Translator Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a translator career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming a translator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Translator Careers

As a translator, you typically convert various written documents from one language into your native tongue. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a translator is a good choice for you.

Pros of Being a Translator
Strong job outlook (46% growth from 2012-2022)*
Can specialize in various types of documents (literary, law, healthcare)*
Flexible work setting (anywhere with computer and Internet access)*
Opportunity to connect people to new languages and knowledge*

Cons of Being a Translator
Possibility of irregular and infrequent work schedule*
Pressure to make sure translations are accurate*
May start out volunteering to gain experience for paid positions*
Tight deadlines may be common*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

If you pursue a translating career, you won't simply be converting written text from one language into another. You must also preserve sentence structure, context, syntax and colloquialisms so that the translation is as close to the original as possible. At times, you may need to consider your target audience and translate materials so they're age- and grade level-appropriate.

For the most part, you obtain and turn in your assignments using a computer, which provides you with flexibility in where you work. Multiple edits and read-throughs are common, and you may use various reference materials, such as dictionaries, lexicons or encyclopedias. You may also need to abide by ethical policies that keep translated information private.

Career Paths

Depending on your interests or expertise, you could specialize in a specific subject matter. For instance, health or medical translators work with health care providers to translate information for patients and their families. Literary translators work with authors and publishers to translate books, journals and articles, and legal translators work in legal settings to help people understand the law and ensure their constitutional rights.

Career Growth and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an expected 46% job growth rate for translators between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than average. The demand is largely due to the increasing diversity in the U.S. While the most frequently translated languages include French, German, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese, there will also be increased demand for Middle Eastern, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese and Korean translators.

The BLS reported that, as of May 2014, translators earned mean annual salaries of about $49,000. However, many translators are self-employed, and incomes can vary according to how much work is obtained.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

The education requirements for translators largely vary depending on where you work. At the most basic level, fluency in at least two languages is key. Additionally, the BLS stated that you may need a bachelor's degree. You have a few options for suitable majors that can prepare you for a translating career, including a foreign language, translation itself or the specific subject you want to specialize in.

One thing you should keep in mind is that translators need to learn specific translation methods, and this may require you to enroll in additional courses that teach these techniques. Many postsecondary schools, seminars and non-university courses provide this training.

Other Skills

To be a successful translator, you should be perceptive of cultural differences. Having knowledge of the cultures of those who speak the translated languages helps you with accuracy and sensitivity. Furthermore, you need strong writing skills that allow you to convey ideas effectively, as well as computer skills since most of your work is done electronically. If you're self-employed, business skills, such as bookkeeping and marketing, can be valuable.

Job Postings from Real Employers

The requirements to be a translator vary depending on the job. However, there are some commonalities, and in recent job postings, many employers sought candidates with some educational background combined with professional experience and language fluency. Check out these job openings from May 2012 to get a feel for what employers are looking for:

  • An entertainment company in Florida advertised for a Spanish-to-English translator with an associate's degree and 1-2 years of experience to translate scripts for audiences in Latin America, Brazil and the Caribbean.
  • A language company in Florida sought an English-to-Japanese translator with a bachelor's degree and strong computer skills to translate text and multimedia and website content.
  • An international cosmetics company based in California hired for a Spanish translator with a bachelor's degree and 3-5 years of experience to translate various promotional materials and assist with copywriting and proofreading.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Certification

Becoming a certified translator isn't a universal requirement, but some employers prefer certified candidates. It also helps to validate your education and expertise. The American Translators Association (ATA) provides certification to its members who have a combination of educational and professional experience and pass an exam. If you are looking to become a court translator, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) also offers certification. Much like the ATA's certification process, you need to be a member and pass an examination demonstrating your knowledge of court translation procedures. You can also check with your state to see if it offers certification for translators.

Alternative Career Paths

If you would prefer a career where more salaried positions are available, consider a career as an adult literacy teacher. In this role, you could teach English as a Second Language (ESL) and help non-English-speaking individuals learn to read, write and speak in English. A bachelor's degree and teaching certification are typically required. The BLS anticipated an average 15% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020. May 2011 BLS data showed that these professionals earned average salaries of approximately $51,000.

Another alternative career that offers a more stable income is court reporting. You would provide verbatim transcriptions of court proceedings by working for the court system or government. A certificate or associate's degree is necessary for this career, and depending on your state, you may need a license. The job outlook is average, with a 14% employment growth rate predicted between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. As of May 2011, these professionals earned mean salaries of about $54,000, reported the BLS.

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations

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Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication

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Northcentral University

  • M.Ed. - Reading Education

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Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Arts in Communication - General
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
  • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts - Creative Writing for Entertainment

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Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Communication

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