Translator Salary by Country – EU Edition: How to be a Successful Translator in the European Union

Not all translators live in the United States.

I do, sure.

So most of my commentary on the industry is decidedly skewed towards the state of affairs in the U.S.

Even then, the post I wrote on Translator Salaries by Language in the U.S. is wildly popular, even with translators based outside the United States.

The post itself has gone viral a number of times as new translators find it, read it, and share it.

But like I said, there are more translators outside the U.S. that are interested in the state of the industry in their respective countries.

The problem with finding out this information, though, is that there aren’t very many accessible statistics that other countries make public.

So in order to find out any info, you really have to dig around until you find what you’re looking for.

The European Union is no different.

Of course translators living in the EU want to know how their industry is doing.

But nobody has taken the time to do it.

Until now.

Languages of the EU

If you’ve never lived or worked in the EU, the first thing to understand is that it’s a completely different environment than you’re used to in Latin America, Asia, or the U.S.

The EU is comprised of 28 member states that speak 24 different languages.

Here are the languages:


And the member states where these languages are spoken:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Of course, translators that live in the EU certainly translate in languages that are not typically spoken in the EU.

But I’ll talk about that in a bit.

First, let’s talk about sources.

Most of the data from this report comes from a 2009 report from the European Commission Directorate-General for Translation, which was put together by the Language Technology Centre (LTC).

(The report goes into how the various amounts were calculated. I won’t go into those details here. But the link below will get you that information if you’re really interested. Needless to say, most information was obtained through interviews, surveys, and access to economic data provided by the various EU member states.)

If you want to read the entire 400+ document, you can get it from the European Commission website.

First of all, the total forecast for the language industry in the EU.

According to the LTC, the 2008 estimate for the language industry in the EU was a healthy 8.4 billion Euros, or nearly U.S. $9.5 billion.

With an estimated 10% growth rate in the language industry, the estimate for 2015 was at least double the amount, at over 16 billion Euros.

Now, of course, when we talk about the language industry, we aren’t just talking about translation and/or interpretation.

Instead, it can be divided up into the following categories:

  • translation
  • interpretation
  • software localization
  • website globalization
  • language technology tools
  • subtitling and dubbing
  • language teaching
  • conference organization

Out of these categories, though, translation and interpretation have the greatest economic turnover.

And since this is a translation-focused website, that’s what we’ll analyze here.

Freelance Translation Industry in the EU

According to LTC, human translation accounted for 58% of the entire language market in 2004.

However, this number was estimated to have increased over the past 10+ years due to the growth of software localization and website globalization.

About half of the translation done in the EU is contracted out to freelance translators, while the other half is given to translation companies.

However, one of the problems with the EU translation industry is the market consolidation of translation companies.

LTC noted that the number and size of translation companies is growing.

This growth is detrimental to freelancers who are often unable to compete with large multinational companies who can offer higher production capacity as well as the ability to satisfy needs for large multilingual projects.


Going back to languages, one of the surveys LTC provided to translators located in EU member states attempted to gauge the top source and target languages in the EU.

This is their table:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 9.28.53 PM

One thing they point out, however, is that there were not enough respondents from smaller member states to provide sufficient information.

But this table is good enough to see a bigger picture.

For example, Spanish is the top target language, while German is the top source language.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that this table only represents those languages spoken within the EU.

According to LTC, a significant number of translators in the EU work in Asian languages, although it’s unclear which Asian languages were most represented.

Specialized Areas

As I noted in my analysis of the translation industry in the U.S., language choice is not the only factor that plays a role in translator income.

Sometimes more important than language are the various areas of specialization.

Out of all the respondents, the following areas of specialization were the ones most in demand.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 9.33.34 PMThis is fairly consistent with the specialty areas seen in the U.S.

That’s not to say that money can’t be made in other areas. For example, becoming a literary translator is still very much a viable option for many translators.

For example, in looking at UNESCO data from 2009, we can see that there are still a significant number of books being translated from EU languages:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 9.47.20 PM


One thing to keep in mind is that while it is sometimes convenient to compare the state of the translation industry with that of the EU, it is really apples and oranges.

One of the biggest differences is the fluctuation of foreign exchange rates in the various EU countries, especially the ones located in Eastern Europe.

For example, the growth of the language industry in the following languages can exploit weaker currencies to attract more clients with lower prices:

  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Romania

Translation at EU Institutions

In addition to freelance translators, there are a number of EU institutions that hire translators in various positions.

(While these types of in-house translator positions are become more and more rare in the U.S., they can still be found.)

Here’s a graphic showing these numbers (it only includes the number for translators, not interpreters):

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.08.53 PM

That adds up to about 5,000 translators.

That’s a fairly sizeable number of translators employed by these institutes.

So as a freelancer, there are not only opportunities to freelance for these institutions, but freelancers can also apply to be contract translators or staff translators for these organizations as well.

However, a translator should be able to translate into or out of an EU language.

And English, French, German, and Spanish seem to be the most important.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.14.14 PM

So what does this mean for translators living in the EU?

I think there are a few important takeaways.

The language industry in the EU is still growing.

Translators are still in demand in the EU, especially if you have the right language combinations (which usually included English).

In addition, the language industry is not limited to translation or interpretation.

There are still growing opportunities for language teaching, conference organization, and other language-related fields.

A successful language professional shouldn’t feel it necessary to stick to only translation or interpretation.

Other opportunities exist.

Translators need more than a single language pair.

It’s evident that larger language companies are able to provide a couple of advantages over freelancers.

They can take on a higher volume of work, and  they can provide multilingual solutions.

But freelancers still provide the bulk of the work for these large language companies.

So instead of seeing language service providers as the enemy, freelancers would be wise to consider the possibility of teaming with reputable agencies that are in need of quality freelancers.

That way both sides win.

And on that note, don’t think that all you need is a single language pair to make it as a successful translator.

You need to be able to offer many different services to your clients, with language translation just being a part.

In-house translation jobs still exist – in some places.

If you’re interested in becoming a translator but don’t want to go the freelance route, the EU is the place to find a job.

U.S. in-house translator jobs are become more and more obsolete, but the EU still has a healthy number of opening for staff and contract translators.

The competition is still fierce, and you need to be really good at what you do, but the opportunities are still out there.


1 thought on “Translator Salary by Country – EU Edition: How to be a Successful Translator in the European Union”

  1. lili

    I think there’s mistake in the article? Top target language is not rather French (12.17%) according to your graphics, rather than Spanish (11.81%)?

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