Translation Profession Status in Vietnam: Document and Empirical Analyses (Cont.)

Although Olvera-Lobo et al. (2005) found that the volume of documents needed to be translated for cross-national purposes has multiplied manifold globally, including Vietnam, there is no research on the extent of professionalization of the translator in this market until now. This study thus aims at giving a comprehensive overview on the status of the translation profession in Vietnam by analyzing documentary and empirical data and to indicate the degree of professionalization of this profession in Vietnam. While the findings showed academic attempts to enhance the professionalization of this profession in Vietnam, legal instruments’ analysis indicated the lack of official development evidence, especially in the full-time freelancing type. Via empirical survey and interview data, gaps between university translation degree and the real industry were also pointed out. Implications are then given out for the pedagogical purpose.


In this section, data and results gained from the document and the empirical data shall be discussed in detail. There are two main parts including what has been achieved so far and have not been done yet in education, legal instruments and professional association, and the lack of complete indicators for an official translation profession.

Translation as a semi-profession/skill

From the analysis of translation education and training, legal instruments and professional associations, it is shown that translation is still a semi-profession in Vietnam’s context. Compared to the global perspective, it showed that translation had not been fully considered as a professional occupation as it should be in European nations and in countries where English is spoken as native language. However, this result is consistent with the results from developing Asian nations. Specifically, with regard to the aspect of education, translator-training programs in universities in Vietnam have been increasing in number however, when looking closely into the “career prospect” section, it is interestingly noted that some training programs only considered translation as a skill for other official job such as public relations, marketing writer, administrator, communication officer, rather than a profession. Furthermore, there is no graduate translation training program or associate program, showing a lack of diversification of training programs. It is also well noted that several national or regional universities also saw translation as a profession academically.

Additionally, while there were no exact data on the proportion of translators holding a translation degree getting jobs in the market, job advertisement requirements relating to translation degree of Vietnam market are separately divided into domestic and international markets. Whilst Vietnam’s translation international market often seeks specifically a translator either with a degree in translation, or specialized non-language degree, the domestic market shows a misunderstand of translation as profession. More particularly, job advertisement requirements in domestic market of Vietnam usually consider anyone with a language degree, or even IELTS certificate is enough to translate well, which means translation is not a profession but only another language skill. This study is consistent with the results of Pym et al. (2012:20), where academic (or formal) qualification is reported to be not required for translators. Furthermore, while several well-established university-based training programs are an evident sign of enhanced professionalization, there has also been a growing discussion on the increasing number of translator-training programs with reference to the practical needs on the job market and employment issues. A study of Pham & Tran (2013) showed a significant gap between the demands of the translation employment market and the curriculum within the context of Vietnamese tertiary education. In a conference paper in Vietnam in 2017, the author of this paper also pointed out that although the translation graduates in Vietnam, in general, have positive perceptions about the translation training courses received, they later did not join the translation industry or admitted that they lacked several industry skills.

As for the legal instrument, the only relevant legal instrument until now in which the translator’s quality is mentioned to a very basic extent and only mentioned because of the certified translation, not of the translator’s specific quality or criteria, is the Circular 20/2015/TT-BTP dated Dec 29, 2015 of the Ministry of Justice guiding Decree No. 23/2015/ND-CP dated February 16, 2015 of the Government on issuance of copies from master registers, issuance of certified true copies from originals, authentication of signatures and contracts. However, there is no report on the real quality of such certified copies and of the translation collaborators of the provincial departments of justice. It is thus can be seen clearly that the government also do not involve in the consideration of translation as a profession. It is reported in “Requirements for translation services” in ISO 17100:2015 the need of standardized criteria for translation assessment. Compared to such international view, it is also believed that Vietnam should take into full consideration of the same ISO or the translators with significant fame should call for a collaboration on the issue with the Ministry of Justice of Vietnam, or any possible relevant authority.

