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Translation Profession Status in Vietnam: Document and Empirical Analyses

Although Olvera-Lobo et al. (2005) found that the volume of documents needed to be translated for cross-national purposes has multiplied manifold globally, including Vietnam, there is no research on the extent of professionalization of the translator in this market until now. This study thus aims at giving a comprehensive overview on the status of the translation profession in Vietnam by analyzing documentary and empirical data and to indicate the degree of professionalization of this profession in Vietnam. While the findings showed academic attempts to enhance the professionalization of this profession in Vietnam, legal instruments’ analysis indicated the lack of official development evidence, especially in the full-time freelancing type. Via empirical survey and interview data, gaps between university translation degree and the real industry were also pointed out. Implications are then given out for the pedagogical purpose.

Education

Specialized skills and expertise based on education constitute one of the typical and traditional traits of a profession. University-based translator training started in Vietnam in the first half of the 1980s with the launch of four-year undergraduate programs. In the last decade, particularly with the establishment of some private and international universities, the number of translation and interpreting programs has grown thanks partially to that. Undergraduate programs are still considered the main workforce provider to the market, except for rarely times of teaching short foundation course/advance course for translation and interpretation.

When students enter an undergraduate translation and interpreting program, they graduate as a translator and an interpreter. Although some universities offer a specialized translation/interpreting program in the final year to students that fulfilled certain criteria, they give the diploma of translator and interpreter to all their graduates, regardless of the difference between the two. In most of these universities, the program is named Translation and Interpretation jointly.

University-based programs not only train professionals for the knowledge base related to translation studies but also did provide an academic exchange. Although it is not so common, at least, there is now specialized channels in Vietnam used to disseminate and exchange knowledge of translation at the national and international (rare times) level, including academic journals, textbooks and conferences that bring together academics and professionals. However, it should be noted that while the translation curricula mostly deal with traditional issues of translation studies such as specialized translation, translation structural/grammar assessment, the state-of-the-art technologies and other non-translation issues such as market, life skills for success have not been developed yet.

Legal instruments and standards

Any regulations regarding entry to the market, earning credibility on the market, and setting standards also have implications for the degree of professionalization. The translation market in Vietnam employs the graduates of not only translator-training programs, but is open to those of foreign-language teaching, linguistics and foreign language and literature departments, or in many cases, anyone speaking a foreign language with a proficiency certificate. The only certification system concerns certified translation is of Circular 20/2015/TT-BTP dated Dec 29, 2015 of the Ministry of Justice guiding Decree No. 23/2015/ND-CP dated February 16, 2015 of the Government on issuance of copies from master registers, issuance of certified true copies from originals, authentication of signatures and contracts, in which translators are required to apply to a public notary or to be a translator collaborator of department of justice at provincial or municipal levels to become a sworn translator, and submit proof that they have foreign language degree. The related clause of the Regulation on the Public Notary reads that the public notary should ensure without any doubt that the translator knows said language or script accurately, seeing their diploma or other documents, or by other ways. In case of collaborating directly to the departments of justice, the translators only self-certify their translation by an oath where there is no measurable way to see whether it is indeed good enough or not. Since the Circular 20/2015/TT-BTP, there was nothing more about translation or translators from the instrumental/legal perspectives.

Professional association

Although it is clear that the degree of professionalization of a particular profession is closely related to the establishment of association(s) established to defend the rights of professionals of this industry. However, there was no official association for translators and interpreters in Vietnam.

On  the  whole,  despite of the increasing  number  of  university-based  training  programs and a basic government document to guide the requirements for sworn translators, there was a lack of establishment of an association to regulate the market and to professonalize the profession. They are all indicative of an under-developed/mis-categorized profession of translation. The degree to which these efforts have contributed to professionalization is discussed and evaluated in below section.

