How To Become A Translator

A translator is a person who works with the written word, transforming texts from one language to another (or possibly more). A translator should not be confused with an interpreter, as this line of work requires transforming verbalized speech.

For someone to become a translator, he or she must have an excellent command of language conventions, as well as fluent skills within the particular languages to be translated. Each language has its own nuances, and some idioms, terms, or tenses do not translate directly between two languages. The translator must convey meaning, not just decoding words. This skill includes conveying mood, tone, and style, among other distinctions. The goal of the translator is to provide work that sounds fluent in the translated language, without lost meaning.

A typical day for a translator may include, but is not limited to, translating textbooks, notes, memos, brochures, legal documents, literature, and manuals. In addition to translating and writing, it is necessary for translators to have proficient editing skills, as they will most liking proofread, edit, and consult with clients over language guides and other teaching documents.

Why Become A Translator

If you have a passion for language, are fluent in two or more languages (this includes native language), and have excellent written communication skills, becoming a translator could be an excellent opportunity for you. Because proficient translators require such expertise, they are difficult to come by. If you have these skills and work toward specific certifications, you could easily obtain full-time employment and/or open your own business.

Important assets for a translator to have include skills in business, reading, writing, interpersonal communication, and cultural sensitivity.

Translator Work Environment

A translator can carry his or her skills anywhere, so the work environment varies. Many are self-employed and work from home, as the freelance market is becoming more active. It is possible for translators to work in law offices, government programs, agencies, and publishing firms. Typically, translators work fulltime.

Translator Salary

The median pay for a translator in 2012 was about $45,430 annually, or $21.84 per hour. The lowest reported income was $23,570 and the highest reported was $91,800. Wages for translation depend upon an individual’s skill-set, which include education, expertise, certifications, specialties, and languages. Some languages are more useful than others.

Employment wages also depend on the sector in which translation occurs. For example, professional, scientific, and technical services provide the most income. This trend is followed by government; education services—state, local, and private; and healthcare and social services.

Average Translator Annual Salary


The average annual salary for translators is $51,790 a year. Salaries start at $25,620 a year and go up to $82,290 a year.

Average Translator Hourly Wage


The average hourly wage for a translator is $24.90. Hourly wages are between $12.32 and $39.56 an hour.

Stats were based out of 53,150 employed translators in the United States.

Highest Paying States For Translators

Top Paying Cities For Translators

Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Translator Career Outlook

Translation is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States and throughout the globe. It is projected to grow 46 percent by 2022. Because of globalization and an influx of non-native English speakers in the U.S., the demand for translators will be high. Certifications make translators more marketable.

Translator Degree

There is no right way to become a translator as aptitude and experiences vary for individuals. High school students should be sure to become proficient in English language and literature—reading, writing, and speaking. Training in another language, other than English, is an obvious requirement, but work toward fluency is a goal. Computer skills will also be a desire of a future employer.

Many jobs for translation will require a bachelor’s degree; however, it is not a requirement to have that degree in a language. Try to be as specific as possible with a degree in communications or translation if possible. Of course, emersion programs and membership in organizations can provide much needed opportunities for hands-on language acquisition. Many colleges and universities provide specific training for translation, which are also available in a non-university setting, such as conferences or certification programs.

Some technical markets, like engineering or law, will require a master’s degree or additional certificates. Although there is no universal certificate available, many tests and certification programs are available. There are many specialized organizations that offer their own certifications, such as the American Translators Association and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

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