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Interpreters feel pinch of COVID-19 pandemic

People in masks check displays at PR booths during an exhibition of pharmaceutical and cosmetics products at KINTEX exhibition hall in Goyang, July 27. With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no sign of abating, many interpreters are struggling. Yonhap
People in masks check displays at PR booths during an exhibition of pharmaceutical and cosmetics products at KINTEX exhibition hall in Goyang, July 27. With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no sign of abating, many interpreters are struggling. Yonhap

By Jung Min-ho

Lee, an interpreter with 15 years' experience in the industry, was looking forward to a busy year while making plans for 2020.

But the new coronavirus plunged the world into a "crisis like no other" early this year, forcing many countries to shut borders and cancel international events.

"My income has been halved compared with the same period last year and I'm considered one of the lucky ones in the market," Lee told The Korea Times Wednesday.

The pandemic has not affected his earnings as much as many other interpreters because he largely works on long-term contracts rather than on demand. With major international events canceled, many freelance interpreters are feeling the pinch more acutely.

Semicon Korea, an international trade fair for semiconductor technology, Seoul Living Design Fair, an international interior design and lifestyle exhibition, and Befe Baby Fair, a baby and maternity industry exhibition in Korea, are among the many events canceled or postponed indefinitely this year.

"Before the pandemic, I was going to attend a minister-level government event overseas, but it was eventually canceled," Lee said.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it would end in a few months. I'm now starting to think that this will continue into next year, at the very least."

As an alternative, many interpreters have turned to text translation work, which can be done without physical contact.

"Over the last few months, the websites that connect jobseekers with translation work have been inundated with new applications for work," Park, another veteran interpreter, said. "As a result, the prices of the services have fallen sharply.

"International trade and new business deals are what create such jobs. With the coronavirus still raging in many parts of the world, demand for translation is lower than pre-corona times."

On a popular website for translators, more than 200 people have posted job applications this month alone; meanwhile, only five help-wanted advertisements have been posted.

Given that many interpreters and translators are freelancers or work on contracts, they have been excluded from government pandemic relief funds, which have been given to employees of airline and travel companies, among others.

On the bright side, businesses are now adapting to the new realities of a pandemic economy, holding webinars and online meetings and restoring ― albeit slowly ― demand for interpretation services, interpreters say.


People in masks check displays at PR booths during an exhibition of pharmaceutical and cosmetics products at KINTEX exhibition hall in Goyang, July 27. With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no sign of abating, many interpreters are struggling. Yonhap
People in masks check displays at PR booths during an exhibition of pharmaceutical and cosmetics products at KINTEX exhibition hall in Goyang, July 27. With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no sign of abating, many interpreters are struggling. Yonhap

By Jung Min-ho

Lee, an interpreter with 15 years' experience in the industry, was looking forward to a busy year while making plans for 2020.

But the new coronavirus plunged the world into a "crisis like no other" early this year, forcing many countries to shut borders and cancel international events.

"My income has been halved compared with the same period last year and I'm considered one of the lucky ones in the market," Lee told The Korea Times Wednesday.

The pandemic has not affected his earnings as much as many other interpreters because he largely works on long-term contracts rather than on demand. With major international events canceled, many freelance interpreters are feeling the pinch more acutely.

Semicon Korea, an international trade fair for semiconductor technology, Seoul Living Design Fair, an international interior design and lifestyle exhibition, and Befe Baby Fair, a baby and maternity industry exhibition in Korea, are among the many events canceled or postponed indefinitely this year.

"Before the pandemic, I was going to attend a minister-level government event overseas, but it was eventually canceled," Lee said.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it would end in a few months. I'm now starting to think that this will continue into next year, at the very least."

As an alternative, many interpreters have turned to text translation work, which can be done without physical contact.

"Over the last few months, the websites that connect jobseekers with translation work have been inundated with new applications for work," Park, another veteran interpreter, said. "As a result, the prices of the services have fallen sharply.

"International trade and new business deals are what create such jobs. With the coronavirus still raging in many parts of the world, demand for translation is lower than pre-corona times."

On a popular website for translators, more than 200 people have posted job applications this month alone; meanwhile, only five help-wanted advertisements have been posted.

Given that many interpreters and translators are freelancers or work on contracts, they have been excluded from government pandemic relief funds, which have been given to employees of airline and travel companies, among others.

On the bright side, businesses are now adapting to the new realities of a pandemic economy, holding webinars and online meetings and restoring ― albeit slowly ― demand for interpretation services, interpreters say.


Jung Min-ho mj6c2@koreatimes.co.kr


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