Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Spanish Major and Professions

When I decided to major in Spanish, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, so the path to my chosen profession was pretty clear-cut.  The information about what was required to get certified and the courses needed to get there were readily available.  Some of my classmates, as well as people I meet today online, are not too keen on teaching and hope to use their degree in some other career.  If they know what that is, they may be more likely to have a double major or to take courses in that field to prepare themselves not only out of interest in that area but also because they realize that another language is only a tool to assist them in doing something else.  I think sometimes we language oriented people lose sight of this fact.  Assuming that upon graduation a student is proficient enough to do an entry-level job in a given field, what would this be?  It is highly unlikely that he will be hired just for having some bilingual skills (much less in an area with a bilingual population) without some other skill or background knowledge.  Just take a look on any jobs web site and do a search with the word Spanish or bilingual and you will see that the listings are for particular jobs or professions. If a student does get such a position that requires bilingual abilities , he will need language skills in all the modalities (listening, speaking, reading and writing).  Unfortunately, most university programs focus on literature and little on practical professional skills such as business writing.  A student interested in expanding his linguistic repertoire would be better off in a college that offers a variety of language courses for the professions-for example:  Spanish for Business, Spanish for Medical Professionals, Legal Spanish, etc. 
If a Spanish major has his heart set on a language-oriented career other than teaching which usually means translation and interpretation, he should be realistic about the work involved in reaching the high levels of proficiency needed for this field, which are way beyond what is required for teachers and usually attained in a university program.  He would do well to find an undergraduate, and subsequently, a graduate program in translation or interpretation.  There he would obtain the skills needed to be successful in this career and eventually certification from ATA (American Translators Association).
There may be some undergraduate degree or certificate programs in translation but most are graduate-level and usually require very high levels of proficiency in the native and target languages.  What's more, translators and interpreters usually specialize in a particular field such as medical, legal, business, real estate, etc.  And while dictionaries are consulted, it helps to understand the underlying concepts of that field because it is never simply words or terms that are translated but rather ideas, and being familiar with them would assist a translator more than if he weren't familiar with them.
These are just a few things to keep in mind when considering how Spanish could be part of a future career.

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