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Interpreter and Translator

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(5.7 out of 10)

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Median Salary


Unemployment Rate

8.3 percent

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Best Social Services Jobs #15
The 100 Best Jobs #82

While interpreters and translators both mold language to convey meaning, they shape it in distinct ways. Sign-language interpreters rely on a set of quick hands to relay a speaker’s words to a hearing-impaired audience. “To be fluent [in sign language], that takes years,” says Janet Bailey, government affairs representative for the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Another set of interpreters works in spoken language. Some settings require not only fluency in a second language, but also the ability to interpret that language in relation to a field rich in its own terminology. For example, those assisting non-English speaking individuals in a court room must have a concrete understanding of legal lingo just as those working in a hospital should be well-versed in medical terms.

Translators rely on the power of a precise pen to convert written materials from one language to another. The aim is to make the cross-language version a carbon copy of its original, which requires accurately recording the facts while retaining as much of the style and structure as possible. While interpreters work in schools, hospitals, courtrooms and conference centers, translators often labor from the confines of their home. Having a knack for marketing is beneficial for freelance interpreters and translators seeking to broaden their clientele.

Between 2012 and 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 46 percent employment growth for interpreters and translators, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The field is on track to add more than 29,000 new positions during that time period. As diversity in the United States increases and globalization continues at a breakneck pace, so will the demand for spoken-language interpreters. Job prospects are especially bright for those fluent in Chinese, German, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish. Sign-language interpreters should also expect an employment boom, thanks to the popularity of video relay, a Skype-like service that enables the deaf to communicate with an interpreter online. Greater interaction and trade among people throughout the globe and continued demand for military interpreters and translators should also pave the way for increased employment in this field for years to come.


According to the BLS, interpreters and translators earned a median annual salary of $45,430 in 2012. The best-paid earned more than $91,800, while the lowest-paid earned less than $23,570. Industries that pay especially well include management, scientific and technical consulting services, computers systems design and the federal executive branch. The top-paying metropolitan areas are clustered on the East Coast and include Washington D.C., Bethesda, Md., and Augusta, Ga.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $64,360
Median $45,430
25th Percentile $32,630


In 2012, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf gave a more formal coating to the process of becoming a nationally certified interpreter, requiring aspiring hearing interpreters to have a bachelor’s degree before testing. Other organizations, such as the American Translators Association and the International Association of Conference Interpreters, offer various forms of certification as well. Given the formal education, certification and state regulations, becoming an interpreter and translator can be an involved process. While a formal education is becoming increasingly important, those seeking to enter the field must, above all else, be fluent in English and another language.

Reviews & Advice

Internships are a great way to gain valuable work experience and give your résumé greater appeal. Volunteering, working alongside more experienced interpreters and networking with those already established in the field are also excellent avenues for bolstering your job prospects. Some interpreters create their own job market by building up a freelance practice. Occasionally, they will contact agencies for outside jobs.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility poor Below Average
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility good High
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