Love Of Languages Translates Into Fast-Growing Career

By Rick Romell
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Patrice Van Hyle has loved the French language since ninth grade.

During a two-month backpacking trip to Europe after her freshman year in college, she fell for Italy, too. She returned to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and completed a triple major, French, Italian and political science.

She later added a master’s in French studies from New York University and has, among other things, worked for a French steel company, done market research with customers in France and Italy, and helped translate a book by Pope John Paul II.

In 2002, she started her own firm, PVH Translate LLC. That placed her in a rapidly expanding field. The U.S. Labor Department predicts that interpreters and translators, people who work with spoken and written language, respectively, will be the fifth-fastest growing occupation through 2022.

Van Hyle translates from French and Italian into English, never the reverse, and occasionally interprets as well. She also can converse in Spanish and Japanese, and retains her longtime interests in singing, playing the flute and tap dancing. She still has her tap shoes.

Q: How did you get into translating?

A: I’ve had a long-standing interest in foreign languages. When I was in high school one of my dreams was to be an interpreter at the U.N. I had no idea what that would involve. I was only in ninth grade. That’s when I started my French study. But I loved it so much and just felt that this was going to be a big part of my life.

Q: What sorts of translation work do you do?

A: I’ve gotten a little bit more specialized in the past five years. I’ve done a lot on the environment, and right now I’m doing a lot of legal and a lot of pharmaceutical, clinical drug trials for new drugs that are coming out. It’s complex. It can be patient informed-consent forms all the way into the scientific formulations of the drugs. Legal work is very tough. There are a lot of nuanced meanings. … It seems I’m doing a lot of legal Italian and French pharmaceutical.

Q: Are there any peculiarities of, say, Italian that pose challenges for a translator?

A: There’s something about Italian structure of the language, and I hope I don’t offend any Italian speakers, but I find it to be a little vague. They’ll start a sentence with this subject and then sort of it evolves and you’re not sure at the end if that’s the same subject we started talking about.

Q: What other challenges do you typically face?

A: The bulk of my work is sitting in my office where I live, and I spend many hours a day there by my computer, many hours. I have a lot of deadlines, tough deadlines. Sometimes something will come in at 6 p.m. and I have to get it done by midnight. So everything else shuts off; the world is gone. And it’s just me in front of that computer for six hours straight. There’s a lot of intensity.

Q: Anything you’ve worked on that was particularly unusual or interesting?

A: I did a project for a family here, translating months’ worth of love letters (in Italian) between a couple that was engaged. It was a passionate romance, and I was asked to translate these love letters for the family so they could know how their grandparents met. It was fascinating and it was challenging because these were handwritten, and this was from a hundred years ago, so the culture, the language, the times were a little bit different. And I co-translated a book that was written by Pope John Paul II. It was about the Gulf War, and it was not a bestseller. No one really knows about it. But I have a copy, and I can say I translated the pope.

Q: In your field, what has been going on with machine translation?

A: That has been a big topic for the past 10 years or more. It’s growing in popularity. It’s improving as far as its efficiency and productivity and accuracy. It definitely has made big strides. There are software programs that we individual translators and companies buy. I do own one and use it about half the time.
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Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It does help productivity at times. But I don’t see it replacing us human translators because of the need for our own brain input and finesse.
Compensation: The average annual salary for interpreters and translators in Wisconsin was $43,190 in 2013, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. Entry-level workers earned $24,820 a year, while experienced interpreters and translators earned $52,370 a year, on average.

To get in: Although interpreters and translators typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, the most important requirement is to have native-level fluency in English and at least one other language, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many complete job-specific training programs.

Outlook: Employment of interpreters and translators is expected to increase almost 45 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the Department of Workforce Development.

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