What is language practice?

Language practice is an umbrella term for translation, interpreting, editing, proofreading, text review, copywriting, terminology work and lexicography.


The term translation can also be used as an umbrella term for both written translation and oral translation, although the latter is also referred to as interpreting.


Qualifications for language practitioners

It is a common myth that being able to speak two languages is enough to make a good translator. There is far more to translation than just knowing the languages.


Good translators generally have some theoretical knowledge of their profession, in addition to the basic requirement of a natural ability to understand, interpret and transfer the underlying meanings of a text in such a way that they remain faithful to the original and sound like they were produced in the target language.


Experience in conjunction with thorough on-the-job training was often considered more valuable than academic qualifications in the past. However, some formal training is always a good idea and is becoming the norm today. A variety of institutions offer training in different types of language practice. Modern language practice training courses usually include a substantial amount of practical work and mentoring, which is very useful.


The demand for language practitioners

There is a great need for language services in South Africa, but the public is not well-informed about the advantages of using a language professional. Many people undervalue the work of translators and other language practitioners, and translations are often performed by people who are not suitably qualified (such as administrative personnel).


The government in 2012 passed the Use of Official Languages Act (Act 12 of 2012), which came into operation in May 2013. This legislation requires various government structures to set up language units, which in turn influences the demand for language services, especially in the indigenous languages. Thanks to globalisation there is also a demand in our country for translation between local and foreign languages.


However, one must not expect to enter the freelance market and be flooded with work immediately. It takes years to build up a successful practice, and many people start on a part-time basis until their client base is large enough to support a full-time practice. There is a huge untapped market for language services, if potential clients can be educated and convinced of the need for these services.


How to get more successful

Starting out in the language practice business is not easy. Here are some tips for becoming more successful:

  • Join SATI and other professional bodies in your field.
  • Mix with others in the profession, e.g. at SATI chapter meetings.
  • Have yourself listed in translator directories such as SATI's database.
  • Get accredited. SATI offers accreditation in various fields of language practice. Some overseas associations also offer accreditation to foreign members.
  • Promote the fact that you are a member of relevant professional associations and the fact that you are accredited. * If you are not accredited or just starting out, find an established translator to work with, who can mentor and train you.
  • Identify potential clients’ needs and approach them with solutions.
  • Advertise as widely as possible, also on the Internet, e.g. in SATI's online database.
  • Do volunteer work for clubs, interest groups, friends, etc. to gain experience and references.
  • Don't be shy about using any contacts you have.


How much should I charge?

People who are new to the profession often want to know what to charge. Translation operates on free market principles, and practitioners can charge and pay as much as they see fit. There should, however, be a balance between the cost and the service delivered and a correlation with charges in similar professions. This is a professional service and clients should expect to remunerate a language practitioner accordingly.


SATI undertakes surveys among its members to indicate the going rates in this profession. However, these surveys are only guidelines, because SATI does not set recommended rates (it is illegal to do so).


Professional recognition and the law

Language practice is an unregulated profession in South Africa, which means that, except for sworn translators, it is legal for anyone to do this type of work and call themselves a translator, interpreter, editor, etc. without having had specific training or having to register anywhere. Language practitioners may register with a variety of professional associations, including SATI. Practitioners who want recognition for their skills can also apply for SATI accreditation, which involves a practical testing of the person's skills and is currently the only formal recognition of professional ability available for translating and interpreting in South Africa.


The government in 2013 began a process of regulation, however, and in 2014 passed the South African Language Practitioners’ Council Act (Act 8 of 2014). This Act will establish a South African Language Practitioners’ Council, which will oversee the profession. All language practitioners will in due course have to be registered with and accredited by the Council in order to work as translators, interpreters, language editors or terminologists. Details of the requirements are not yet available these will become clear when the relevant regulations are issued by government. Belonging to an organisation like SATI means that one is kept up to date on developments and requirements and as a practitioner you can be sure that your professional association is working to protect your interests in relation to the legislation as far as possible.


Sworn translators and the law

Any translator in South Africa may undertake translation in the legal and similar fields, but only sworn translators may do translations required for official purposes. Documents for emigration or immigration, documents to be used in court proceedings, educational documents for study or work permits, etc. usually require sworn translation. A sworn translator goes through a process of testing and takes an oath before a judge in the high court in order to be registered as a sworn translator and to acquire the right to stamp their translations as a sworn translation. SATI offers testing for purposes of becoming a sworn translator as part of its accreditation system.






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