If you have bilingual skills and an interest in helping others, you can find gainful employment from the comforts of home. Remote medical interpretation services is growing by leaps and bounds. Medical translation, too, is in urgent demand. The Coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis has produced emergency needs for these services, and the risk of infection has driven interpretation and translation services online. The outcome is a unique chance to supplement your income from home while contributing to efforts to bring the pandemic under control.

Why are medical interpreters and translators important, especially now?

The demand for professional translators and language interpreters has never been greater. The current public health crisis places a heavy burden on public officials and healthcare providers to inform people in their communities about the disease, how to prevent infection, and what to do in case of infection. All of these must be communicated without discrimination. That means accounting for the special needs of minority language communities. According to the United States census data, more than 25% of the population is estimated to have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and may not fully understand communications in that language.

Most LEP residents are native Spanish speakers, although there are Chinese and Vietnamese as well. Other countries have comparable challenges with their own linguistic minorities. Medical interpreters, therefore, are essential intermediaries, for communicating essential health and medical information to such individuals, both in informational setting like public briefings and in individual care settings. But, in practice, what are interpretation services? And while we’re on the interpreter definition, how does that profession differ from being a translator?

It is important to distinguish here between translation and interpretation. Translation is adapting written content from one language to another, while we define interpretation as doing the same for spoken language. There are some distinctions: many organizations need to translate a website, but website translation requires no spoken language skills. Interpretation, on the other hand, is preferable if you can’t punctuate or spell.

What are the requirements to become a certified medical translator or interpreter?

The obvious first requirement is language proficiency. Most interpreters or translators of any kind are at least bilingual, able to fluently speak, read, write and understand in at least two languages. Some people are gifted to know three, four, or even more languages well. But to find work in these fields it’s enough to know just two. Bear in mind, that most bilinguals are better in one linguistic than the other. A person who grew up in a Hispanic household but was educated in English is likely to know both languages well, but Spanish may be considered the “mother” tongue. That person is more likely to be able to perform English to Spanish translation or interpretation better than vice versa, although this is not a hard and fast rule.

You don’t need a college degree in a specific language – or even a high school diploma -- to become a successful language translator or interpreter. You just need to be very good. Translation and interpretation are professions that you can’t fake: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If your Spanish translation is substandard, you can’t hide it: people will know. But if you and others believe you have the linguistic chops to translate or interpret, read on. There will be plenty of real-life tests that will give you a chance to prove yourself.

What About Medical Certification for a Translator or Interpreter?

Is certification a prerequisite for a career in medical translation and interpretation? Well, yes and no. Certainly, if you studied in a medical school or a nursing school, and even if you took pre-med course in college, you’ll have a leg up over many competitors. But the reality is that many bilingual people can study either independently or in courses to learn to talk the talk and thus walk the walk.  There a big difference between learning the language of healthcare and being a doctor or nurse. Happily, the former is easier.

Do you need to become a certified medical interpreter or translator? The short answer: nice to have, but not a deal-breaker. These days, it’s “all hands on deck”: skills in practice are more important than a certificate. Certification is advantageous, of course, and required in certain sectors. Governments and embassies as well as some private sector jobs may require a certified translator or interpreter, placing these out of reach if you lack these credentials. If you want to know how to become a certified medical interpreter, just Google the term and check out the options. But in these days of crisis, the bottom line is that certification may be a luxury. Time is of the essence.

How to get jobs as a medical interpreter and what do they pay?

Let’s assume you have the bilingual skills and knowledge of medical terminology in both languages. How do you get your first jobs? Start by preparing a CV. Keeping in mind the distinctions we have discussed, decide whether you are most suited to being a translator or an interpreter? Hate pressure and prefer working with documents rather than people? Translation! Love the adrenalin rush of performing live and hearing your own voice? Interpretation! In the rare case that you love and excel in both, combine the two in your résumé.

A good suggestion to get started is to sign up in a general freelance marketplace like Upwork, Freelancer.com or Thumbtack, all of which have frequent translation requests. Or try out a dedicated translator marketplace like Proz and create a general business profile on LinkedIn, listing language translation and/or interpretation among your skills All of these sites will let you build a professional profile and collect testimonials. In the marketplaces you can also show your ratings and your rates. As in most things, it’s a good idea to start relatively low as you build your portfolio, and then raise your rates. If you go the marketplace route, according to Thumbtack, general translators can expect $15-20/hour or anywhere from $0.05 to $0.30. The average rate for medical interpreters may be a bit higher at $22/hour. What to charge for longer term gigs? The average medical interpreter salary in the US was $45,431 in February 2020, whereas the average medical translator salary is slightly lower at $45,158.

Whichever route you take, you can work from home and have the satisfaction that you will be providing valuable information and contributing to your community’s recovery.

Author's Bio: 

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