Interpreting translates to good business

Targeting the needs of foreigners flocking to Myanmar is an increasingly intelligent business strategy.

There’s no shortage of examples. A raft of restaurants has opened up to provide a taste of home to expats and tourists, while developers and real estate agents are designing houses – and prices – with foreigners in mind.

Perhaps no industry stands to benefit as much as Myanmar-English translation, though – at least in the short term.

Ma Bo Rosy is a freelance translator. She earns her keep on a succession of contracts from all types of clients, from an oil and gas giant that needs interpreting help, to a Vienna-based professor keen on Myanmar, to acting as a tour guide.

She’s been in the business for three years, and says she enjoys it for her freedom and the chance to travel.

“I can survive off translating alone, and I always have something coming up – that’s an interesting part of my life,” she said.

“When you’re translator, you have to learn and you have to get experience.”

Interpreting at live meetings is the most difficult work she does, and therefore commands the highest price. It gets particularly challenging if the subject is technical. Ma Bo Rosy – who attended an English-language school but spoke Myanmar at home – said she sometimes encounters words such as “dictatorship” where she has trouble with the Myanmar language equivalent.

“For interpreting, if you know the subject, it’s easy, but if you don’t know everything, it’s difficult,” she said. “You have to be ready, you have to be alert, you need 100 percent concentration and that can be tough.”

Some client also request transcription services, which is particularly tiresome, she said.

“Sometimes it can be hard to understand the tape, and we have to listen to it all three times. Since billing is per hour, sometimes people are too strict about the timing – they assume we have a computer brain.”

Although the work has challenges, Ma Bo Rosy said she is eager to pursue the industry – dreaming of one day opening a business, Rosy Translation Services. She is keen to continue as a freelancer, however. For now she finds many of her customers through word-of-mouth, she said, adding it is important to maintain good relations with clients.

“I know a lot of my friends earn a lot more than me, but it’s more uneven,” she said. Often some translators charge high rates, but then clients are reluctant to return.

Ma Bo Rosy is also always on the hunt for new clients.

“I’m a social person, so I hang out with friends and find connections. I talk about my job with people and they like my talking and hire me,” she said.

She translates periodically for an Austrian professor, who was initially put in touch by a mutual friend. The professor now recommends her to colleagues or students, proving to be an important connection as there are more translators than ever in the mix providing a range of services

Ma Wai, 23, said payments are decreasing for entry-level work as a result of all the new translators.

“Some youth translate for free, and they do the job not always for the money but also the experience,” she said.

Ma Wai said she reckons learning foreign languages such as English is becoming a trend. Previously, many youth had no interest learning languages as they saw little benefit, but now that is beginning to change.

There is more and more material and conversations that require translators. “Nowadays being a translator means not just translating text but also movies,” said Ko Ye Min, 23. “Experienced people are making more money, as they are in demand, but young translators often have trouble.”

Ko Ye Min said translators are generally keen to work with big-name organisations, as they tend to pay the most – but also have the highest standards.

“Bosses like translators who study in foreign countries and then return to Myanmar. They get paid more money and are more valued,” he said.

Like Ma Bo Rosy, Ma Hnin Hnin Kaing is also keen on the freelancer’s lifestyle. She finds work translating movies, though added the quality differs significantly.

“Payments for translation change depending on the field. Sensitive fields like court translation generally receive more money – but it’s not always the same and depends on the boss,” she said.

It’s tough to say what will happen in the business generally, but translators say there will be no shortage of people requiring language help.


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