Miami junior begins process to become an official French translator


Photo provided by Ryan Dern

Ryan Dern, a triple major at Miami with fluency in French, wants to talk for a living by becoming an official translator in court, schools and other government work.

By Abby Fox

Ryan Dern, a junior at Miami University, wants to help people understand each other – literally. Dern has recently started the process of becoming an official French translator for the state of Ohio.

Dern began “on-call” positions for the Lebanon City School district, Warren County and the Lebanon city government. The school district or local government alerts Dern when they need someone to translate for them.

Dern started learning French in high school, after an attempt at Spanish for one year in junior high. After friends suggested Dern take French, he found it to be a good fit and was soon immersed in the language and culture. Dern has taken six French classes at Miami and decided to make French a third major in addition to political science and journalism.

“I found it pretty easy to pick up as there are a lot of similarities to English, and I feel that my brain just kind of clicked with it and also loving it encouraged me to really pursue getting the maximum out of it that I can.” Dern said.

The qualifications to become an official translator in the United States are a bachelor’s degree, as well as “native-level” fluency, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dern has become fluent enough to bypass the bachelor degree requirement.

“The process of becoming an official translator wasn’t very rigorous, or even difficult… I just had to demonstrate a genuine proficiency in both speaking and writing in French and was analyzed in my ability by the head translator of the school system, Jennifer Marsh,” Dern said.

“I already did shadowing work at my local city hall and county commission buildings and my French teacher recommended that I apply for a translator position for the school system and so I did.”

So far, Lebanon City Schools has called once.

“There was a new student and his parents were from Haiti and the parents spoke no English and the child spoke it minimally, so they were in need of someone to translate for the school administration.” 

At the moment, the on-call positions in Lebanon are strictly voluntary. 

“I don’t get any financial compensation for my position,” Dern said. “Since I am technically still in an apprentice role as I haven’t met the hours requirements, which is 20 hours on the job for my specific role.”

Dern’s friends at Miami marvel at his proficiency with French, and help out by holding conversations together in French. 

“Being a French translator is such a great opportunity for Ryan to use his skills and love of French to help people out. It’s a great way to step into the professional world, too.” said Catherine Wegman, friend and peer of Ryan for the past two years. She is also taking French classes at Miami University. 

According to friend Ryleigh Bexfield, since taking the fluency test, Dern “has started to speak French more regularly and incorporate it more into everyday conversations.” 

Dern’s goal is to work in a full time government career. For the time being, volunteering at a local school district seems to be the best way for Dern to speak up and become noticed.