How to Become a Professional Translator:
The Definitive Guide

With the changing world of business and personal life, beginning a career as a Professional Translator is a very important and oftentimes necessary choice.

Today, thousands of businesses have clients and customers from around the world, and it is quite common to see some language barriers along the way.

Having a Professional Translator on a business team is the right choice for people who want to continue doing business or speaking with friends who may come from a different country or ethnic background.

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Job Description

A Professional Translator should know and be fluent in a foreign language, or sometimes more than one, to help bridge the gap between customers, clients, friends, and even family.

This can be done in the form of written communication, such as emails, letters, and chats, or through verbal communication on the phone or in person.


Along with that, a Professional Translator has quite a list of duties to complete throughout a typical workday, such as:

  • Translate content like books, articles, emails, or journals
  • Complete research in the foreign language to be sure they understand all aspects of the language
  • Speak with customers and business employees simultaneously
  • Reiterate spoken words in two languages
  • Proofread and edited emails and letters
  • Keep all people updated and included in any changes or new information


The average Professional Translator in the United States has a yearly salary of $57,090.

Hourly, this comes out to about $27.47 or $1,098 per week for those who have some experience in the field.

People who work for the government or have years of experience as Professional translators can make over $64,350 per year in some areas.

At this rate, a Professional Translator will make $1,237.50 per week or $30 per hour.

The lower wage for a Professional Translator is around $35,010 per year.

A new Professional Translator will typically have an hourly salary of $16 or $683 per week.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $58,400


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$97,510
New Hampshire$53,800
New Jersey$55,010
New Mexico$54,790
New York$80,640
North Carolina$60,050
North Dakota$39,400
Rhode Island$55,180
South Carolina$46,100
South Dakota$42,700
West Virginia$37,480
Puerto Rico$36,240

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $97,510.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $97,510
New York - $80,640
Virginia - $76,670
California - $73,490
Connecticut - $72,920
*Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become: Step-by-Step

Step 1Become Fluent

The first step in becoming a Professional Translator is to know a foreign language fluently.

Mastering another language can start when you are young and can take several years to develop.

To become fluent in another language, you should take classes, talk with people who speak the language, listen to audiobooks, use apps, and watch videos of people who are speaking the language.

You may even be able to take a class in high school on the language that you prefer to learn.

Some people choose to enroll in college to earn a degree in a foreign language, which can take two to four years to complete.

Step 2Train

Once you have completed the majority of your learning of a foreign language, you are going to need specialized training.

This is so that you can listen and speak while having discussions with people you are trying to interpret for.

You’ll want to learn how to take on a training program that can last anywhere from six months to a couple of years.

Within these types of programs, you will learn how to listen and gain short-term memory skills as well as active listening.

Some of these courses can be taken online or you can sign up at a local college.

Many of the courses are self-paced, which means you can take them on your own time and complete them in the time you need.

Step 3Earn Certification

After finishing training, you will likely receive a certificate of completion, but that does not mean you are certified.

You don’t have to have a certification to work as a Professional Translator, but it does look good to employers.

The American Translators Association is a great place to start as they have about thirty different certifications available.

This association is one of the only recognized credentials throughout the world, so the certification is quite outstanding.

To become certified, you will need to complete an exam that takes about sixteen weeks to grade.

The exam is in three parts of about 250 questions each, and written, audio, and multiple choice questions are a part of it.

Once you complete the exam, you will learn if you have passed or failed, if you fail, you can retake the exam at any time.

Step 4Earn a Degree

Completing a degree can be done at any point in time when considering working as a Professional Translator.

There are plenty of online and in-person programs available at universities across the United States.

To have the best chance of employment, you’ll want to complete a degree in linguistics, translation applied communication and translation, or a foreign language.

You are welcome to decide if an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree is a better choice for you.

It is always possible to go back to school and earn a bachelor’s degree, which can take about two more years after completing your Associate.

Expect to take classes that are heavy in foreign language, culture, diversity, and communication.

Step 5Become Experienced

Once you have completed your degree and certification, you’ll be ready to find a solid career as a Professional Translator.

Each time you help a business with a translation, you are gaining experience.

The best way to become experienced as a Professional Translator is to shadow, intern, or become an apprentice at a business that uses translation.

You could also translate in your personal life by having friends or family who know foreign languages speak to someone who doesn’t and help each other understand.

Volunteer at a local hospital or government agency to help those who do not know English to get the help that they need.

Use your translation skills every day to succeed as a Professional Translator.


When it comes to working as a Professional Translator, there are several different paths you can take to become educated.

First, you’ll need to be fluent in a foreign language.

You can start this as a child, high schooler, or even in college, but you will need to have an adequate understanding of the language to speak it to people every day.

Once you have mastered a foreign language, it is important to take on a program that will show you how to work as a translator.

There are programs all around the country, and some are even online, that can take about six months to finish.

Within these programs, you’ll learn how to listen and speak in real time, and how to research and develop strategies for short-term memory.

This is just one way that you can learn, another option is to earn a college degree.

Whether you decide on an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree is up to you.

An associate’s degree will take you two years to finish while a Bachelor is a four-year commitment.

Expect to complete a degree in linguistics, applied communication and translation, foreign language, or translation.

You will want to make sure that you are taking certain classes to get the most out of your degree.

These classes will include subjects such as:

  • Translation Methods
  • Translation Theory
  • Culture and Diversity
  • Language Meaning and Word Structure

While you are earning your degree, you will likely need some hands-on experience.

This can come in the form of an internship, study abroad, apprenticeship, or even volunteer work.

Depending on how much time you want to spend on your craft, you can dedicate anywhere from six months to several years to hands-on knowledge.

