Before I start my short list of ideas here, I should note that these are appropriate for someone already sufficiently familiar with both languages she wants to translate or interpret. If you want to translate Wolof to English, but don’t know more than basic Wolof, step number 1 has to be improving your language skills. There’s no shortcut around that one!
Once you are a confidently bilingual English-Wolof speaker (or whatever your pair may be), you have a few options:
- Get a degree from a respected translation or interpreting
program—really! Many schools, such as the University of Maryland, offer “language-neutral” courses to be able to accommodate speakers of rare languages. The American Translators Association list of “approved” schools is a great place to help narrow down the choices.
- Attend a training session in person. Again, these can often be language-neutral, whether offered through a university (summer sessions, for instance), a community program, or even a training company. The time commitment varies, though I wouldn’t consider less than 40 hours. Ask other professionals for recommendations, if you can!
- Earn a post-BA certificate in translation remotely. I reviewed the NYU program last year, but you aren’t limited to that one.
To round out your learning: network, network, network! Find a professional near you who works with the same rare language. If that doesn’t work, find one you can talk to over the phone or by Skype. You need someone who can give you feedback on your specific language pair, someone who will be able to look at the source text and know where you dropped a key word, mistranslated a false friend, or otherwise made an oopsie. Someone to keep you honest.
If all else fails, try an internship! Contact agencies or individual translators/interpreters who seem amenable to the idea of mentoring someone. (It helps if you know the individual in advance, or have someone who can introduce you.) Find out ways to make the relationship mutually beneficial—even if it just means picking up the tab for coffees once a month. Linguists are communicators by nature and profession. It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone to talk to!
Do you work with a rare language? How did you train for a career in T/I?