, the US time zone is also an advantage, as European customers can send their work to the end of the day in their time zone, and get an answer the next morning. However, the European business culture is based on direct relationships, and it can be very difficult to find and maintain direct customers in Europe, unless you can go there on a frequent basis.

In terms of urgent need, I believe that the Middle Eastern and Asian languages ​​are certainly the winning ones. I also think that the Japanese / English language combination is among the highest paid, if not the highest paid, in many market surveys. But my feeling is that for some of these language combinations there is a lot of competition from translators who are not native English speakers, but who translate into English anyway, even if they shouldn’t. Furthermore, these cultures are much less similar to American culture than European culture, and it is probably more difficult for translators who grew up in the United States to “adapt” to China or Saudi Arabia than it is in Spain or Switzerland. .

Then there is the personal / subjective affinity: I love the sound of the Italian and Portuguese language. I’m so nerdy that sometimes I listen to Italian or Portuguese news on the radio (on TuneIn), even if I can’t understand them at all. Crossing the Dolomites by bicycle last summer was one of the best holidays of my life: I love Italy! If I had to think exclusively about potential income, I would probably choose Japanese, but I find myself having serious difficulties with character-based languages, such as when my husband and I traveled to Nepal, and I had no particular difficulties with the spoken language , but I was unable to read anything, while for him it was the opposite.

In any case, no more disconnected thoughts about the various languages! Dear readers, what do you think? A high school student sends you an email asking “What language should I study?” And you answer 

I am often asked this question, in several forms:

  • I would like to become a translator / interpreter: which language should I study?
  • What is the most requested language in the field of translation and interpreting?
  • What is the best language that a translator or interpreter should know?

The answer, as well as the answer to many questions regarding freelance work , is a thunderous depends . I will express my opinions here, then kindly express yours too (so that I can use them to answer this question the next time I am asked!)

For me, ” request ” is ” better”Are two different things. For example, in the United States Spanish is generally the most requested language. It is the second most spoken language in the USA, after English (to which I add one of my favorite anecdotes, that is that the United States does not have an official language!). But when people ask about the “best” language, they usually refer to a sort of balance between demand and potential profit, even when they don’t express themselves in these terms. And in terms of potential profit, translators from Spanish face many challenges, starting with the high competitiveness of translators living in Latin America, whose standard of living is much lower, and who have the same time zone as U.S. customers. To this we must add that, since there are so many Spanish speakers in the United States, professional translators and interpreters often clash with the “everyone can translate” mentality that is widespread among some aspiring translators and interpreters and even some clients. So despite the high demand for the Spanish language in the United States, it’s probably not the language I’d encourage you to learn, especially if you’re starting from scratch.

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