Translator: Job Duties & Career Info

Learn about the skills needed to be a translator. Find out education requirements, job duties, salary and employment outlook to help make the right career choice.

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Career Definition of a Translator

A Translator converts written words from a 'source' language into a 'target' language, which is almost always his or her native language. Most Translators specialize in a combination of source and target languages, such as 'French to English' or 'English to Chinese.' Additionally, Translators often specialize in a certain topic, such as literature, finance, law, medicine, or technology. Most staff employment opportunities are in Washington, D.C., New York, and California; however, the need for translators is expanding throughout the U.S., especially in the area of healthcare.

Education Bachelor's degree and expertise in multiple languages
Job Skills Writing, editing, and grammar ability in two languages, plus computer and organizational skills
Median Salary (2017)* $47,190 for interpreters and translators
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 18% increase for interpreters and translators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Most entry-level Translation positions require a bachelor's degree in addition to expertise in at least two languages and experience gained through internships. Certification may be required for some positions and might enhance earning potential. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in Translation and specific languages, but candidates are also encouraged to study subjects such as economics or humanities so that they can develop Translation career specialties.

Skills Required

Translators must be experts in two languages. They must also possess superior writing, editing, and grammar skills in their target language. Computer and word processing skills are essential, and familiarity with translation software programs is becoming increasingly important. Translators in a specialized field, such as law, must be familiar with legal systems both in the U.S. and abroad. Translation professionals must also understand various international customs and cultures. Freelance Translators must be highly organized and possess marketing, networking, and bookkeeping skills.

Economic Outlook

There are several opportunities for Translators in education, the private sector, government, healthcare, and the legal system. Almost a quarter of translators are self-employed. Wages may vary depending on experience, education, certification, demand for a particular language combination, and expertise in a specific subject. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment opportunities to grow by 18% from 2016 through 2026, which is much faster than average. The BLS estimated the median annual salary of a translator working in the U.S. in May 2017 at $47,190.

Alternate Careers

Other career options in this field include:

Technical Writer

Although they do not deal with foreign languages, technical writers take complex technical research data and terminology and translate into understandable text for manuals, documents and published works. A bachelor's degree in communications, English or journalism is usually necessary to enter this field. Employment growth of 11% between 2016 and 2026 is anticipated by the BLS, and it also estimated the annual median salary for technical writers was $70,930 in 2017.

High School Foreign Language Teacher

For those who love to speak a specific foreign language and share their knowledge, becoming a high school foreign language teacher is an option. Most teachers need to have a bachelor's degree, preferably in the field they want to teach, and must qualify for state licensing. An eight percent increase in job opportunities for high school teachers is projected by the BLS during the 2016-2026 decade, but in the South and Western U.S., more jobs may be available. In 2017, secondary school teachers earned a median salary of $59,170, according to the BLS.

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