What is the norm for translator and interpreter salaries? How much will I earn if I become a translator or interpreter?
These are two of the most often asked questions I get from people visiting the website who are interested in a career in the language field, especially as a translator or interpreter.
First off, it’s important to remember that interpreters and translators do two very distinct functions, and that a typical interpreter is going to have a different salary than their translation counterpart.
But here I’m going to focus specifically on interpreters and what different types of interpreters can expect to earn.
If you’re a translator interested in understanding a bit more about what translators can earn, I suggest you start with the article on knowing what to charge as a freelance translator.
Of course, no two interpreters are the same, and there are many roads that lead down the path of a career in interpreting, so it’s important to keep that in mind when reading about interpreter pay.
First of all, interpreter salaries are not all the same. Different interpreting jobs pay different amounts, and even different training coupled with experience can pay differently in the end.
I’ve mentioned before, but there are different types of interpreters (just like there are different types of translators): court interpreters, conference interpreters, some freelance interpreters, other interpreters that are full-time employed by a business or individual, etc. You get the idea.
There is no one right path to follow in being an interpreter. If this is something you’re interested in pursuing as a career, you’ll need to be sure and take advantages of all the opportunities you have to interpret, so you can decide which type of interpreting is right for you.
Court Interpreter Salaries
OK, let’s start off talking about court interpreters. As we all know, here in the United States there are federal court interpreters as well as state court interpreters (such as in Texas), and while some interpreters might float from one to the other, others will stick with one. In terms of U.S. federal interpreters, though, they can earn different amounts (last I checked the range was anywhere between $171 and $355 a day, depending on qualifications and experience).
And while interpreter salaries or payment levels are fixed for federal court interpreters, the same is not true for interpreters at the state level. These interpreters can earn varying amounts depending on either the state where they are interpreting or the region in which the court is located.
Here’s an example.
The last time I checked the California court interpreter listings, I noticed that California court interpreter salaries ranged anywhere from $175 to about $265 a day, which is somewhat on par with the amount spent by the federal court system for federal court interpreters. In Utah, however, the state only paid interpreters anywhere between $17.50 to $36.23 an hour.
I’m not sure what the rates for each state are, but if you’re interested in finding out about interpreter salaries and interpreter requirements, a great resource can be found at the National Center for State Courts website.
Two especially important pages on that site are the following:
1) State Interpreter Certification: This page has some great information for anyone interested in becoming a state salaried or contract court interpreter, including exam helps, self-assessment tools, study guide reference materials, glossaries and practice exam kits.
2) Federal Court Interpreter Certification: This page isn’t as helpful as the State Interpreter Certification page, but it does have some links to information about the Spanish-English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination.
Conference Interpreter Salaries
Of course the court system isn’t the only place where potential interpreters can work. A good deal of interpreters work as contract interpreters, interpreting for businesses and organizations to provide language work.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, interpreters and translators are grouped together as an occupation, with a 2010 median pay of around $43,000 per year or around $21 an hour. Since translators and interpreters work as separate professions, it’s hard to know what kind of disparity there is in salary ranges between the two.
One of the great things about being a freelance conference interpreter, however, is that you have the opportunity to set your own rates based on the market segment that you serve.
UN Interpreter Salaries
While United Nations interpreters are also conference interpreters, I’ll include them as a separate category since so many people are interested in working for places like the UN or the European Union.
I actually wrote a fairly extensive article on working as a language professional at the UN so if you’re interested in knowing more about interpreter salaries there, be sure to check it out.
In addition to working at the UN, a lot of potential conference interpreters are interested in working for the European Union. To be honest, I don’t know very much about jobs at the EU, but if you’re interested in pursuing a career with the EU, make sure to check out the website of the European Personnel Selection Office.
P.S. Being an interpreter is not the only way to make money using your language skills. If you want some other sure-fire ways to make money, read my book.