Job Duties

Translators convert written materials from one language to another. They first read the entire text to be translated so that they become familiar with the subject. They look up any words that they are not familiar with, and sometimes complete additional reading to answer questions they have about the text. They also communicate with the author or issuing agency to enhance their understanding of the text. They then begin the work of manipulating sentences and ideas, bringing them up to the same level of coherence as the source text. They sometimes explain cultural references that the audience of the translated work may not be familiar with. Today, almost all translation work is done on computers and transferred electronically, enabling a large percentage of translators to work from home.

There are a number of specialties within the field of translation. Judicial translators are thoroughly familiar with the language and functions of the U.S. judicial system, as well as foreign judicial systems. Literary translators translate written literature, including journal articles, books, poetry, and short stories. This is very creative work, as they must reproduce the style and tone of the original work. They often work closely with authors to best capture the intention of a work. Localization translators, a relatively recent specialization, adapt products for use in a different language and culture. These products include software, Internet sites, and products in manufacturing and other business sectors.

Job Skills

Translators need to have excellent writing skills, as well as analytical abilities. They need to be very good editors because they must create translated documents that are flawless.


In 2002, translators earned a median hourly wage of $15.67. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $9.37, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $25.99.

Training and Education

Translators come from a wide range of educational backgrounds. Many translators grow up speaking more than one language, although this is not necessarily a requirement. High school can offer some preparation in the form of courses in English writing and comprehension, foreign languages, and basic computer proficiency. Spending time in foreign countries or other forms of contact with foreign language speakers can be very helpful. Translators usually need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, although they do not necessarily have to major in a language. Formal programs in translation are available at many colleges, as well as non-university training programs.

No universal form of certification exists for translators in the United States. However, translators can become certified by the American Translators Association in more than 24 language combinations. The Translators and Interpreters Guild also offers certification options. Experience is essential, as many agencies and companies hire candidates who have 3 to 5 years of experience or who have a degree in translation studies. An excellent way to gain hands-on experience in translating is to work in-house for a company. Prospective translators should gain experience any way that they can, including informal or unpaid work.


In 2002, interpreters and translators held about 24,000 jobs. More than 20% were self-employed, working only part time and relying on other sources of income.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of translators is expected to increase faster than the average due to the broadening of international ties and the increase in foreign language speakers in the United States. The highest demand exists for translators of Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

For more information on a career as a translator, please see our directory of schools offering Media Training