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How Much Do Translators Earn? 2018 in the Rear View Mirror

I’m just starting out and I wonder if I should make a career of being a full time freelance translator. My main issue is income. How much can a newbie freelance translator make? How much should company in-house translators earn in this day and age?


Let's open these young Padawan's questions up.


The most recent ATA wage survey from 2015, which used self-reported income data from 2014, reported that ATA-certified translators earned about $54,000 a year, and non-ATA certified translators about $45,000 a year. The ATA survey lets users choose only between “full time” and “part time” status. And, for example, a translator who works about 30 hours a week can be considered full time, but many would call that part time. Nonetheless, the survey is a good overview of income levels for freelancers, in-house employees, state employees etc.


The American BLS also has data on translators and interpreters. Their average of $46,000 a year is lower than the median reported by ATA-certified translators, but higher than that of non-certified translators. BLS data do not include independent contractors or government employees, i.e. the majority of US translators. ATA is approximately 80% independent contractors, and federal translation employees are some of the highest-paid freelancers in the Americas, so this data is certainly skewed.


The Authors Guild recently did a survey of literary translators’ income, and the German literary translators association did the same in Germany. You can read an interesting summary of the results of both surveys in Slator. The numbers there appear dismal, with two-thirds of respondents to the Authors Guild survey reporting that they earned less than $20,000 last year from literary translation. However, the catch is that only 7% of respondents reported that literary translation is their only source of income. Still, we think it’s safe to say that rates for literary translation were not stratospheric to start out with, and are not rising.


Also, useful websites like Glassdoor, show what translators and interpreters earn . Looks like they're using the BLS average as their reported average, but there are definitely some decently-paying jobs listed on there, in the $85,000-$105,000 a year range.


How much is it, then?


The majority of the translator public underestimate their affordability to try and achieve a similar level of financial security to someone with a traditional job. After years of freelancing, you don’t want that kind of worry. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with decreasing your living expenses so that you don’t need to earn a high income.

For the average translation freelancer, to achieve financial stability equal to that of a traditional job, you should earn $85,000-$105,000 a year, unless you are frugal (you shouldn't be in, this profession). This range is a good target to aim for, and it’s relevant for most people who are proficient at translations and interpreting, can market themselves assertively and make a concerted effort to move into higher-paying markets.

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