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How Do I Become a Licensed Translator?

Research what it takes to become a licensed translator. Learn about degree programs, certification, employment options, salary and career outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Licensed Translator?

Translators help in situations in which a language barrier prevents good written communication. They might work with documents in courtrooms, hospitals, government agencies or businesses. This requires fluency in at least two languages. The goal of a translator is to convert a document into a target language, so that the final product reads as if it were the original material. Day-to-day work typically happens on a computer, and computer-assisted translation is common. This increases the efficiency and consistency of a translator's work by relying on a computer database to provide a memory bank of previously used words and phrases.

Translators are needed in just about every industry. The following chart gives a broad overview of this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's
Education Field of Study Translating, foreign language(s)
Key Skills Converting written works into another language, using translation software, maintaining the original document's accuracy and style in translation
Licensure/Certification Licensing not required; certification can advance your career
Job Growth (2018-2028) 19% (much faster than average) for translators and interpreters*
Median Salary (May 2018) $55,230 for translators and interpreters*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Requirements to Become a Licensed Translator?

The main requirement to become a translator is to be fluent in at least two languages. You should feel as comfortable speaking, writing and using your second language as you are with your first language. You may need to earn a degree in a second language if you do not natively speak two languages.

The typical educational requirement for a translator is a bachelor's degree. You may pursue a degree in foreign language, translation or a related area. Programs you may consider include a bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. in translation, a master's or Ph.D. in translation studies or a master's in language literature and translation.

Another common requirement is experience in translation. You can gain experience through volunteering or working with a community organization. You may also gain experience through an internship or apprenticeship. Most translators have either grown up speaking their second language or lived an area where it is spoken. This is not a formal requirement, but it can help you to achieve the proficiency level needed for the job.

How Do I Get Licensed?

There are no licensing requirements for translators. The closest thing available is certification, which can verify your skills and provide employers with proof of your competency as a translator.

The American Translators Association (ATA) offers a certification examination for many common languages. The ATA requires you to meet specific education and work experience requirements, become a member of the ATA and pass an exam to become certified (www.atanet.org).

The Nationally Certified Judiciary Interpreter and Translator Certification Exam (NCJITCE) is a competency and proficiency exam provided by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. The NCJITCE is only offered for Spanish to English translation and applies mainly to courtroom interpreters. This is not a nationally recognized exam, but it was recognized in 11 states as of January 2011 (www.najit.org).

How Much Can I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2018 the average annual wage for interpreters and translators together was $55,230 (www.bls.gov). Salary.com reported in November 2019 that the median salary for translators was $47,819. In November 2019, PayScale.com reported a slightly higher median salary for translators: $48,330.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Court reporters have similar job duties to translators and interpreters, though they don't always require fluency in a foreign language. These professionals, who typically complete a certificate program in order to work, are responsible for creating verbatim transcripts of court proceedings. Another career option to consider is that of a technical writer. This involves creating documents to explain complex processes, such as instruction manuals and journal articles.