China’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion mar­ket can be hard to un­der­stand

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By YANG ZIMAN yangz­i­man@chi­

It can be hard for for­eign­ers to find good and rea­son­ably priced in­ter­preters in China. The large num­ber of in­ter­pre­ta­tion agen­cies in China, which are run pri­mar­ily by Chi­nese, can easily dis­ori­ent any­one with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence.

Peggy Choi, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of The Straits Net­work, a Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore­based knowl­edge net­work, of­ten looks for in­ter­preters in China. She said she finds the mar­ket opaque.

“It was not easy to find a good in­ter­preter for var­i­ous lan­guages at a rea­son­able price at the last minute. It would be good to have a sys­tem that ties pric­ing to qual­ity,” said Choi.

Yu Xiaowen, ac­count man­ager of Bei­jing-based Sun­shine Trans­la­tion Co Ltd, said com­pa­nies try­ing to be all things com­pro­mise qual­ity.

“You can find hun­dreds of in­for­ma­tion of in­ter­pre­ta­tion agen­cies online,” Yu said. “They would say that they de­liver the high­est qual­ity of ser­vice in var­i­ous in­dus­tries in a range of lan­guages. But try­ing to do ev­ery­thing is only go­ing to com­pro­mise the qual­ity. I be­lieve that as the de­mand for in­ter­pre­ta­tion ser­vices grows, the mar­ket will grow more seg­mented along the process. Then the agen­cies will be­come more pro­fes­sional and tar­get more spe­cific clients.”

Noe­lan Brew­ing­ton-Janssen, pro­gram man­ager with the Shang­hai of­fice of Chi­naSF, a San Fran­cisco-based eco­nomic ini­tia­tive run in part­ner­ship with the San Fran­cisco Cen­ter for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, of­ten looks for in­ter­preters for his or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“As an Amer­i­can liv­ing in China, it’s not very easy to find a good data­base of in­ter­preters in English,” said Brew­ing­tonJanssen. “There is a lot of vari­a­tion in the pric­ing, and most times you don’t re­ally know why one com­pany quotes such a dif­fer­ent price. Also, none of the Chi­nese com­pa­nies are trans­par­ent about how much of the fee they give to the in­ter­preters and how much they keep for them­selves.”

On one hand, for­eign­ers are look­ing for qual­i­fied and rea­son­ably priced in­ter­pre­ta­tion. On the other hand, in­ter­preters of­ten don’t re­ceive de­cent pay be­cause agen­cies have an un­rea­son­able pay split, par­tic­u­larly for stu­dents, who are a ma­jor source of part-time in­ter­preters.

Daisy Qu, a re­cent grad­u­ate of the Grad­u­ate School of Trans­la­tion and In­ter­pre­ta­tion of Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Univer­sity, said she of­ten got ridicu­lously low pay do­ing part­time in­ter­pre­ta­tion jobs when she was in school.

Qu was paid 500 yuan ($78.21) per day on a job of­fer from an in­ter­pre­ta­tion agency. For a sim­i­lar meet­ing that she worked on through SeekPanda, a com­pany founded by two US men that of­fers ser­vices to for­eign­ers look­ing for in­ter­preters in China, she was paid 2,500 yuan per day.

“We were stu­dents and there­fore did not have much con­nec­tion to cus­tomers. We had to rely on agen­cies to put what we’d learned into prac­tice. Be­cause of such a mis­match in the mar­ket, not many peo­ple in my depart­ment wanted to work as self-em­ployed full-time in­ter­preters af­ter grad­u­a­tion. They’d rather work as in-house in­ter­preters for com­pa­nies or the gov­ern­ment,” Qu said.

“Stu­dents are vul­ner­a­ble in terms of price ne­go­ti­a­tion,” said Yu. “They are of­ten em­ployed for jobs that do not re­quire a strong in­dus­trial back­ground. Mean­while, the agen­cies know that they prob­a­bly will lose the clients, who may con­tact the in­ter­preter di­rectly the next time. There­fore, they be­lieve they de­serve the bet­ter part of the pay.”

The mar­ket it­self also is chang­ing, said Yi Wen, a free­lance in­ter­preter in Shang­hai who runs his own com­pany.

“I feel that the con­sec­u­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion mar­ket is get­ting smaller as more Chi­nese speak bet­ter English,” Yi said. “More­over, it is a loss for the in­ter­pre­ta­tion agency when the cus­tomer and the in­ter­preter get to know each other be­cause they might cir­cum­vent the agency the next time.”

Ac­cord­ing to Yi, the high-level in­ter­pre­ta­tion mar­ket, which is si­mul­ta­ne­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tion, has been quite sta­ble and trans­par­ent.

An in­ter­pre­ta­tion agency, Yu said, “needs to ser­vice a main in­dus­try in or­der to be very good at it, just like an ex­cel­lent in­ter­preter needs to know where his or her strength is. Fight­ing price wars or mak­ing empty prom­ises will only hurt the clients’ trust.

“China’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion mar­ket has a lot of growth po­ten­tial. But try­ing to cover all the fields in this mar­ket may just lead to the op­po­site re­sults.”

Con­tact the writer at yangz­i­man@chi­


Ni­cole Zhang (cen­ter), an in­ter­preter with SeekPanda, helps clients to com­mu­ni­cate at a con­fer­ence in July.

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