How much do translators make? It’s an important question for anyone considering a career in the translation industry. The answer depends on a range of factors, including:
· The languages that the translator works with and the level of demand for that language pairing
· Any specialist skills that the translator has or specialist services they offer (examples could include anything from app translation and localization to knowledge of medical terminology)
· The speed at which the individual translates
Other important considerations come into play too, such as whether the translator charges per word or per hour for their work. We’ll dive into all this and more below to answer the question on every aspiring translator’s mind: What kind of translator salary can I expect?
You don’t need any specific experience to set out on what can become a long and profitable career as a translator. However, the typical entry-level educational attainment is a bachelor’s degree, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many translators also obtain certification to demonstrate their experience and skill. The requirements for certification vary from country to country.
In terms of hourly rate, the BLS reports a median rate of $23.61 for translators and interpreters in 2021. BLS data also shows a median annual salary of $49,100 for translators and interpreters. Meanwhile, as of 2023, figures from Salary.com show the average translator salary in the US is $60,66), with a typical salary range of $52,437 to $70,787.
Tomedes has looked into this topic as well. Our research has shown that an in-house translator in the US can comfortably expect a rate of $36.00 per hour, while a freelancer can command anything from $30.00 per hour to $70.00, depending on their skills, experience and language pair. Figures from Translation Partner support this, noting that translators working on marketing documents tend to price their work from $25 per hour, while those providing transcreation services can command rates in the range of $35 to $75 per hour.
The way in which translators bill for their work can make a big difference to their income, as can whether they work in-house or freelance. Let’s explore this in more detail.
Let’s consider the question of average and potential earnings mathematically. Most translators cover between 400-600 words per hour for a job of average difficulty. This works out to 2,000-3,000 words per day if one were to work at least 5 hours a day. For simplicity’s sake, let’s round up to 400,000-600,000 words per year (with weekends, vacation, and inconsistent workflow in mind). At $0.10 per word, it is safe to assume that one’s annual income should be around $50,000.
Now consider another translator working at the same pace. Only in this case, said translator has a specific specialization – either they work in a niche language or they operate in a highly technical industry. That translator could easily ask up to $0.35/word. Without working overly long hours, and if they know how to use translation tools to increase their efficiency, they could easily make upwards of $175,000 per year.
Projects that demand specializations always come with higher price tags. Education, experience, and a good track record are the keys to succeeding in the translation industry.
The decision to work in-house versus freelance is also key to how much you can earn. When you work in-house, your rate is fixed and so are your hours, so there is little scope to have a “good month” in the way that those charging a freelance translator salary per hour can. At the same time, there is also little scope for having a “bad month”. In this set-up you are rewarded with a consistent work-flow, the opportunity cost of which is flexibility. Working in-house usually means predictable income and working hours, which can certainly be appealing.
Working freelance, on the other hand, can mean a more varied workload and client base, which also holds certain appeal. It all depends on your risk appetite and what you’re looking to get out of your translation role, over and above the salary element. In such a setup you must find the correct balance between managing your clients and actual translation, taking into account the scope and urgency of each project. While it could be very attention-demanding at first, mastering this mode of work allows you to be more flexible with your work hours.
If you have specialist legal or medical knowledge, tech skills, marketing and design experience or any other expertise, you may be able to charge a higher rate for your translation services.
Other services could result in a lower rate. Machine translation has done much to change the role of the translator in some fields. There is now demand for machine translation post-editing (MTPE) services, for example, which didn’t really exist just a few years ago. Such work tends to command a lower salary than translation, at around $25.00 per hour for MTPE versus $30.00 per hour and upwards for translation.
The region in which the translator is based also comes into play when it comes to translation salary. How much does a translator earn in the UK, for example, compared with the US? Let’s take a quick look.
How much does a translator earn in the UK? According to Indeed, the average base salary is £25,405 per year (as at April 2023). However, this can vary hugely depending on whether it’s an in-house or a freelance translator salary in the UK that we’re discussing.
For in-house salaries, the nature of the employer also makes a big difference. The average translator salary at Great Ormond Street Hospital, for example, is £57,562 per year according to Indeed’s April 2023 figures, while the average at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust is £50,814 per year. In both cases, the medical expertise required for the translation role is clearly a factor in the elevated salary.
