Salary for Foreign Language Translation

by Aurelio Locsin
Some translation professionals earn their salaries by specializing in technical subjects.

Some translation professionals earn their salaries by specializing in technical subjects.

While mobile devices and computer technology have made great strides in translating foreign languages, they still cannot match the understanding and interpretation of human beings. Thus, demand for translation professionals has never been greater. Interpreters convert from one spoken language to another, often while individuals are conversing. Translators focus on written materials.


Translators and interpreters earned a mean $50,610, as of May 2011, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest-paid 10 percent made under $23,710 yearly and the highest-paid 10 percent received over an annual $88,010. The biggest employers for the profession were language translation services, with 15,080 out of the total 47,950 positions. Mean earnings were $56,020 a year. The highest-paying jobs were with computer systems design and related services, averaging $104,990 annually.

Regional Comparisons

With the largest populations in the country of both English and Spanish-speakers, California and Texas proved the most fertile ground for translation opportunities. The Golden State contained 6,820 positions and mean wages at $47,690 per year. The Panhandle State showed 3,980 jobs averaging $45,070 yearly. Virginia boasted the highest pay at $89,890 annually. For cities, Washington, DC, and New York City, topped the employment list because of their foreign visitors and diplomats. The nation’s capital had 3,400 professionals and the highest wages at a mean $93,670 a year. The Big Apple had 2,280 positions at a mean $60,950 yearly.

Contributing Factors

While employers prefer a bachelor’s degree for the profession, it does not have to be in a foreign language. The most important qualification is fluency in English and at least one foreign language. Many professionals grow up speaking more than one language. Industry-specific knowledge related to the desired job specialty is helpful. For example, individuals interested in computer translation can get a degree in computer science. Certification from several national organizations can document translation skill. However, no one certification is recognized by all industries. Work experience can be vital because many employers will only hire those with practical backgrounds. Aspiring translators can obtain job experience through school internships or by volunteering for social service agencies.

Career Outlook

Jobs for interpreters and translators are expected to grow by 42 percent from 2010 to 2020. This is far higher than the 14 percent rate predicted for all occupations. A growing population that is becoming increasingly diverse as well as increasing international trade are behind the increase. Demand will be strongest for frequently translated languages, such as Spanish, French, German and Italian. Other growth languages include Arabic and Middle-Eastern languages, and East Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Job prospects will be best for those with professional certification and who live in urban areas. Those specializing in Spanish will find the Southwest full of good opportunities because of population increases among Latinos.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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