After completing a degree, you will be ready to step into the world of a Professional Translator.

Video About The Career

Licensing & Certification

There is no mandatory certification to work as a Professional Translator, but credentials look great to a future employer.

Certification shows that you have the skills necessary to do the job proficiently and correctly.

One of the best places to earn certification is the American Translators Association, which provides thirty different options for certificates.

Other great places to look into are the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

With the American Translators Association, you’ll get to choose which language or languages you’d like to become certified in, and then it will be time to take an exam to show your proficiency.

The exam is set up into three parts, multiple choice, written, and audio, each containing about 200 questions.

Once you finish the exam, you will receive your results in about sixteen weeks, and you will then be able to work as a full-time certified Professional Translator if you pass.

Those who do not pass will be able to take the exam again as soon as they want.

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting is another great database that provides options on universities, certification, and even internships.

Those who are looking for a more niche certification can check out the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators is an accredited place to find all types of certification for your Professional Translator needs.

You will likely need to become a member of this association before you can complete an exam, which costs about $30.

You may even find certification through your local colleges or government that will provide you with an exam to test your ability to work as a Professional Translator.

It is not required to have any type of extra credential to become a Professional Translator, but those who do will find it easier to gain access to higher-paying jobs as well as promotions within their current employer.

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months

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Job Outlook

Over the next ten years, it seems that the career of a Professional Translator will have a positive outlook.

This career will see a growth of around four percent within the next decade.

More people are using online business models, which means they practice with people from all around the world.

Oftentimes, different languages are brought into the mix, which means a translator is necessary to complete business transactions.

Expect to see about 7,200 new Professional Translator careers opening up over the next ten years.

This may be due to older Professional Translators retiring or finding new careers and more business openings for overseas transactions.

Employment Growth Projection: 4%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 3,000 jobs.

Professional Translator: Interest Over Time

Should You Become a Professional Translator?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

The career of a Professional Translator can be quite satisfying.

This is because you can continuously learn throughout your career and help people bridge the language barrier gap along the way.

However, one of the negative aspects of working as a Professional Translator is the pay.

Many Professional Translators believe that they do not get compensated as well as they should.

With that being said, this career still provides a good work/life balance and it is a meaningful experience to work in this field.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

When working as a Professional Translator, you will likely make about $57,090 per year with experience and practice in the field.

Those who are at the top of their career or who work in government agencies as a Professional Translator can make over $64,350 in some cases with advanced knowledge and several years of experience.

Expect to make less than that when you are just beginning your journey as a Professional Translator, with a starting salary closer to $35,000 per year.

Job Growth Outlook: Medium

Job Growth Outlook

The next decade looks quite positive for those seeking a career as a Professional Translator.

The job will likely grow about four percent in that period.

This is due to more necessity for overseas business experiences as well as older Professional Translators retiring or leaving their careers for new occupations.

With the emergence of online business, more Professional Translators are needed to conduct communication between countries.

Some of the best places to find Professional Translator careers are in education, government, and even hospitals in larger cities.

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

Education Duration

To become a Professional Translator, you will need formal education as well as fluency in a foreign language.

Professional Translator education can take anywhere from six months to several years to complete.

However, as a Professional Translator, you will continuously learn about language and communication skills throughout your career.

Some education programs can be found online and can take as little as six months to complete.

Those who want to complete a degree can earn an associate’s degree, which takes about two years, or a bachelor’s degree, which will require a four-year commitment.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

The career of a Professional Translator can be challenging and rewarding, but you will need to have certain skills to maintain a positive outlook in this occupation.

These skills include but are not limited to:

  • Time management
  • Cultural sensitivity and awareness
  • Fluency in the foreign language
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills
  • Writing knowledge
  • Ability to research
  • Dependability
  • Ability to adapt

One of the most important skills in the life of a Professional Translator is curiosity.

You will spend a lot of time learning about other cultures and researching topics, so having a profound desire to learn more, ask questions, and seek answers is a large part of this career.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How long do you have to go to school to become a Professional Translator?

The amount of time that you spend to become a Professional Translator depends on how much work you want to put into your education.

For a basic understanding of the career and all that it entails, you will want to spend at least six months in a translator program.

You can find these online or in person at community colleges or universities around the country.

People who want a more in-depth career can complete an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, which requires a two to four-year commitment.

Q. How much money does a Professional Translator make a year?

When just beginning your career as a Professional Translator, you should expect to have a salary close to $35,000.

Then, after years of experience and building an understanding of the career, you should have a salary closer to $57,090 every year.

Those who have the most experience as a Professional Translator will typically make an annual salary of $64,350 or more.

Q. What kind of education do you need to be a Professional Translator?

First, it is important to be fluent in a foreign language, which can take years to develop.

To work as a Professional Translator, you’ll need to have training, which can take anywhere from six months to four years, depending on the type of education you desire.

Those who want to continue their education can decide to complete an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree to obtain more knowledge of the career.

Q. ○ Are Professional Translators in high demand?

Yes, right now, there is a dire need for Professional Translators in many areas of business.

From entertainment to education, the ability to speak to people from all around the world has become more popular in today’s world.

This means that it is likely that you will find a great career as a Professional Translator fairly easily in today’s society.

Q. ○ What skills do you need to have to be a Professional Translator?

To find success as a Professional Translator, you’ll want to have a love for learning, necessary foreign language knowledge, and skills like:

  • Time management
  • Accuracy
  • Ability to write and speak efficiently
  • Dependability
  • Research conduction
  • Attention to detail
  • Cultural sensitivity

You will want to continue learning throughout your entire career as a Professional Translator, so the desire to always learn more is a required skill for this occupation as well.

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