Interpreter or Translator

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Job Outlook:
As fast as average
Education: Bachelor's degree
High: $93,140.00
Average: $61,730.00
Average: $29.68

What they do:

Interpret oral or sign language, or translate written text from one language into another.

On the job, you would:

  • Follow ethical codes that protect the confidentiality of information.
  • Translate messages simultaneously or consecutively into specified languages, orally or by using hand signs, maintaining message content, context, and style as much as possible.
  • Listen to speakers' statements to determine meanings and to prepare translations, using electronic listening systems as necessary.

Important Qualities

Business skills. Self-employed interpreters and translators must be able to manage their finances. They need to set prices for their work, bill customers, keep records, and market their services to build their client base.

Communication skills. Interpreters and translators must be able to read, speak clearly, and write effectively in all of the languages in which they are working.

Concentration. Interpreters and translators must be able to focus while others are speaking or moving around them.

Cultural sensitivity. Interpreters and translators must be aware of expectations among the people for whom they are helping to facilitate communication. They must understand not only the language but the culture.

Dexterity. Sign language interpreters must be able to make quick and coordinated hand, finger, and arm movements when interpreting.

Interpersonal skills. Interpreters and translators must be able to put clients and others at ease. Interpreters may work on teams and must get along with colleagues to ensure success.

Listening skills. Interpreters must pay attention when interpreting for audiences to ensure that they hear and interpret correctly.


A3 Your Strengths Importance

Characteristics of this Career

93% Integrity  -  Job requires being honest and ethical.
89% Attention to Detail  -  Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
87% Dependability  -  Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
86% Independence  -  Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
85% Cooperation  -  Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
80% Self-Control  -  Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
79% Adaptability/Flexibility  -  Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
77% Stress Tolerance  -  Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
76% Initiative  -  Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
76% Achievement/Effort  -  Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.
75% Concern for Others  -  Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
69% Persistence  -  Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
69% Social Orientation  -  Job requires preferring to work with others rather than alone, and being personally connected with others on the job.
67% Analytical Thinking  -  Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.
A3 Your Strengths Importance


83% Artistic  -  Work involves creating original visual artwork, performances, written works, food, or music for a variety of media, or applying artistic principles to the design of various objects and materials. Artistic occupations are often associated with visual arts, applied arts and design, performing arts, music, creative writing, media, or culinary art.
72% Social  -  Work involves helping, teaching, advising, assisting, or providing service to others. Social occupations are often associated with social, health care, personal service, teaching/education, or religious activities.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Values of the Work Environment

72% Relationships  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment. Corresponding needs are Co-workers, Moral Values and Social Service.


A3 Your Strengths Importance

Abilities | Cognitive, Physical, Personality

81% Oral Expression  -  The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
78% Oral Comprehension  -  The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
75% Written Comprehension  -  The ability to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
75% Written Expression  -  The ability to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.
72% Speech Clarity  -  The ability to speak clearly so others can understand you.
72% Speech Recognition  -  The ability to identify and understand the speech of another person.
69% Information Ordering  -  The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).
66% Near Vision  -  The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
66% Problem Sensitivity  -  The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.

Job Details

Translate information for others.
Translate information for others.
Edit written materials.
Verify accuracy of data.
Translate information for others.
Conduct research to inform art, designs, or other work.
Compile technical information or documentation.
Translate information for others.
Translate information for others.
Verify accuracy of data.
Compile technical information or documentation.
Confer with clients to determine needs.
Translate information for others.
Provide educational information to the public.
Train others on work processes.
Translate information for others.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Attributes & Percentage of Time Spent

