Small Business

Found in Translation: Work Opportunities


Demand for translation and interpreting services is booming. Here's how to get started on a business you can operate from home

I'm a native Spanish speaker living in the U.S. I would like to work from home now that I have young children. Do you have any suggestions for how I can use my language skills in a home business?

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, nearly 47 million people who live in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home. That's a huge group of potential customers, and myriad corporations seek to capture their consumer spending power, notes Nataly Kelly, a former court interpreter and the author of a book, Telephone Interpreting: A Comprehensive Guide to the Profession, that will be published in May by Multilingual Matters. "As a result, there's an enormous demand for bilingual skills in today's job market," Kelly says.

There are many opportunities for home-based work in translation, which involves the written word, or interpreting, which involves the spoken word. You could set up shop at home as a freelancer or consultant, or look for telecommuting opportunities with companies that require employees with bilingual skills.

Before you pursue either course of action, get proof of language proficiency in both Spanish and English, Kelly advises. "This can be obtained through certified tests that are conducted by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the most widely recognized testing body in the U.S. The ACTFL tests are the most valid and reliable tests available, and they have been used for decades by many Fortune 500 companies, as well as federal and state government agencies," she says.

Gaining Credibility

Putting an ACTFL test rating on your business plan will lend credibility to your services and help you land clients who need bilingual skills. Schedule tests for written and spoken proficiency through the ACTFL's testing office. "A lot of bilinguals are getting short-changed, because they don't know about the existence of ACTFL tests and other resources that will help them advance their careers," Kelly says.

Once you are tested and recognized as having superior language proficiency in both Spanish and English, you can explore business opportunities. Most translators work as freelancers from their homes, Kelly says, so this can be a good business option for women with children. Document translating can be done in the evenings or during your children's school hours and can be suspended when needed if a child is sick or needs your attention. For more information, contact the American Translators Assn., a professional group with nearly 10,000 members. The ATA offers a certification program for document translation.

Another option you might consider is telephone interpreting. This work, however, requires absolute concentration, Kelly says: "Telephone interpreters frequently take 911 emergency calls, and a caller's life could be in jeopardy. If you plan to work from home as a telephone interpreter, you'll need to maintain a quiet work environment and arrange for someone else to be the primary caregiver for children during your work shift."

Good luck!

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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