What Is an Official Translator?

Research what it takes to become an official translator. Learn about what translators do, what training they need, what certification options are available to them and how much they can earn to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is An Official Translator?

Translators typically work with the written word, fostering cross-cultural communication by translating documents from one language to another. These documents are generally received and submitted electronically, unless translators are providing an in-person service. Some translators may work on a freelance basis, providing a service to many different clients at once, while others may be tied to one particular agency or institution. Many government agencies utilize translators to help people access social and community services such as welfare or legal advice. Translators may also be required in medical environments, such as hospitals, to ensure that patients who do not speak English are able to understand and easily access care.

Degree Required Bachelor's
Education Field of Study Translation, Spanish or another language
Certification Optional
Key Skills Mastery of two or more languages, knowledge of relevant cultural issues, editing
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29% (for all translators and interpreters)*
Median Salary (2015) $44,190 (for all translators and interpreters)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Does an Official Translator Do?

As an official translator or interpreter, you'll convert one language into another. According to judicial terminology, translators focus on written statements while interpreters focus on spoken conversation. While the professions are unique from one another, the similarities allow you to do both. As a translator, you'll need to have a variety of skills, including complete mastery of the languages you're translating, knowledge of cultural issues that may impact the translation and an aptitude for editing.

Translators are needed in a wide variety of fields and settings. For example, the court system requires translators to help those with limited English skills manage the legal process. The healthcare industry also utilizes translators to help non-English speakers understand instructions and printed materials provided by doctors and nurses. In the literary field, you can specialize in translating poetry, novels or articles. With creative writing, you'll need a keen understanding of not only the languages, but also literary form in order to replicate the author's artistic intentions.

What Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 49,650 translators and interpreters were employed in the field and earned an annual mean wage of $48,360 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). The highest paid professional translators worked in agricultural, engineering and related services and for the federal government. Location also made a difference in wages, per the BLS, with those in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. making significantly more than the national average.

What Type of Training Is Required?

Many employers prefer that you possess a bachelor's degree, though there is no standard academic requirement. Your most important asset is your fluency and expertise in the languages which are being translated. However, a degree or college-level instruction in the language you're seeking to translate allows you to fully learn the language within a cultural context.

Some schools also offer degrees and certificates in language translation. In these programs, you'll learn and improve your language skills, as well as perform translation exercises. Coursework introduces you to the different types of texts you may see in your career.

What Certifications are Available?

Certification is optional, and there are numerous certifying organizations through which you can demonstrate your proficiency. The American Translators Association (ATA) offers certifying exams for languages as diverse as Arabic, Croatian, Ukrainian and Japanese. The ATA exams are open-book and take three hours to complete. The test may include translation of general text, medical content, political writing or other styles. The organization reported that less than 20% of translators typically pass the exam.

You may also earn certification through the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators if you intend to work in the court system. To work in federal courts, you may need certification provided through the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. This government certification is offered at multiple levels and languages for different types of courtroom interpreting and translating in which you may specialize.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Translation is quite a specific field, but there are a number of other career paths where the skills required to become a translator can be useful. With an undergraduate degree in language studies, one option is to become a teacher either at the high school or the community college level. This is a particularly appropriate option if you happened to study Spanish or another language commonly taught in schools.

Translators who have worked in the legal or medical fields may want to consider becoming technical writers and producing informative copy for educational articles, manuals and journals, as well as other kinds of publications. Technical writers need to have a strong background of knowledge in their field in order to ensure their writing is accurate. They typically hold a bachelor's degree.

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