How to become an interpreter or translator

How to become an interpreter or translator

What do you need to become a translator?

  • Ability to speak, read, and write in at least 2 languages fluently
  • A certificate, bachelor's degree, or master's degree in translation.
  • Additional specific subject matter knowledge, such as medical, scientific, or legal depending on the type of material you will be translating

How long does it take to become a translator?

Assuming that you already are fluent in the "language pair", that is the 2 languages which you will translate, usually English and a Language Other than English (LOTE), the length of time to become a translator varies depending on the educational path you select.

Certificate programs with no specific pre-requisites other than a high school diploma and language fluency, require 15 hours of coursework and usually can be completed in one year either online or with part-time study.

Certificate programs that require a minimum of 2 years of college-level work in order to enroll, usually require between 18 -20 hours of coursework and may be completed on a part-time basis.

A Master of Science in Translation or Master of Arts in Translating and Interpreting requires 33-36 hours of coursework and may take 1 -2 years in addition to a bachelor's degree that requires 60 hours of courses and takes 4 years.

For American sign Language (ASL) translation, it takes 2-3 years to master the language, and then another 2 years to complete an interpretation program.

What is a translator?

Translators, sometimes called Interpreters, convert what is written or spoken in one language to the equivalent in another language, allowing people who do not speak the other's language to communicate.

Professional translators provide language translation for written documents.

Interpreters convert spoken words from one language to another and may also utilize sign language to translate spoken words for the hearing impaired.

Where are translator and interpreter jobs found?

Translators are employed in many industries and settings. Government agencies, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and courts all employ translators. The software industry utilizes translators to localize applications used in different countries. Publishing, advertising and marketing firms utilize translators to prepare and proofread a variety of materials. Many companies with global operations employ translators. Freelance translators provide interpreting services for translation projects or client events or conferences. Companies that specialize in translation service offer jobs for translators, copywriters, and proofreaders with native language skills.

Are there different types of translators and interpreters?

Translator jobs vary a lot depending on the setting and subject matter.

A simultaneous interpreter is the most difficult of all interpreting jobs. The interpreter translates what is being said as it is being said. This is the type of translation that occurs at the United Nations and other governmental organizations and requires years of training and experience.

A medical or healthcare interpreter helps medical teams communicate with patients and their families about diagnosis and treatment. Utilizing their knowledge of medical terminology and human anatomy, a medical translator assists healthcare professionals during examinations by translating the patients' descriptions of symptoms and the caregiver's questions into the patient's native language. Some translator roles require translations to occur on the phone or video chat when the patient is not able to be present. Requirements for medical jobs vary, but certification is typically preferred.

A court interpreter works in a legal setting. Translators with expertise in legal terminology attend court proceedings and utilize bilingual skills to ensure that all participants understand the process and can ask and answer questions with accuracy in different languages. A good understanding of the legal process is key since errors could result in serious consequences for those involved.

A document translator translates a variety of documents into another language. Common translations are birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as educational transcripts and other official records. Generally, these types of jobs require only ability in the two languages involved and can be done on a freelance basis.

Commercial translators usually work for a company that performs translations of various materials for a fee. These firms may do work for advertising, marketing, software and other organizations that require materials to be produced in multiple languages. Usually, a document will be presented in English and then translated into the designated language.

Literary translators work with authors to translate books and articles into another language while retaining the style and emotion of the original text.

A sign language interpreter (ASL) works to translate spoken words for the hearing impaired in many settings including schools, hospitals, television, government agencies.

What skills are needed to be a successful language translator?

First and foremost, a translator must be fluent in both languages or language pairs, for example, English and Spanish. The ability to understand different local dialects or accents, as well as awareness of the cultural norms of a language, is important for success in the role. Translators must relate concepts or ideas in each language and have patience and creativity to ensure the understanding is complete. Solid writing, spelling, and grammar skills in both languages are needed. Basic computer skills in document management are usually required.

What languages are most in-demand for translators?

It will vary, depending on your location, the demand for a particular language and the availability of translators in that language. Here are some languages that are consistently in high demand:





How much does a translator or interpreter earn?

Salary range for a translator or interpreter
$42,254 to $54,262
  • View Average Salary for United States
  • Salary levels for most jobs will vary based on a variety of criteria. In general, your level of experience and/or education is important in determining salary. The geographic location of the job, and the current labor market conditions and availability of candidates for a position will usually impact pay levels. Specific skills or certain certifications, for example, if that skill is in high demand and candidates are few, might result in higher pay levels being offered. However, keep in mind that simply having a certification or skill is no guarantee of higher pay. The certification or skill needs to be relevant to the job and valued by the employer. Finally, the size of the employer and the industry can have an influence on the pay levels offered for any job. Large employers may offer higher pay levels. Non-Profit organizations may not have large budgets and overall pay levels may be lower.
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What are the translation jobs available in my area?

Review postings of translator and interpreter jobs that are now open in your location.

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