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How Translators And Interpreters Determine Their Salary

How Translators and Interpreters Determine Their Target Annual Salary |

How Do Translators And Interpreters Determine Their Salary?

In my previous blogs I spoke about how freelance translators and interpreters are business owners and professionals.
Professional freelance translators and interpreters also charge like professional business owners.
How much does a professional freelance translator and interpreter make yearly?
To figure that out we need to do plenty of research.
Why?  Two reasons.
1) Facts
2) Diversity
Because no two professionals are completely identical in background, credentials, experience, specialization, language pairs, expertise, services, expenses, and potential clients.
Let's consider three key elements:
1. Their Clients (Their Market)
2. The Professional (Their Qualifications and Services)
3. Their Colleagues (Their Competition)
Their annual salary will largely depend on these three factors.
Let's briefly review each one. 

1. Translators And Interpreter Clients

A professional's market is not limited to their local community.  No.
Their market is worldwide.  It's international.
Clients can live oceans away or right across the street from the translator or interpreter. Their job can almost be done in any part of the globe.
A translator's work can be sent and received by e-mail anywhere in the world.
An interpreter can render their services in person, by phone or over the Internet.
But simply because a client can live anywhere in the world, that doesn't mean everyone who seeks their services is their potential client.
There are two types of clients, those concerned with price and those concerned with quality.

Who is the ideal client of a professional translator and interpreter?

  • The ideal client is concerned with quality.
  • The ideal client is seeking professional services.
  • The ideal client is interested in experts.
  • The ideal client is flexible with timelines.
  • The ideal client is reasonable.
  • The ideal client answers questions in a timely manner.
  • The ideal client shares the same views on values, quality, standards, ethics, and professionalism as the translator or interpreter.
  • The ideal client can afford professional fees.
Of course, there is a market for all price points.
A smart clients is willing to pay professional fee in return for professional, expert, and quality services.

Smart clients choose their translators and interpreters carefully and smart translators and interpreters choose their clients carefully too.

2. The Professional Translator And Interpreter

What is/are the professional's language pair(s)?
Supply and demand of a language pair plays an important role.  The rarity of a language is also important.  Some language pairs are more common than others.
What formal education has the professional received?
Are they qualified or certified? Do they have credentials?  Have they received specialized training, certifications, and/or degrees from a recognized program, college or university?  Do they continue to improve their term base, skills and knowledge?
What experience does the professional have?
A formal education is not the only type of education.  Many would agree that years of experience is another form of education.
There are many forms of experience but for now we will only speak of two, apprenticeship and work experience.   Both experience methods entail a process that takes several years, definitely not an overnight process.
Apprenticeship experience is time they devote to acquiring education, knowledge and working experience in a field that interests them, for instance, law, finance, technology, industry, medicine, commerce, etc, but does not necessarily directly relate to translation or interpretation.   Then later in life they get certified or complete a postgraduate course in language translation or interpretation. 
Work or hands-on experience is time they devote to acquiring school lab practice,  volunteering, working as an in-house translator and/or interpreter, part-time freelancing work for various language agencies and/or working directly with clients.
What about the professional's background?
As I have mentioned before, they bring something as unique as their DNA, that no other professional in the world can offer: themselves.
They posses a vast collection of personal stories, culture, education, knowledge, life experiences, job experiences, special skills and so much more.
What is the professional's area(s) of expertise or specialization?
No translator or interpreter knows everything on every subject.
That is why a professional concentrates in a handful of fields.
Because the majority of the specialized vocabulary is not used in everyday language.  An expert knows, understands, memorizes, uses, and is constantly learning specialized vocabulary in their language pair.
What makes the translator or interpreter a professional?
Professional translators and interpreters follow, practice, and uphold a strict code of ethics.  
Professionals always strive to convey meaning faithfully, accurately, and impartially.  
Professionals promise to keep and protect privileged and confidential information always.  
Professionals have great reputations which take years to build.
How does the professional ensure quality and value?
They must strive for the best translation or interpretation every time.
They translate or interpret the amount each day that will result in their best quality.

A translator verifies and proofreads all their work so that they may deliver publish-ready translations on time.

A professional freelance translator and interpreter only accept jobs that:

1. They have the time for.
2. That gives them enough time to produce quality work.

3. They are familiar with (within their expertise, subject area, services, etc).

4. They have the credentials, experience, knowledge, qualifications, etc.

3. Translator And Interpreter Colleagues

By colleagues, I don't mean those who get paid peanuts or those who offer a commodity. No.

Their colleagues are professionals like them with similar backgrounds, language pairs, and credentials.
Regardless of where they live, if they know that the quality of their work is worth it, they will charge a fee that reflects it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States tell us what the median wage for translators and interpreters.
Their website reads:
"The median annual wage for interpreters and translators was $43,590 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,650." [1]

Keep in mind this median was in 2014 for interpreters and translators.

Lowest 10%
Top 10%

In May 2014, the median annual wages in the top four industries in which interpreters and translators worked were as follows: [1]
Keep in mind this median was in 2014.
Professional, scientific and technical services
Educational service; state, local and private
Health care and social assistance

What if they have a college degree?  For a detailed occupational statistics list of wages by state, industry, etc go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics site here [3].
"Students who graduated from college in the class of 2014 earned median starting salaries of $45,478, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers." [2]
The numbers speak for themselves.
With this information you now know:
  • The median annual wage for interpreters and translators in 2014.
  • The median annual wage for interpreters and translators in the top four industries in 2014.
  • The median annual wage for lowest 10% to the top 10% translators and interpreters in 2014.
  • The median annual wage for interpreters and translators college graduates in 2014.
You might have noticed the word "wage" in bold and underlined above.  The reason for this is because the numbers above reflect that of an employee not of a professional self-employed freelance translator or interpreter.
So, how do you find that perfect translator or interpreter who will communicate your message correctly? eLingual.Net is a great place to start! We will help connect you with interpreters who match your needs.

 Feel free to connect or email me, Carmen Arismendy.  I'm a professional Spanish interpreter-translator and founder of eLingual.Net.  I started the eLingual Network because I could not find a fair, no middleman, no job bidding, ethical, and transparent meeting place for translators, interpreters, and clients online.  The website is in beta phase and by no means perfect but it's a step in the right direction.
eLingual.Net's mission is to spread happiness worldwide through happy translators, interpreters, and clients.
For the professional translator and interpreter, this means no middleman, no job bidding, the freedom of setting their own fees, having control over their services, and who they choose to work with.
For the clients, this means working directly with ethical and professional translators and interpreters committed to quality and value.
Join our happy community, let's work together!


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Interpreters and Translators, on the Internet at (visited March 08, 2016).
  2. Time. Money, Looking Beyond College, Here's What the Average Grad Makes Right Out of College on the Internet at (visited March 08, 2016)

    3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Interpreters and Translators, on the Internet at (visited March 08, 2016)


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