Government Translator: Salary and Career Facts

Translation involves working with the written rather than spoken word, and government translators may handle sensitive documents at the local, state or federal level. Learn what qualifications you'd need for this career, including fluency in languages other than English. Read more about the job duties, career outlook and salary potential for government translators. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Government Translator?

A government translator is a professional who is fluent in two or more languages who works for the government to convert written data from one language to another. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of 2014, 7% of interpreters and translators worked for the government. These professionals must carefully review the documents they are given and ensure that they accurately translate the information to a second language so that it conveys the same concepts as the original text. Most of their work is done on computer, so they need to have computer skills.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Foreign language, sign language, communications
Key Responsibilities Translate written words from one language to another
Licensure or Certification American Translators Association certification is optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29%* (for interpreters and translators)
Median Salary (2015) $44,190*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Education Do I Need to Become a Government Translator?

The most important prerequisite for translating jobs is being fluent in two or more languages and having a strong command of each language's written forms. While strict education requirements don't often exist, many employers, including U.S. governmental institutions, prefer that you have a bachelor's degree. Applicable majors include a foreign language, sign language, English, communications or even political science.

Additionally, many schools offer in-depth translation courses or certificate programs, which might involve introductory interpretation courses in many different languages, such as French, Spanish and German. Some classes cover specific types of translation, including medical, business or legal. You also may want to consider studying Arabic since the U.S. government deems it a critical language to learn. In addition to attaining an education, having grown up in a bilingual household may improve your chances of success as a translator, as could completing an extended stay in a foreign country.

What Will My Duties Involve?

Translators differ from interpreters because they convert written words from one language to another, while interpreters convert spoken words. Your work might include previously documented material, such as videos, reports or other documents. You must be able to translate concepts that may be less common in one language than another; for this reason, you'll need to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter being translated. You should be aware of flow, readability and cohesion in all languages involved. Your translation work typically will be done on a computer.

As a government translator, you may work at the state, local or federal level. Government agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, need translators, as do Departments of Motor Vehicles and Departments of Social Services. The military also requires the services of government translators. You may be employed as a contract worker before becoming a full-time staff member.

Do I Need to Meet Special Requirements?

You'll most likely be required to be a U.S. citizen. Since you may be working with sensitive material, you'll need to complete a background check. You also may need to acquire security clearance, depending on the branch of government you work for. These processes could involve passing drug and lie-detector tests, as well as subjecting family, friends, co-workers and other people who know you to thorough interviews. Your governmental employer also might check your credit scores. In order to test your language skills, you'll probably need to complete both oral and written exams.

While certification isn't required to become a translator, the American Translators Association (www.atanet.org) administers a voluntary translation exam for 24 combinations of languages, including English. Passing this exam can greatly improve your employment chances.

What Will Be My Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that jobs for translators and interpreters would increase by 29% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This faster-than-average rate was expected to be driven by increases in non-English speaking populations in the United States, as well as growing globalization in government. As of May 2015, translators and interpreters in general earned a median annual salary of $44,190, based on BLS figures. Those working for the federal government $74,930.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Court reporters and medical transcriptionists are professionals who perform some duties that are similar to the work that translators do. Court reporters produce a written account of everything said during a trial or court proceeding. Like translators, they need good typing skills and they must be able to perform their work with a high level of accuracy. They need postsecondary training, although a degree is not required. Medical transcriptionists also need postsecondary training. They convert audio recordings to written documents. They may need extensive knowledge of medical terminology in order to convert abbreviations to the full medical terms. Their work is similar to the work of a translator because they may need to convert terminology abbreviations and their end goal is the same as the work of a translator. Their objective is to produce an accurate written representation of the original data.

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