The median annual wages of language interpreters and translators in the United States in May 2008 was $38,850. The middle 50 percent of interpreters and translators tended to earn between $28,940 and $52,240, while the lowest 10 percent of interpreters and translators earned less than $22,170. However, the highest 10 percent of interpreters and translators took home an annual wage of more than $69,190. The Federal Government also offers employment to a number of language interpreters and translators, and language specialists working for the government could expect an average annual wage that was more than twice the national median wage at $79,865 in March 2009.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
A number of factors affect the potential earnings of a language interpreter and translator, such as the language being translated or interpreted, the subject matter being discussed, the skill of the translator or interpreter, the experience he or she brings to the translation or interpretation, the education level of the person involved, the number of certifications the person has achieved, and the type of employer for whom the language interpreter or translator will work. As a result, there can be a wide variance in the annual wage a language interpreter and translator may expect. Translators and interpreters who are familiar with high demand languages, such as Spanish, or relatively rarely known languages, such as Arabic or Korean, can expect to command higher earnings than translators and interpreters who are familiar with low demand languages. Interpreters who work in areas where higher levels of skill are required, such as during conferences and meetings, can also expect to command higher annual salaries.
Job Description and Outlook
The overall job outlook for language interpreters and translators is positive; people employed in these fields can expect employment growth that is significantly faster than that in the average employment sector in the United States. However, the prospects for employment will vary according to the specialty and language chosen by a language interpreter and translator.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Language interpreters and translators capable of working with frequently demanded languages, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German, will remain highly sought out in the near future, as should translators and interpreters of a number of Middle Eastern and East Asian languages, such as Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. There should also be a rapid increase in demand for interpreters of American Sign Language due to increases in video technology that allows people to communicate over long distances through the internet, video calls, and sign language interpreters.
Training and Education Requirements
The basic requirement for being a language interpreter or translator is fluency in at least two languages. The educational background of an interpreter or a translator may vary considerably, but it is generally considered a good idea to possess a bachelor’s degree. A number of translators and interpreters additionally complete training programs that are specific to their jobs. Regarding the backgrounds of interpreters and translators, while it is not necessary for a successful worker in the field to have been raised in a bilingual environment, it is important to note that many interpreters and translators working in the field grew up in environments where they frequently spoke two languages.
Students can begin to prepare for careers in translation and interpretation as early as in high school, when they may begin foreign language courses, as well as courses in writing and comprehension and computer proficiency. It is also helpful to read extensively on numerous subjects and spend time abroad or in environments where the languages potential translators and interpreters wish to learn are spoken to increase familiarity and fluency. It is not necessary to major in a language to work with it as a translator or as an interpreter, although some people in the field do so successfully.
In the United States, it is currently not necessary to obtain any universal form of certification to work as a language interpreter and translator. However, there are a number of different tests and examinations interpreters and translators can complete to demonstrate their proficiencies in various areas; certifications from completing these tests and examinations may make such candidates more appealing to potential employers in different fields. As an example, the American Translators Association can provide certification in 24 different languages beyond English to help its members demonstrate their competencies.
Courts linked to the Federal Government offer numerous forms of certification for particular languages, including Spanish, French, and Navajo, allowing language interpreters to work in such settings. Many municipal and state courts also offer similar versions of certification. Regarding court interpretations, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators offers its own certification for such procedures.
A language interpreter and translator may obtain certification from a number of different professional organizations and associations in the field. The major associations are listed below.
- The American Literary Translators Association
- The American Translators Association
- The Canadian Translators and Interpreters Council
- Federation Internationale des Traducteurs
- Japan Association of Translators
- National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators
- Society for Technical Communication
- Society of Federal Linguists
- The Translators and Interpreters Guild