translators and interpreters salary by state

The job of the translator is to convert the information from one language into another. They are referred to as the source language (usually the mother tongue of the professional) and the target language. It makes a huge difference what your combination of these two or more languages is.  

If you want to get higher payment as a translator, you need to specialize in a given field – finance, medicine and pharmaceutical are usually the most sought-after spheres, and have the right language combination. It is specific for each country, since the demand is different.  

Below we will have a look at the average salary and the preferred translation languages for the USA and make a reference with the most profitable languages in the UK.  

Average Translator Salary  

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average payment of a translator or interpreter is $47,190 per year or $22.69 per hour. The desired education is a Bachelor’s Degree, though professionals in the field often have a Master’s degree and an additional degree in the subject matter they have specialized in.  

As of 2016 there were 68,200 jobs in the field and a growth of 18% is expected for the period 2016 – 2026, which is much faster than the average.  

According to the geographic profile of this occupation, the highest employment level is in the following states: 

  • California with employment level of 8,670;
  • Texas with employment level of 4,850; 
  • Florida with employment level of 3,110; 
  • New York with employment level of 2,700; 
  • Arizona with employment level of 2,550. 

On the map below, you can see the distribution per state.

map of employment of interpreters and translators by state for 2017

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics  

 The highest paying states are as follows: 

  • District of Columbia with mean hourly wage of $44.43, and mean annual wage of $92,420; 
  • New Jersey with mean hourly wage of $35.23, and mean annual wage of $73,270; 
  • Colorado with mean hourly wage of $32.91, and mean annual wage of $68,440; 
  • Virginia with mean hourly wage of $32.16, and mean annual wage of $$66,890; 
  • Maryland with mean hourly wage of $31.52, and mean annual wage of $65,560. 

 The distribution per state is shown on the map below.

Annual wage for translators and interpreters by state for 2017

 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics  

The Importance of Language Combinations  

The language combinations that you use for your work as a translator and interpreter are very important. While it is important which languages you speak and what your professional domicile is, there are generally four options, when the market is concerned: 

  • High demand plus low competition 

Naturally the most advantageous of all combinations is this one – when the demand for your languages is high and the competition is low. This is usually achieved by adding a language that is considered difficult or exotic but is quite popular, such as Chinese, Arabic or even Dutch. Thus, you will be able to make more money with your translations. 

  • High demand plus high competition 

If you are speaking a popular combination of European languages like English and German or French, for example, you are in the high demand but high competition sector. This means that you can easy find work but the fee you can charge will be an average one. There are even some translation companies or freelancers, who charge a lower fee in an attempt to attract more clients in case the language combination they offer is quite popular.  

  • Low demand plus low competition 

Speaking an exotic but not popular language, such as Yoruba for example, puts you in the low demand and low competition niche. This means that you can charge a high fee for your translations, however, the demand will be too low and might even be insufficient to make a living.  

  • Low demand plus high competition  

To speak a language, which is spoken by many and there is a low demand for translating into it is the worst possible scenario. It will mean that you get work once in a while and on top of that it is not well paid. 

As you can see, it is extremely important to choose wisely your working language. It is even better if you add two or more languages to your portfolio since this will increase your work opportunities. Renowned translation agencies usually work with many translators and offer a great variety of languages into which they can translate your documents, websites or other projects.  

The Highest Paying Translation Languages 

Similar to the importance of language combinations, in order to determine, which are the highest paying translation languages, we need to start from the place of your professional domicile. It is also important, which is your mother tongue and into which languages you translate, as usually translators do not translate into a foreign language. For the purposes of this article, we will take English as the mother tongue and the professional domiciles will be the USA and the UK, so that we can see the difference that exists. 

If you are looking for a successful career as a translator in the USA, these are the top paying languages that you need to consider adding to your portfolio: 

  1. Chinese 
  2. Spanish 
  3. Japanese 
  4. Portuguese 
  5. German 
  6. Arabic 
  7. French 
  8. Russian 
  9. Korean 
  10. Swedish 

Generally, Asian and Middle Eastern languages are topping the list. In the recent years Danish is also making it up in the ranks and together with Chinese, Japanese and Arabic it forms the four most sought- after and highly paid languages. In other words, translators who speak at least one of these languages, surely get well paid and have sufficient work. Among the languages, which are the lowest paying, Portuguese and Italian take the lead, most probably due to the large number of bilingual people speaking those languages in the USA. The traditional European languages – German, French and Spanish demonstrate constant demand levels. 

The picture in the UK differs from that in the States. There the top paying language is German, since this is one of the most popular business and trading partners of the country. The ranking in the UK goes as follows: 

  1. German 
  2. Arabic 
  3. French 
  4. Dutch 
  5. Spanish 
  6. Japanese 
  7. Russian 
  8. Italian 
  9. Mandarin 

With Brexit, it is expected that people speaking those languages will be much needed in all industries and not only in translation.  

Knowing any language is a benefit but speaking the right language is a competitive advantage. The perfect language combination is very importance for the translator and interpreter along with a series of skills and competences required for the job.  

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics  

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