How to Become an Interpreter

Interpreter Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $45,520
Avg. Pay / hour $21.88
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 42%

Interpreters are professionals that make a living off of communicating.

Communication has become an extremely important skill to have no matter what part of the world you live in.

As globalization becomes the new normal and the world becomes more interconnected, the demand for interpreters and translators will reflect this change.

Individuals who want to become an Interpreter will need to focus on becoming bilingual.

Individuals may have also have grown up fully bilingual knowing two languages and work on attaining the proper certification in order to gain better job prospects.

Education Requirements to Become an Interpreter

There is no specific way to become an Interpreter although seeking certification or a bachelor’s degree will help with the job prospects.

In addition, those who want to become an Interpreter should also be fluent in English as well as a second or third language.

Some Interpreters may also be fluent in sign language to enter this profession.

For those who choose to complete a bachelor’s degree, there are plenty of avenues to choose from.

If an individual does not already know a second language, they can opt to major in a foreign language, such as Spanish, Chinese or Russian.

For individuals who are already bilingual when beginning their college career, specializing in a non-language background is encouraged.

For example, a bilingual individual who majors in finance, business or medicine will have many more opportunities as they will be specialized in a technical field and be able to communicate with many more non-English speaking individuals.

Furthermore, individuals can also pursue a master’s degree to work in more technical fields such as finance, software or engineering.

No matter the level of education chosen, individuals should also focus their studies on English and comprehension and writing to prepare them for the interpretation field.

Although there is no specific test or certification an aspiring Interpreter can take, acquiring one will show potential employers that an individual is proficient and fully capable of interpreting important information.

Individuals may visit American Translators Association to learn about a certification program for 26 languages that involve English.

Interpreter Job Description

The big difference between an Interpreter and a Translator is the medium used to communicate.

Translators use the written word to convert while interpreters work in the spoken or sign language.

The one commonality in the two professions is for a professional to be able to speak, read and write at least two languages.

An Interpreter’s main job duty is to convert, or translate, one form of communication to another.

Because of context, Interpreters must also be sure to align concepts in the original language into the target language.

This can be extremely important for Interpreters working in technical fields such as the federal government or the medical field.

Interpreters must be able to work well under pressure depending on whether the job they are working on requires is Simultaneous.

A Simultaneous translation requires an Interpreter to fully grasp the concept and context of the original language and translate it while the speaker is engaged in conversation or speech.

The second mode of interpretation is Consecutive in which an Interpreter waits for the speaker to finish speaking and then translates the information.

Interpreters using this form sometimes have the ability to write notes while the speaker is engaged in conversation.

The final mode of interpretation is Whispered in which an Interpreter sits very close to a listener and converts into the target language simultaneously.

Interpreter Salary and Career Path

Interpreter jobs are expected to grow by 46 percent through the year 2022.

This rate is considered fast and higher than average and is caused by the globalization the world has experienced in recent decades.

This increase will also be caused by the influx of non-English speaking individuals residing in the United States.

Individuals with experience speaking several languages or highly a highly demanded language will have the most opportunities.

In 2012, the median annual salary for Interpreters was approximately $45,430.

However, the exact wage will heavily depend on the industry interpreting professionals will work in.

Interpreters working in the health care and social assistance sector make the lowest wages in this profession earning a median annual salary of $40,130 while professionals working in the professional, scientific and technical services can expect an income of $54,110 per year.

Whichever sector an aspiring Interpreter chooses to work in, professionals entering this field should expect plenty of opportunities for employment.

The increase in globalization combined with the growth of non-English speaking residents in the U.S.

can be attributed to this fast growing profession.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average 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

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 for Interpreters and Translators, OCC Code 27-3091, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an interpreter do?

An interpreter is someone who translates spoken words in two directions.

Thus, such a specialist is different from a translator, as the latter translates written words.

An interpreter should be able to act on the spot; most of the time, specialists work without any reference material or resources.

Interpreters are also a ‘bridge’ between two or more people; during the translation, the specialist has to translate the tone, emotions, and intentions.

There are two main ways of interpreting: consecutive and simultaneous.

Consecutive interpretation is used at meetings, court cases, and speeches; the speaker would stop to give the interpreter the chance to translate.

Simultaneous interpreting happens in ‘real-time’; an interpreter can be immediately translating in a microphone during a large diplomatic meeting or a conference, for example.

How much do interpreters make?

On average, an interpreter can make a little less than $51.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to choose this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $24.000 and $88.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location, and so on.

The professionals that work in Virginia, Maine, and New Jersey, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level interpreter can earn around $11 per hour; a top-level specialist with plenty of experience can make $42 and more per hour.

How much does it cost to become an interpreter?

You would need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language or a specific area in which you want to work (like business administration, for example), in order to become an interpreter.

To improve job prospects, you can consider getting a master’s degree or taking some postgraduate courses.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (bear in mind that the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

A master’s degree will cost you over $30.000, in most of the cases.

In case you want to work for a specific industry, you should consider undergoing certain training (a medical interpreter certificate will cost you around $485).

What is the demand for interpreters?

Between 2010 and 2020, the interpreter job market is expected to grow by 42%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s a lot faster than the average for all occupations in the United States.

This will happen due to the fact that more and more foreigners are going to come to the US; moreover, the country’s growing international trade will also need plenty of interpreters.

The candidates that possess a master’s degree will have better chances of getting the highest-paid job.

How long does it take to become an interpreter?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree and 1-2 years to get a master’s degree.

You can consider seeking an internship during your last year in university to get that on-job experience as the majority of employers prefer the candidates to have at least a few years of experience.

In case you decide to become a medical interpreter, for example, you would need to possess at least 40 hours of training, in order to apply for the certification exam.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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