98% Importance of Being Exact or Accurate  -  How important is being very exact or highly accurate in performing this job?
93% Work With Work Group or Team  -  How important is it to work with others in a group or team in this job?
91% Face-to-Face Discussions  -  How often do you have to have face-to-face discussions with individuals or teams in this job?
89% Contact With Others  -  How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others (face-to-face, by telephone, or otherwise) in order to perform it?
88% Electronic Mail  -  How often do you use electronic mail in this job?
88% Frequency of Decision Making  -  How frequently is the worker required to make decisions that affect other people, the financial resources, and/or the image and reputation of the organization?
87% Importance of Repeating Same Tasks  -  How important is repeating the same physical activities (e.g., key entry) or mental activities (e.g., checking entries in a ledger) over and over, without stopping, to performing this job?
78% Impact of Decisions on Co-workers or Company Results  -  What results do your decisions usually have on other people or the image or reputation or financial resources of your employer?
78% Indoors, Environmentally Controlled  -  How often does this job require working indoors in environmentally controlled conditions?
76% Freedom to Make Decisions  -  How much decision making freedom, without supervision, does the job offer?
75% Time Pressure  -  How often does this job require the worker to meet strict deadlines?
72% Level of Competition  -  To what extent does this job require the worker to compete or to be aware of competitive pressures?
66% Telephone  -  How often do you have telephone conversations in this job?
65% Spend Time Sitting  -  How much does this job require sitting?
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Tasks & Values

93% Interpreting the Meaning of Information for Others  -  Translating or explaining what information means and how it can be used.
81% Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships  -  Developing constructive and cooperative working relationships with others, and maintaining them over time.
79% Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates  -  Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
78% Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge  -  Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.
77% Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events  -  Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
76% Getting Information  -  Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
74% Performing for or Working Directly with the Public  -  Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores, and receiving clients or guests.
70% Documenting/Recording Information  -  Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form.
69% Making Decisions and Solving Problems  -  Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
68% Communicating with People Outside the Organization  -  Communicating with people outside the organization, representing the organization to customers, the public, government, and other external sources. This information can be exchanged in person, in writing, or by telephone or e-mail.
67% Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards  -  Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.

What Interpreters and Translators Do

Interpreters and translators
Interpreters and translators speak, read, and write in at least two languages fluently.

Interpreters and translators convert information from one language into another language. Interpreters work in spoken or sign language; translators work in written language.


Interpreters and translators typically do the following:

  • Convert concepts, style, and tone in the source language to equivalent concepts, style, and tone of the target language
  • Compile information and technical terms into glossaries and terminology databases for use in their oral renditions and translations
  • Speak, read, and write fluently in at least two languages, one of which is usually English
  • Render spoken messages accurately, quickly, and clearly

Interpreters and translators aid communication by converting messages or text from one language (typically called the source language) into another language (the target language). Although some people do both, interpreting and translating are different skills: interpreters work with spoken communication, and translators work with written communication.

Interpreters convert information from one spoken language into another—or, in the case of sign language interpreters, between spoken language and sign language. The interpreter’s goal is for people to experience the target language as seamlessly as if it were the source language. Interpreters typically must be fluent speakers or signers of both languages, because they communicate between people who do not share a common language. Interpreters may provide their services remotely as well as in person.

The three common modes of interpreting are:

  • Simultaneous interpreters convey a spoken or signed message into another language at the same time someone is speaking or signing. Simultaneous interpreters must be familiar with the subject matter and maintain a high level of concentration to convey the message accurately and completely. Due to the mental fatigue involved, simultaneous interpreters may work in pairs or small teams if they are interpreting for long periods of time, such as in a court or conference setting.
  • Consecutive interpreters convey the speaker’s or signer’s message in another language after the person has stopped to allow for interpretation. Note taking is generally an essential part of consecutive interpreting.
  • Sight translation interpreters provide translation of a written document directly into a spoken language for immediate understanding, not for the purposes of producing a translated document in writing.

Translators convert written materials from one language into another language. The translator’s goal is for people to read the target language as if it were the source language of the written material. To do that, the translator must be able to maintain or duplicate the written structure and style of the source text while also keeping the ideas and facts accurate. Translators must properly transmit cultural references, including slang, and other expressions that do not translate literally.

Translators must read the source language fluently. The target language into which they translate is usually their native language. They adapt a range of products, including websites, marketing materials, and user documentation.

Nearly all translators use software in their work. Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, which use a computer database of previously translated sentences or segments (called a “translation memory”) to translate new text, allow translators to be efficient and consistent. Machine translation software automatically generates text from the source language into the target language, which translators then review in a process called post-editing. Translations often go through several revisions before becoming final.

Although most interpreters and translators specialize in a particular field or industry, many have more than one area of specialization.

