Africa is Wildly Underrepresented in the Translation Industry

Marty presentador

Last week I gave a lecture at the Law School of the University of Palermo on what lawyer linguists do for international organizations, NGOs and governments. My lecture was aimed at advanced translation and law students considering a career in legal linguistics. Not many people know exactly what differentiates a lawyer-linguist from a legal translator. In fact, even within the translation industry, there are lawyers who are also translators who use the term “lawyer-linguist” to describe what they do, even though they are technically legal translators with law degrees (I will explain the difference in future posts).

With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to explain to my participants exactly what a lawyer-linguist does, as opposed to a legal translator, and to also explain to them where lawyer-linguists come in and how the rules of the translation industry apply to us. For that, I resorted to many industry studies that have been conducted over the past few years, and which have proven very helpful.

When conducting my industry-specific research for my presentation, however, I noticed Latin America was not as present as I would have liked. As someone who lives in Latin America, I was under the impression that there are a great deal of translators on this side of the world and a few lawyer-linguists. The numbers were much smaller than I had anticipated, but at least Latin America had some representation in industry studies.

So off I went, with my PowerPoint and all my numbers to talk to these students about how this career absolutely rocks. I was happy to see some cultural diversity at the lecture and participation from international students. One of these international students was from Angola, Africa. This student was engaging and participative, and a pleasure to have in my lecture. But what this student pointed out was shocking: none of the studies that I had cited included Africa! Seriously, not one!

Slightly embarrassed of what I thought was an oversight on my end, the minute I got home, I went through all these materials again, chart by chart. And guess what I found? I found that industry-specific studies focus on the US, EU, Asia, sometimes Latin America, and “Other.” Africa is alarmingly underrepresented in our industry. I am not qualified to draw conclusions as to the reasons or impact of this underrepresentation. But I am qualified to try to raise awareness and find solutions.

During my lecture, I took note of some of the challenges facing African students who are thinking of pursuing global careers in legal linguistics, translation or both, and am now developing an action plan to do my part as a professor to help. But I think the first step to helping African colleagues or aspiring linguists is to put their needs on our agenda. We need to start talking about this, so we can collectively find ways to help. This student said something I’ve heard a millions times that, I think, is worth repeating: “Africa doesn’t need charity; it needs access to education and equal opportunities.” We need to help put our African colleagues on the map and make tools and resources easily accessible for them to be able to compete for high-paying jobs on the international arena. But first, we need to acknowledge their existence in industry studies!