Translator salaries vary hugely across the globe. Vastly different costs of living in different countries mean that translators can charge significantly less for their services in some countries, while others have to charge a much higher rate in order to support themselves financially.
Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index puts this into context. The index ranks 140 countries, with cost of living ranked on a scale that ranges from 18.0 in Pakistan to 141.8 in Bermuda (as at April 2023). Clearly, there will be a significant difference in the rates that a Pakistan-based translator and a Bermuda-based translator need to charge in order to make rent.
When it comes to salary, much depends on the language pair that the translator offers. Per word translation rates in the US, for example, tend to fall between $0.10 and $0.20. However, some Spanish translators will work for as little as $0.02/word. Translations from the Mayan language Kichu, on the other hand, easily command 20 times that amount.
How much does a Spanish translator make? Well, global variations in rates of pay are huge. According to ZipRecruiter, the average Spanish translator salary stands at $38,714 per year in the US. In the UK, Glassdoor reports that the average annual salary for Spanish translators is £23,850, while in London (where both salaries and the cost of living are significantly higher) the average is £30,133.
When we look at translators working with the French/English language pair, we see the impact that different languages can make. ZipRecruiter reports that the average French translator salary in the US is $45,508 per year – around $7,000 more per year than for Spanish translation.
US-based translators working with the Japanese and English language pair can expect to earn even more. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a Japanese translator in the US is $49,975 – over $10,000 per year more than a Spanish translator’s salary.
Salaries for other languages can vary hugely, even within the same country. Sticking with ZipRecruiter’s figures for US translators, for example, we see that Mandarin translators can earn annual salaries ranging from as little as $24,500 to an impressive $107,000.
If you translate a niche language, such as an indigenous language, a constructed language, a surviving ancient language, or a minority language, you may be able to command a higher salary, though this is not guaranteed.
One of the pros of offering such a service is the lack of competition, including from artificial intelligence (AI) translators. The major con, however, is that there is considerably less demand for niche language translators than there is for those who translate widely spoken languages.
Translators work around the globe. Many of those who work freelance are home-based, which means they can work from where they please, including travelling while working. Those seeking in-house and on-premise jobs, meanwhile, are usually drawn to major cities. London, New York, Washington, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and a huge range of other global cities tend to attract those keen to enjoy all that the urban lifestyle has to offer.
The choice of city can have a big impact on salary. We can see this clearly when looking at USA Wage’s research into translator and interpreter salaries in different US cities. At the top of the scale, the figures show an average salary of $94,210 per year in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, District of Columbia. The second highest rate is in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Maryland, where it stands at an average of $85,440 per year.
Other top US city areas for translators looking for large salaries include Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville ($83,750), Salinas ($82,710), San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont ($82,180) and Santa Rosa-Petaluma ($81,960), all in California. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island comes in as the ninth highest average salary, at $79,650 per year.
The cost of living in such areas can be high, so those seeking the best cities for freelancers tend to look elsewhere. These can vary hugely depending on the individual’s requirements. That said, many cities across Asia have been winning over freelancers in recent years, including freelance translators. Penang in Malaysia, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Chiang Mai in Thailand all have thriving, welcoming freelancer communities.
A huge range of factors play into job satisfaction rates. Some studies have shown that freelancers enjoy higher job satisfaction rates than those who are employed in-house. Others have shown self-employed individuals to be notable less happy than employees.
When it comes to translation job satisfaction, key factors include the company/companies for which the translator is working, the hours they have to work, the support systems that are in place, and the salary that they earn. A translator working for one company and finding it unsatisfactory, for example, could change to working freelance and love their career. A freelancer tired of financial uncertainty, on the other hand, may find working fulltime in-house at a company far more satisfying.
Ultimately, if you love working with languages, then translation certainly has the potential to be an immensely satisfying career.
How much does a translator make? It all depends on the languages they translator, their mode of employment, how they charge, their specialist skills, and more.
For those considering a career in the language industry, there are certainly plenty of translation jobs available. According to the BLS, the translation job outlook for 2021 to 2031 is 20% growth – that’s much faster than the average across all industries. Time to start translating!