The following are examples of types of interpreters and translators:

Community interpreters work in a variety of public settings to provide language interpretation one-on-one or for groups. Community interpreters often are needed at parent-teacher conferences, community events, business and public meetings, social and government agencies, new-home purchases, and in many other work and community settings.

Conference interpreters work at events that have non-English-speaking attendees. The work is often in the field of international business or diplomacy, although conference interpreters may provide services for any organization that works with speakers of foreign languages. Employers generally prefer experienced interpreters who can convert two languages into one native language—for example, the ability to interpret from Spanish and French into English. For some positions, such as those with the United Nations, this qualification is required.

Conference interpreters often do simultaneous interpreting. Attendees at a conference or meeting who do not understand the language of the speaker wear earphones tuned to the interpreter who speaks the language they want to hear.

Healthcare or medical interpreters and translators typically work in healthcare settings and help patients communicate with doctors, nurses, technicians, and other medical staff. Interpreters and translators must have knowledge of medical terminology in both languages. They may translate patient consent documents, patients’ records, pharmaceutical and informational brochures, regulatory information, and research material from one language into another.

Healthcare or medical interpreters must be sensitive to patients’ personal circumstances and must maintain confidentiality and ethical standards.

Liaison or escort interpreters accompany either U.S. visitors abroad or foreign visitors in the United States who have limited English proficiency. Interpreting in both formal and informal settings, these specialists ensure that the visitors are able to communicate during their stay.

Legal or judicial interpreters and translators typically work in courts and other judicial settings. At arraignments, depositions, hearings, and trials, they help people who have limited English proficiency. Accordingly, they must understand legal terminology. Court interpreters must sometimes read source documents aloud in a target language, a task known as sight translation.

Literary translators convert books, poetry, and other published works from the source language into a target language. Whenever possible, literary translators work closely with authors to capture the intended meaning, as well as the literary and cultural references, of the original publication.

Localizers engage in a comprehensive process of adapting text and graphics from a source language into the target language. The goal of localizers’ translation is to make a product or service appear to have originated in the country where it will be sold. They must not only know both languages, but also understand the technical information they are working with and the culture of the people who will be using the product or service. Localizers generally work in teams.

Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. Sign language interpreters must be fluent in English and in American Sign Language (ASL), which combines signing, finger spelling, and specific body language. ASL is a separate language from English and has its own grammar.

Some interpreters specialize in other forms of interpreting for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing lip-read English instead of, or in addition to, signing in ASL. Interpreters who work with these people do “oral interpretation,” mouthing speech silently and carefully. They also may use facial expressions and gestures to help the lip-reader understand.

Other modes of interpreting include cued speech, which uses hand shapes placed near the mouth to give lip-readers more information; signing exact English; and tactile signing, which is interpreting for people who are blind as well as deaf by making hand signs into the person’s hand.

Trilingual interpreters facilitate communication among an English speaker, a speaker of another language, and an ASL user. They must have the versatility and cultural understanding necessary to interpret in all three languages without changing the fundamental meaning of the message.

Work Environment

Interpreters and translators held about 68,700 jobs in 2022. The largest employers of interpreters and translators were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services 30%
Self-employed workers 21
Educational services; state, local, and private 20
Hospitals; state, local, and private 8
Government 5

Interpreters work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, courtrooms, detention facilities, and conference centers; they also may work remotely. Some interpreters, such as liaison or escort interpreters, travel frequently. Depending on the setting and type of assignment, interpreting may be stressful.

Translators usually work in offices, which may include remote settings. They usually receive and submit their work electronically and must sometimes deal with the pressure of deadlines and tight schedules.

Work Schedules

Part-time work is common for interpreters and translators, and work schedules may vary. Interpreters and translators may have periods of limited work and periods of long, irregular hours.

Self-employed interpreters and translators are able to set their own schedules.

Getting Started

Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree

How to Become an Interpreter or Translator

Interpreters and translators
Some interpreters and translators attain a bachelors degree in a specific language or American Sign Language.

Interpreters and translators typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. They also must be proficient in at least two languages (English and one other language), as well as in the interpretation or translation service they intend to provide.


Interpreters and translators typically need a bachelor’s degree; common fields of degree include foreign language, business, and communications. Students who study technical subjects, such as engineering or medicine, may be able to provide a higher level of interpreting and translation.

