Career Choice: Interpreters and Translators

Career Choice: Interpreters and Translators
  • Type: Career Type
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    Interpreters and translators are separate career paths, but there is some overlap in what these professionals do.

    Interpreters use oral or sign language to communicate; translators take the words of one language and translate it into the words of another language.


Professionals in both groups must accurately communicate what is being said and will use a number of tools to facilitate those conversations, hence the similarities.


Interpreters and translators listen to speaker’s statements and gauge what is being communicated. That communication may be repeated orally or in writing, or in the case of an interpreter through hand motions. Such professionals must resolve word or concept conflicts and use dictionaries, lexicons and other terminology indexes as needed.

Interpreting and translating may occur instantaneously or follow the play back of an electronic recording or the review of a published work. Those that work in a specific field must read up on documents, journals, reports and related material to stay familiar with their ever-changing industry.


Most interpreters and translators have at least a bachelor’s degree. A degree may be the minimum requirement for certain jobs. Proficiency in sign or a foreign language is a must , with oral and written communication required. Such professionals are comfortable working with computers and electronics, and possess strong critical thinking, active learning, speaking and active listening skills.

Majoring in language is not always a requirement to obtain a position, especially as a translator. These professionals often complete their degree requirements in a specific field and may gain their interpreting and translating talents as they complete their education. There is no universal certification for translators, but workers can test their proficiency through the American Translators Assocation, while interpreters can seek certification through the National Association of the Deaf.


The median wage for interpreters and translators was $45,430 per year as of 2012 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salaries for these professions ranged from $23,600 for those in the 10th percentile to $91,800 for those in the 90th percentile as of 2012. For translators and interpreters in the 25th percentile, they could expect to average $32,600 per year. In the 50th percentile, that average was $45,400 per year. And for those in the 75th percentile, the BLS reports an average salary of $64,400 per year.

Among states, translators and interpreters could expect to make the most in Virginia where salaries averaged $89,600 per year as of 2012. That average was far above the next state, New Jersey, where workers could expect to earn $65,100 per year on average. Maine followed with an average salary of $64,200 per year. Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas had the lowest salary averages ranging from $21,600 to $27,300 per year.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for interpreters and translators is a bright one with the BLS forecasting a 42 percent increase in employment from 2010 to 2020. That is three times the rate of job increases forecast for all occupations.

The BLS credits America’s diverse population with fueling demand for translators especially for select Middle Eastern and Asian languages. Demand is also expected to remain strong for several European languages too.

Professionals skilled with American Sign Language can also expect many opportunities, with video relay services and video calls playing an important role in communication. While computers are certainly bridging the gap between cultures as well as the hearing and deaf communities, human input is still required.


Summary Report for: 27-3091.00 – Interpreters and Translators

US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Interpreters and Translators

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Categories: Career Planning