Indicators of the professionalization of an official occupation

Female predominance in the translation profession

Table 1 below presents the distribution of respondents in gender:

Gender

Number

Rate

Women

187

74.8

Men

63

25.2

Total

250

100

Table 1: Distribution of respondents in gender

A total of 250 respondents completed the survey. Table 1 showed that the number of female respondents (187, corresponding to 84.0% of the total respondents) outweighed the number of male respondents (20, or 16.0%)

Main roles of translation graduates

The given Table 2 indicates the results related to the main professional activities of respondents:

Professional activities

First

Second

Third

Response count

Translator:
- In-house translator in an institution
- Translator in a translation company
- Freelance Translator


3 (16.67%)

70 (93.33%)

25 (24.5%)


12 (66.66%)

4 (5.33%)

77 (75.5%)


3 (16.67%)

1 (1.34%)

0


18

75

102

Intepreter

60 (61.22%)

28 (28.57)

10 (10.21%)

 

Language teacher/researcher/trainer

125 (97.65%)

3 (2.35%)

0

128

Editor

8 (100%)

0

0

8

Translation project manager

4 (30.77%)

8 (61.54%)

1 (7.69%)

13

Other (Administrator, Online product selling as the main job)

80 (100%)

0

0

80

Table 2. Main professional activities of the respondents as percentages of respondents in each activity

Out of  250  graduates,  120  individual respondents  (48%  of all respondents)  reported that they were working as translators. These respondents had translation either as their first, second, or third role. The data were a bit different below given the fact that the respondents were allowed to select more than one option as their first, second or third role.

It should be noted that for those with translator as first role, most of them are full-time in-house translator of companies (70 out of 74) while for those with translator as second role, most of them are freelance translator (77 out of 102).  Also, it is noticeable that language teacher/researcher/trainer profession as the 1st role accounts for a great number of those who said they are translators (125 out of 128). Finally, it is important to note that there were a great number of those who said they are translators indicated that they work primarily as non-translation/language worker such as administator and online product selling (80 out of 80). All these numbers showed several issues on professionalization of translation profession. Firstly, only under a half of translation-major graduates entered the workforce of translation industry (120 out of 250). Secondly, most of them still consider full-time in-house as the common way to be translator, otherwise, for those who said they are freelance translators, they admitted that this was only their second role, and many said they work primarily as non-translation/language worker such as administator and online product selling.

Freelancing as a temporary/transition option

Table 2 above also showed that 75.5% of the respondents defined freelance translation as their second role (77 out of 102) rather than the first role (24.5%) among the respondents that chose freelancing as one of their roles. About 40% of the graduates mentioned freelancing as their main role together with another main role such as in-house translating, language teaching, interpreting and research, which means that they gave equal weight to freelancing and another role. The results indicated that although a great number of graduates were freelancing, they did not prefer it as their sole profession. Table 4 presents the breakdown of freelancers by graduation year.

Graduation year

Number of freelancing translator

Total number of graduates

Freelancing translator rate

1996 or earlier

20

30

66.67%

1996-2005

30

78

38.46%

2006-2016

88

155

58.67

Table 3. Distribution of freelance translator by graduation year as percentage of the total number of respondents falling under the respective category of graduation year

With respect to graduation year, the rate of freelancers in the oldest age ranging was the highest (66.67%), which was reported by interviews later by these freelance translators that they had a chace to enter the international freelance translation market, not the domestic freelance translation market. It should be noticeable as the other two categories (1996-2005 and 2006-2016) were reported to be freelance translator of domestic translation market more than international market. Additionally, the increasing rate of freelance translators in the current years also showed a tendency to work as freelance translators in general.

Commitment to the profession

Commitment to the profession was addressed directly in the Table 3. The data on the respondents’ main roles reported showed that, on the one hand, 120 individual respondents (48% of all respondents) reported that they were working as translators at least part of their time. On the other hand, about around half of the respondents chose teaching and just under 35% chose something other than a language-related job as their first role.

The graduates were asked to state their reasons if they did not work in the translation, interpreting and localization sectors. The responses of 89 participants to this open-ended question can be classified into the following five categories:

1) working conditions (mainly financial dissatisfaction, i.e. the respondents believe that translators are underpaid given factors such as heavy workload, irregularity of working hours, high stress and little respect for the profession),

2) lack of job opportunities (two mentioned that it was hard to work as a translator in smaller cities, and others said they could not find work as a translator or interpreter),

3) other reasons (such as no room to advance in their career, translation is “boring”, and the market is “challenging” because translator rate in Vietnam is extremely low for fresh graduates ($1.5-2/350-400 words).

