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Interpreters and Translators Career Overview

Translate or interpret written, oral, or sign language text into another language for others.

Salary for Interpreters and Translators

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 25th
Percentile
75th
Percentile
Mean
U.S. $28,940
($13.91)
$52,240
($25.12)
$43,130
($20.74)
Annual figures are on top. Hourly figures are below in parentheses.
N/A = Information not available


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Career Outlook for Interpreters and Translators

Interpreters and translators can expect much faster than average employment growth. Job prospects vary by specialty and language.

Employment change. Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to increase 22 percent over the 2008–18 decade, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Higher demand for interpreters and translators results directly from the broadening of international ties and the large increases in the number of non-English speaking people in the United States. Both of these trends are expected to continue throughout the projections period, contributing to relatively rapid growth in the number of jobs for interpreters and translators across all industries in the economy.

Demand will remain strong for translators of frequently translated languages, such as Portuguese, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Demand should also be strong for translators of Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages and for the principal East Asian languages—Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Demand for American Sign Language interpreters will grow rapidly, driven by the increasing use of video relay services, which allow individuals to conduct video calls using a sign language interpreter over an Internet connection.

Technology has made the work of interpreters and translators easier. However, technology is not likely to have a negative impact on employment of interpreters and translators because such innovations are incapable of producing work comparable with work produced by these professionals.

Job prospects. Urban areas, especially Washington, DC, New York, and cities in California, provide the largest numbers of employment possibilities, especially for interpreters; however, as the immigrant population spreads into more rural areas, jobs in smaller communities will become more widely available.

Job prospects for interpreters and translators vary by specialty and language. For example, interpreters and translators of Spanish should have good job opportunities because of expected increases in the Hispanic population in the United States. Demand is expected to be strong for interpreters and translators specializing in healthcare and law because it is critical that information be fully understood among all parties in these areas. Additionally, there should be demand for specialists in localization, driven by the globalization of business and the expansion of the Internet; however, demand may be dampened somewhat by outsourcing of localization work to other countries. Given the shortage of interpreters and translators meeting the desired skill level of employers, interpreters for the deaf will continue to have favorable employment prospects. On the other hand, competition can be expected for both conference interpreter and literary translator positions because of the small number of job opportunities in these specialties.


Employment Overview

Interpreters and translators held about 50,900 jobs in 2008. However, the actual number of interpreters and translators is probably significantly higher because many work in the occupation only sporadically. Interpreters and translators are employed in a variety of industries, reflecting the diversity of employment options in the field. About 28 percent worked in public and private educational institutions, such as schools, colleges, and universities. About 13 percent worked in healthcare and social assistance, many of whom worked for hospitals. Another 9 percent worked in other areas of government, such as Federal, State, and local courts. Other employers of interpreters and translators include interpreting and translation agencies, publishing companies, telephone companies, and airlines.

About 26 percent of interpreters and translators are self-employed. Many who freelance in the occupation work only part time, relying on other sources of income to supplement earnings from interpreting or translation.


Job Zone Description

Job Zone 4 - Preparation needed

Overall Experience
A minimum of two to four years of work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is needed for these occupations. For example, an accountant needs four years of college and several years of accounting work to be considered qualified.

Education
Most of these occupations require a four-year bachelor's degree, but some do not.

Job Training
Employees in these occupations usually need several years of work-related experience, on-the-job training, and/or vocational training.

Examples
Accountants, chefs and head cooks, computer programmers, historians, and police detectives.

These occupations often involve coordinating, supervising, managing, and/or training others.

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Additional Resources for Interpreters and Translators Job Seekers

Organizations dedicated to these professions can provide valuable advice and guidance to people interested in learning more about interpreting and translation. The language services division of local hospitals or courthouses also may have information about available opportunities.

For general career information, contact:

  • American Translators Association, 225 Reinekers Ln., Suite 590, Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.atanet.org

For more detailed information by specialty, contact the association affiliated with the subject area in question. See, for example, the following:

  • American Literary Translators Association, University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Rd., Mail Station JO51, Richardson, TX 75080-3021. Internet: http://www.utdallas.edu/alta
  • International Medical Interpreters Association, 800 Washington Street, Box 271, Boston, MA 02111-1845. Internet: http://www.imiaweb.org
  • Localization Industry Standards Association, Domaine en Prael, CH-1323 Romainmôtier, Switzerland. Internet: http://www.lisa.org
  • National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, 1707 L St. NW., Suite 570, Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.najit.org
  • National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, 5505 Connecticut Ave. NW., Suite 119, Washington, DC 20015. Internet: http://www.ncihc.org
  • Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 333 Commerce St., Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.rid.org

For information about testing to become a contract interpreter or translator with the U.S. State Department, contact:

Information on obtaining a position as an interpreter and translator with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or TDD (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, see the Occupational Outlook Quarterly article "How to get a job in the Federal Government," online at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2004/summer/art01.pdf.

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