Interpreters and translators also need to be proficient in at least two languages, one of which is usually English, and in the translation or interpretation skill they plan to provide.

High school students interested in becoming an interpreter or translator should take a broad range of classes, including in foreign languages and English.

Through community organizations, students interested in sign language interpreting may take introductory classes in American Sign Language (ASL) and seek out volunteer opportunities to work with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Internships offer prospective interpreters and translators an opportunity to learn about the work. For example, interns may shadow an experienced interpreter or begin working in industries with particularly high demand for language services, such as court or medical interpreting.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

General certification typically is not required for interpreters and translators. However, workers may show proficiency by passing a variety of optional certification tests. For example, the American Translators Association (ATA) provides certification in many language combinations.

Employers may require or prefer certification for some types of interpreters and translators. For example, most states require certification for court interpreters. Federal courts offer court interpreter certification in several languages, including Spanish, Navajo, and Haitian Creole. At the state level, courts offer certification in multiple languages.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) offers two types of certification for healthcare interpreters: Core Certification Healthcare Interpreter (CoreCHI), for interpreters of any language providing services in the United States; and Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI), for interpreters of Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin.

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) offers two types of certification for medical interpreters: the Hub-CMI credential, a nonlanguage-specific certification available to all interpreters regardless of target language; and the CMI credential for interpreters of Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Continuing education is required for most state court and medical interpreter certifications. It is offered by professional interpreter and translator associations, such as the ATA and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters (NAJIT).

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) jointly offer certification for general sign language interpreters. In addition, the registry offers specialty tests in legal interpreting, speech reading, and deaf-to-deaf interpreting—which includes interpreting among deaf speakers of different native languages and from ASL to tactile signing.

The U.S. Department of State offers aptitude tests for interpreters and translators at various levels, from basic to advanced. Although these tests are not considered a credential, they are a required step for candidates to be added to a roster for freelance assignments. Other federal agencies may offer similar proficiency tests.

Other Experience

Experience is not typically required to enter the occupation, but it may be especially helpful for interpreters and freelancers pursuing self-employment. Prospective interpreters and translators may benefit from activities such as spending time in a foreign country, interacting directly with foreign cultures, and studying a variety of subjects in English and at least one other language.

Working in-house for a translation company or taking on freelance or volunteer assignments may help people gain firsthand knowledge of the skills that interpreters or translators need. Volunteer opportunities for interpreters may be available through community organizations, hospitals, and sporting events, such as soccer, that involve international competitors.

By developing relationships with experienced workers in the field, interpreters and translators build their skills and confidence and establish a network of contacts. Mentoring may be formal, such as through a professional association; for example, both the American Translators Association (ATA) and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offer formal mentoring programs. Mentoring also may be informal, such as with a coworker or an acquaintance who has experience interpreting or translating.


Experienced interpreters and translators advance by taking on increasingly difficult assignments, gaining certification, and obtaining editorial responsibility.

Some interpreters and translators advance by becoming self-employed. They may submit resumes and samples to different translation and interpreting companies who match their skills to assignments. They may get work based on their reputation or through referrals from clients or colleagues. Those who start their own businesses also may hire translators and interpreters to work for them.

Job Outlook

Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 7,200 openings for interpreters and translators are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


A more diverse U.S. population and increasing globalization are expected to create demand for interpreters and translators. The ongoing need for military and national security interpreters and translators should result in more jobs as well.

In addition, demand for American Sign Language interpreters is expected to grow due to the increasing use of video relay services, which allow people to conduct online video calls and use a sign language interpreter.

Computers have made the work of translators and localization specialists more efficient. However, many of these jobs cannot be entirely automated because computers cannot yet produce work comparable to what human translators do in most cases.

Contacts for More Information

For more information about interpreters, visit  

Discover Interpreting

For more information about interpreter and literary translator specialties, including professional certification, visit

American Translators Association (ATA)

Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI)

International Association of Conference Interpreters

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT)

National Association of the Deaf (NAD)

National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters

National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC)

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)

For more information about becoming a federal contract interpreter or translator, visit 

U.S. State Department

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Information provided by CareerFitter, LLC and other sources.

Sections of this page includes information from the O*NET 27.3 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license.

CareerFitter, LLC has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.