Interpreters: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Interpreters convert information from one spoken language into another—or, in the case of sign language interpreters, between spoken language and sign language. The goal of an interpreter is to have people hear the interpretation as if it were the original language. Interpreters usually must be fluent speakers or signers of both languages, because they communicate back and forth among people who do not share a common language.

There are three common modes of interpreting: simultaneous, consecutive, and sight translation:

  • Simultaneous interpreters convey a spoken or signed message into another language at the same time someone is speaking or signing. Simultaneous interpreters must be familiar with the subject matter and maintain a high level of concentration to convey the message accurately and completely. Due to the mental fatigue involved, simultaneous interpreters may work in pairs or small teams if they are interpreting for long periods of time, such as in a court or conference setting.
  • Consecutive interpreters convey the speaker’s or signer’s message in another language after they have stopped to allow for the interpretation. Note taking is generally an essential part of consecutive interpreting.
  • Sight translation interpreters provide translation of a written document directly into a spoken language, for immediate understanding, but not for the purposes of producing a written translated document.
Education Required
A bachelor’s degree is typically needed to become an interpreter or translator along with proficiency in at least two languages, one of which is usually English.
Training Required
Interpreters and translators generally do not need any formal training, as they are expected to be able to interpret and translate before they are hired. However, those working in the community as court or medical interpreters or translators are more likely to complete job-specific training programs or certificates.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 17% (Much faster than average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Advancement
After interpreters and translators have enough experience, they can move up to more difficult assignments, seek certification, and obtain editorial responsibility. They can also manage or start their own business.
Licenses/Certifications
There is currently no universal certification required of interpreters and translators beyond passing the required court interpreting exams offered by most states. However, workers can take a variety of tests that show proficiency. For example, the American Translators Association provides certification in 29 language combinations.
Median pay: How much do Interpreters and Translators make?
$46,120 Annual Salary
$22.17 per hour

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