A significant finding of this survey was that language teaching is the best alternative to translating among the graduates of translation and interpreting programs. Out of 250 respondents, a large proportion defined language teaching as their first roles (97.65%). In order to discover why these students studied translation and interpreting if they were to be employed as language teachers after graduation, I had further exchanges with eight survey respondents currently working as language teachers via follow-up interviews.

Eleven interviewees mentioned that they started studying translation with no intention of being a full-time translator, but just because of university assignment of those with highest scores in general programs in language studies degree. They were all planning a career related to foreign languages in general, rather than specifically translation. Regarding the factors that led them to work as language teachers after graduation, twenty-eight translation graduates, now employed as teachers, had many reasons from financial status to private life for preferring teaching to translating. The reasons that led translation graduates to choose teaching after graduation are mostly linked to disadvantages of the translation profession as this job has not been considered as a real profession but just as an additional skills in foreign language only, and partly similar to the open-ended  responses  reported  above: imbalance  between  the  effort  and  income  in  translation  jobs, lack of standards related to the profession, lack of job opportunities in smaller cities, and insufficiency of training programs in preparing trainees for the market. Advantages of the teaching profession also influenced their choice: more favorable working conditions especially in terms of working hours and holiday, job security (when employed in public schools and universities), scholarship opportunities, etc.  

Graduates’ perceptions of the training programs

 

Translation Degree

Foreign Language Degree + Experience

On-the-job training + foreign language proficiency

Agree

32.7%

52%

15.3%

Table 4. Formal training or experience

Firstly, via Table 4 and the follow-up interviews, participants were asked to assess the role of a formal degree and about one-third of the respondents (32.7%) agreed that all professional translators should have a degree in translation while 52% said that foreign language degree is enough, no need for translation degree, to do translation together with some years of experience. Further, many respondents claimed that translation can be learned on the job. While many people agreed that there is need for at least a degree in foreign language study to be employed in the translation market, many translators – the respondents expressed via the follow-up interview that they did not feel prepared to enter the market when they graduated although generally, the majority of the respondents said their academic training was very good. It is thus possible that there is a need for curricula update for university-based translation training/degree so that it could catch up with the real market. One hundred and sixty three participants replied to this question.

(To be continued...)

Relative news

Although Olvera-Lobo et al. (2005) found that the volume of documents needed to be translated for cross-national purposes has multiplied manifold globally, including Vietnam, there is no research on the extent of professionalization of the translator in this market until now. This study thus aims at giving a comprehensive overview on the status of the translation profession in Vietnam by analyzing documentary and empirical data and to indicate the degree of professionalization of this profession in Vietnam. While the findings showed academic attempts to enhance the professionalization of this profession in Vietnam, legal instruments’ analysis indicated the lack of official development evidence, especially in the full-time freelancing type. Via empirical survey and interview data, gaps between university translation degree and the real industry were also pointed out. Implications are then given out for the pedagogical purpose.

After describing in detail the differences in vocabulary and accent between these two variants in the 1st part, I discuss the relevant political issues and how these affect translation, proofreading, and international certification in the English <-> Vietnamese language pair. To conclude, I propose a variety of solutions to the problems.

Although Olvera-Lobo et al. (2005) found that the volume of documents needed to be translated for cross-national purposes has multiplied manifold globally, including Vietnam, there is no research on the extent of professionalization of the translator in this market until now. This study thus aims at giving a comprehensive overview on the status of the translation profession in Vietnam by analyzing documentary and empirical data and to indicate the degree of professionalization of this profession in Vietnam. While the findings showed academic attempts to enhance the professionalization of this profession in Vietnam, legal instruments’ analysis indicated the lack of official development evidence, especially in the full-time freelancing type. Via empirical survey and interview data, gaps between university translation degree and the real industry were also pointed out. Implications are then given out for the pedagogical purpose.

THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES current issues that arise for the Vietnamese translator stemming from the difference between
Vietnamese as used in Vietnam (which I will call “domestic Vietnamese”) and Vietnamese as used in Vietnamese-speaking
communities in Western nations (which I will call “overseas Vietnamese”). This 1st part describes in detail the differences in vocabulary and accent between these two variants, relevant political issues.