Despite of the previous literature pointing out that academics in translation-training programs act as a stakeholder in initiatives taken to improve the profession (e.g. adoption of national standards) and produce knowledge (e.g. academic journals and conferences) to contribute to the cultivation of professionals and to ensure public recognition, there was no official national association until now in Vietnam. Together with the fact that the academic communities also have not developed any specifically designated organization for translation studies, it can be seen that Vietnamese translators also faced difficulties in looking for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses and professional/industry certifications/accreditations in language pairs relating to Vietnamese language (Hoang, 2020). Finally, it is shown that, usually, a great professional translation profession identity requires the establishment of a strict and reputable association/society of translators. It thus will be ironic that in a market of around 100 million people, there is no such an association. Actually, there was already some unofficial ones. All what the government authorities need to do is to be open-minded, or less politically sensitive, as said in Hoang (2020), and translators need to be more active and collaborative for the community benefits in the long future.

The lack of complete indicators for an official translation profession

Interestingly, the finding related to the profile of translators indicates that the general number of women far outweighs the number of men on the market. This is one of the factors that indicate a lack of complete indicators for an official profession. The result is also comparable with other studies conducted across the world, as reported in Pym et al. (2012:85) and Volga (2018). As for the professional profile of translation program graduates, only under a half of university graduates reported to work as a translator. Furthermore, not all the respondents selected translation as their major profession. The rate of the respondents whose first role was translation accounts only under one-third of the total number of translation-major graduates. Most of these respondents were in-house translators.

Additionally, freelancing translators also are reported to do other irrelevant jobs as the main source of income and this may also suggest that there is a lack of a professionalization. In this study, despite a great of number of the respondents were freelancing, the majority of them considered freelancing only as another “job” they did to earn money, among “jobs” such as “online product selling” or “language teacher”.  It seems that in Vietnam context, translation is only a skill, in which a general language speaker can also tries so that they can earn some gig money from that. Secondly, probably there is a basic misunderstanding from the employees on translation profession that translation is only a skill, or activity, rather than an official profession. This finding, together with the low rate of freelancers working as a full-time freelancing translator further suggests that freelancing is still considered a temporary job for additional income source only.

With regard to the commitment to translation as a profession, although the majority of the translation graduates showed positive perceptions on the university training programs, many of them are, however, admitted to be ready to get a more stable profession, mainly language teaching. Lack of industry standards in the domestic market, imbalance between effort and income, and the extremely low rate in the domestic market where fresh graduates tried whatever their efforts to take a job with so-called “unacceptable rates” (according to what the respondents said) explained further why they prefer to choose another profession to the translation profession. These results were consistent to Volga (2018), showing a consistent lack of professionalization of translation as a profession not only in Turkey, but also in Vietnam.


The present article has examined the status of the translation profession in Vietnam both in terms of the degree of professionalization and the indicators of an official profession. The results suggest that although definite steps have been taken on the way to professionalization from the academic context, there is still a lack of professionalization from the domestic market in Vietnam, the employers and indicators of a well-established profession.

The training programs, as workforce providers to the market, are quite well established however, there were a lack of diversification in types and levels of the programs. Until now, no direct legal instrument so far has been introduced to define the profession’s requirements and the indirect documents also were not enough to distinguish between language teachers and translators/interpreters. Qualifications required to enter the profession are also not specified. Anyone with bilingual competence can become a translator. This also applies to sworn translators authorized to translate official documents. Furthermore, no association relating to translation has been established to promote translators’ rights and to bring stakeholders together as well. Lack of certification or any other tool for earning credibility is an attribute to the misunderstand/de-qualification of the translation profession.

Translation program graduates generally have positive perceptions of training programs; however, when being asked for their commitment to the profession and how well so far the program prepares them to enter the market, only a small number of the respondents committed to work as translators and know what they need to enter the market in reality. It seems the satisfactory rate is not a reasonable indicator of effective training professional in the case of translation profession. Furthermore, while there are a small number of full-time and freelance translators that showed their strong commitment to the profession, the majority of freelance translators considered translation as an additional job for further income only, rather than a career. Lack of regulation in the market also make them seek for more stable professions, most often, in language teaching or, in worse cases, selling irrelevant products.

In conclusion, considerable progress has been made in recent years to improve the translation profession academically. Nevertheless, translation curricula in Vietnam still need to be matched with the industry practice in reality and the solution must be from all stakeholders: universities, employers and government so that translation can offer their translators accreditations and credibility for a real profession. Furthermore, pedagogically, lecturers of translation should also try to emphasize the occupational identity of the profession, instead of mixing it implicitly or explicitly with into another occupation (e.g. communication officer).