Why are translation and interpreting so undervalued?

On Saturday 29th September I attended the Institute of Translation and Interpreting Scottish Network’s Autumn Workshop on Public Service Interpreting. It was an interesting talk by Jeanice Lee who outlined the difficulties of being a public service interpreter. One of the things made clear by this talk and the resulting discussion is that interpretation is not valued as an important skill in general. This led to me thinking about the status of translation in society since although it is a separate skill from interpreting; they do have several aspects in common. The most obvious reason why translation (and interpreting) is undervalued is that people do not understand what these skills involve: for more on this see my previous post. However, I think the key may lie in people’s attitudes to foreign languages in the UK. The fact that languages are poorly taught in schools and university language departments are closing serves to highlight the fact that many British people do not regard language skills as important because “English is the global language: everyone speaks it”. Until this misconception changes it will be very difficult to improve the status of translation and interpreting as professions.

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