Speaking Your Language

In a world that gets more global by the day, TNOLA Languages has found a growing niche market.

Lens Wdi

New Orleans may own the title of “most French city in America,” but Louisiana as a whole is home to many languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, Haitian and German. In fact, according to the 2000 census, almost 10% of the state’s population age 5 and over reported speaking a language other than English.

As such, Andrew Dafoe, a Colorado native who moved to New Orleans in 2006, said he was surprised to find “a huge lack of high-quality language services available in the greater New Orleans area.” A certified interpreter, Dafoe launched TNOLA Languages in 2014 as a way to grow his freelance career.

Six years later, the business has quickly grown to a team of freelancers who provide a wide array of translation services and interpreting to businesses, conferences, film sets and courtrooms primarily in New Orleans, but with a growing reach across the state and the Gulf South.

TNOLA has an extensive, and still growing, menu of services including in areas of legal and medical translations of documents and proceedings. The company also provides subtitles for films, conference interpreting, and assistance with personal correspondence, websites and more.

The price range for services varies greatly depending on the task and time required, according to Dafoe, with basic translation services starting at less than 25 cents per word, ranging up to large conferences with multiple interpreter teams running into thousands of dollars.

“Historically, most of our work has been in the legal sector, primarily because that’s where a lot of the demand is,” said Dafoe, who is also Louisiana Supreme Court Certified. “In legal settings we’re hired by attorneys, their clients and also by district and municipal court systems. Apart from the legal sector, we’ve had the opportunity to work steadily with a number of medical providers, private businesses and educational institutions as well.”

While COVID-19 has changed in-person interpreting services, the business has thrived in translation services in written work and providing virtual services to companies.
“With the shutdowns that came in response to the pandemic, our in-person interpretation work essentially disappeared overnight, so it really forced us to focus on translations, and thankfully, there was, and is, a lot of information that needed to get out to everyone,” he said. “Apart from that, we’ve also seen an increase in willingness from clients to utilize the technology that’s available to provide interpretation remotely. When everyone is meeting via Zoom or Teams, it makes perfect sense to bring an interpreter in remotely as well.”

Dafoe said the translation industry is primarily composed of freelance linguists who operate as subcontractors. TNOLA works with more than 100 individual linguists.
Interpreting and translation services require a deep set of technical skills along with a dedication to precision, discretion and sensitivity to privacy, according to Dafoe, something that TNOLA aspires to provide to clients of all backgrounds.

“Interpreting is a specialized skill, and folks that aren’t familiar with it often assume anyone that’s bilingual can interpret,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and that misconception often results in people using underqualified individuals. Interpreters often work in incredibly important settings such as hospitals and courts, where the words they select can literally be the difference between life and death. I believed, and still believe, that language access is incredibly important and that the institutions and individuals who need language services deserve better. We’ve been striving to provide the highest quality language services ever since.”

While his client list grows, Dafoe is looking to expand TNOLA’s reach to the business sector as a way to bridge the gap between employers and their team members whose first language may not be English.

“I’d love to see us grow our base of folks who handle HR matters. Unfortunately, we often see what happens when employers don’t provide language services such as training, safety policies, and work agreements in a language understood by their employees,” he said. “By the time problems come up and we as professional interpreters get called in, it’s usually because it’s gotten to litigation. I think if firms did more to ensure language barriers get removed throughout the hiring and employment process, they could avoid a lot of these disputes.”

Looking ahead, Dafoe is hoping to expand the company’s services to include supporting fellow interpreters as demand continues to grow.

“I think we’ve got a model that works, an amazing team of dedicated professionals, and the motivation to keep growing,” he said. “We’re also working right now to launch an online training platform for interpreters. With the specialization required to be a good interpreter, training is in high demand. The new platform will also allow us to ensure our network of linguists is continually improving and refining their skills.”


By the Numbers
Interpretation and Translation is a growing field

77,400 Number of jobs (nationwide) in 2019

Job Outlook (2019-2029): projected to grow 20 PERCENT (compared to general occupational growth of 4%)

160 Number of Interpreters and Translators in Louisiana in 2019

$35,030 Annual Mean Wage

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics