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Interpreters and Translators

At a Glance

  • Interpreters listen to speakers and translate what they say
  • Some interpreters translate sign language
  • Translators work only with written text
  • May work irregular hours and travel often
  • Are fluent in at least two languages
  • Many work in Washington, D.C. or New York City
  • Most have a bachelor's degree

Career summary

Interpreters and translators convert spoken or written words from one language into another.

This description includes people who work as court, social service, and medical interpreters.

Interpreters work with live speech, translators with written language. They must be fluent in at least two languages.


Interpreters may interpret consecutively, which means they wait for the speaker to pause. They may also interpret simultaneously, which means they translate while the speaker talks.

Simultaneous translating is required for international conferences or in court. Interpreters at the United Nations often work in glass booths and speak into microphones. Delegates tune in the interpreter who is speaking the language they understand.

Sign language interpreters translate spoken language into hand signals for people who are hearing impaired.

Court interpreters work in courtrooms. They translate testimony for defendants who do not understand the local language. They also work with attorneys while they meet with clients or take testimony.


Translators work with written text. Translators read texts and rewrite them in the specified language. Literary translators work closely with authors when they can.

Legal translators rewrite legal documents, such as laws. Translators of scientific material work with very technical language. They usually have a background in the subjects they translate.

Related careers

This career is part of the Education and Training cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to interpreters and translators.

Common work activities

Interpreters and translators perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, interpreters and translators:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Interpreters and translators frequently:

It is important for interpreters and translators to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for interpreters and translators to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Interpreters and translators need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an interpreter or translator, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Interpreters and translators typically need a bachelor's degree. However, the most important requirement is that you be fluent in one or more languages besides your native language. You also need to know the culture and customs where these languages are spoken. In addition, you must be very skilled with your native language.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in foreign languages. Some offer certificates or degrees in interpreting and translating. A few programs have specialized courses, such as medical or legal translation. Language programs include courses in literature and cultural studies. Some programs offer exchange programs with other countries.

Many community and four-year colleges offer certificate programs or associate degrees in American Sign Language interpretation.

Work experience

Experience in one of the settings where translation is important is beneficial. Interpreters and translators often work with information about law, medicine, education, business, or diplomacy. Many employers seek interpreters and translators with a few years of work experience in these areas.

On-the-job training

Interpreters and translators working in the community as court or medical interpreters or translators are more likely to complete job-specific training programs. 

Military training

Some branches of the military train people to be interpreters and translators. If you are fluent in a language, training lasts seven to 20 weeks, depending on your language. If you need to learn a language, training lasts six to 12 months. Additional training occurs on the job.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

Many interpreters and translators are self-employed. If you want to run your own business some day, you should consider taking these courses as well:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers prefer applicants who are fluent in more than one language. They often prefer applicants who have college degrees. Employers of court interpreters often prefer those who are certified. Employers may also prefer applicants who have experience. Many interpreters and translators start by working part time as freelancers.

Employers are as much interested in the applicant's cultural background and knowledge as with language skills. This background may include travel or study abroad. Scientific and professional workers should have graduate degrees in the fields in which they translate.

Court trials may sometimes involve interpreting emotionally charged and traumatic testimonies. Interpreters need to be able to remain calm and subjective in these situations. They also must be able to work well under pressure.


Join foreign language clubs and professional organizations. Read foreign language newspapers and publications to keep current in both developments and usage. Tune in foreign language radio and television programs. Travel or live abroad. Attend school in foreign countries if possible. Freelance court interpreters should be willing and able to travel to different trial courts if necessary.

#Added cmts regarding being willing to travel & able handle court testimonies as mentioned on the State Court Interpreter website, 4/9/08, cj.

Costs to workers

Workers may wish to join a state or national professional association, which may have yearly dues. Translators who work on contract usually must purchase equipment, such as a computer and reference materials. Workers may also need to pay for continuing education classes to retain their certification status. Interpreters who are certified by the State of Washington must pay a testing fee and an annual certification fee.

#removed ref to fax machine. 5/2/11 lh


Federal court interpreters must pass a written and an oral exam to earn certification from the Administrative Office of the US Courts.

For information, contact:

Office of Public Affairs
Administrative Office of the US Courts (external link)

One Columbus Circle NE
Washington, DC 20544

State court interpreters seeking certification must pass a written and oral test in Arabic (Egyptian), Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Cantonese, French, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, Marshallese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, or Vietnamese, pass a criminal background check, and submit a completed fingerprint card. Certified interpreters must complete and submit proof of 16 hours of continuing education units (two of which must be ethics) and 20 hours of legal interpreting in court or administrative hearings every two years.

Court interpreters who wish to become registered must take a state written exam and complete foreign language speaking assessment exam. A criminal background check is also required. Registration is for interpreters who are skilled in languages not included in the certification program. Registered interpreters must complete and submit proof of 10 hours of continuing education units (two of which must be ethics) every two years. Both registered and certified court interpreters must take a one-day orientation program on interpreting skills and attend a class on courtroom protocol and interpreter ethics. They also must execute the Oath of Interpreter and obtain an interpreter ID badge for court proceedings.

For information on state certification or registration, contact:

Office of the Administrator for the Courts
Interpreter Certification Program (external link)

PO Box 41170
Olympia, WA 98504-1170

You can also contact the Washington State Court Interpreters and Translators Society listed in the Other Resources section of this description.

Translators may be certified in certain languages by the American Translators Association after successful completion of required exams. Interpreters and translators working with clients of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services must pass oral and written tests and complete a two hour orientation and two hours of ethics training to obtain certification from that agency. Social and Health Services offers certification in Cambodian, Korean, Laotian, Chinese-Mandarin, Chinese-Cantonese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Certification by the State court qualifies the interpreter for Social and Health Services certification in that language. Interpreters in medical settings must also be current on vaccinations and be screened for infectious diseases.

For information, contact:

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
Language Testing and Certification (LTC) Program (external link)

PO Box 45820
Olympia, WA 98504-5820

#added ph for Feds from contact page of website,

#Added info on state court interpreter registration which is new; rest of info still the same, state still only certifies interpreters in 5 languages above per info sheet on their web site, 4/3/06, CJ. ph # update 1/30/19

#all fine 3/15/13 lh. Ok overall; added note about additional requirements for medical interpreters, 3/26/14 cj. Updated languages certified by State Courts & DSHS & added orientation and ethics reqs for DSHS 5/2/16 cj. update url DSHS page 1/30/19 lh

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


The minimum wage for Washington State as of January 1, 2020 is $13.50 per hour. Some areas of the state may have a higher minimum wage.


Interpreters and translators (SOC 27-3091)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $13.39 $17.47 $22.43 $27.01 $33.33
Monthly $2,320 $3,028 $3,887 $4,681 $5,776
Yearly $27,860 $36,330 $46,650 $56,190 $69,330
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $20.35 $21.54 $23.52 $25.69 $30.15
Monthly $3,527 $3,733 $4,076 $4,452 $5,225
Yearly $42,325 $44,800 $48,924 $53,425 $62,703
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $22.39 $25.98 $30.70 $35.68 $38.55
Monthly $3,880 $4,502 $5,320 $6,183 $6,681
Yearly $46,581 $54,057 $63,853 $74,206 $80,187
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $13.64 $16.95 $23.35 $29.08 $39.06
Monthly $2,364 $2,937 $4,047 $5,040 $6,769
Yearly $28,372 $35,259 $48,558 $60,480 $81,249
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $11.93 $12.28 $17.81 $24.33 $30.26
Monthly $2,067 $2,128 $3,086 $4,216 $5,244
Yearly $24,830 $25,537 $37,052 $50,598 $62,932
    Vancouver Hourly $15.17 $19.92 $24.46 $28.11 $30.37
Monthly $2,629 $3,452 $4,239 $4,871 $5,263
Yearly $31,551 $41,435 $50,865 $58,476 $63,161
    Wenatchee Hourly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Monthly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
    Yakima Hourly $15.00 $19.16 $21.28 $23.31 $24.62
Monthly $2,600 $3,320 $3,688 $4,040 $4,267
Yearly $31,188 $39,853 $44,274 $48,481 $51,203
United States Hourly $13.09 $17.53 $24.00 $32.53 $43.56
Monthly $2,268 $3,038 $4,159 $5,637 $7,549
Yearly $27,230 $36,470 $49,930 $67,660 $90,610

(1) Wage estimate is not available.

Interpreters may be paid by the day. Court and conference interpreters can earn between $250 to $500 per day, if they are employed by the federal government or by private industry. State courts usually pay a lower rate. Many interpreters work in schools and other settings and are paid much less.

Translators are usually paid by the word, page, or project. Their wages also vary widely.

Full-time interpreters and translators often receive benefits. These include sick leave, vacation, and health insurance. Those who work part time or are self-employed must provide their own insurance.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Interpreters and Translators (SOC 27-3091)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 985 25.5% 16.1% 149
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 51 23.5% 13.4% 7
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 15 13.3% 8.6% 2
    Benton and Franklin Counties 76 0.0% 15.0% 7
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 22 31.8% 11.9% 4
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 149 40.9% 15.2% 28
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 32 28.1% 14.6% 5
    King County 434 31.1% 19.6% 71
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 30 16.7% 13.8% 4
    Pierce County 66 19.7% 15.2% 9
    Snohomish County 21 19.0% 12.4% 3
    Spokane County 91 17.6% 13.9% 11
United States 76,100 19.2% 5.2% 9,800

National employment

About 22% of interpreters and translators are self-employed.

Interpreters and translators work in all parts of the country. However, a large percentage of them work in New York City and Washington, DC.

Major employers:

National outlook

The demand for sign language interpreters is expected to significantly increase. The number of jobs for interpreters and translators will grow as businesses continue to expand their operations into other countries. As a result, workers will be needed to help American workers communicate with their non-English speaking coworkers. There is also a growing need for services for deaf people.

Interpreters and translators will be needed in schools, other public agencies, and large work places. In addition, the growth of the health care industry will create more jobs.

Growth of the Internet and the need to have websites in several languages will contribute to job growth. Another reason for job growth is that the military needs additional interpreters and translators in the Middle East. Job prospects will vary by language.

Other resources

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (external link)
2002 Summit Boulevard, Suite 300
Atlanta, GA 30319
National Association of the Deaf (external link)
8630 Fenton Street, Suite 820
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301.587.1789 (TTY)
301.587.1788 (Voice)
National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (external link)
5614 Connecticut Avenue NW, #119
Washington, DC 20015-2604
Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society (external link)
1037 NE 65th Street, #107
Seattle, WA 98115
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (external link)
333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
703.838.0459 (TTY)
703.838.0030 (VOICE)
The American Association of Language Specialists (external link)
3051 Idaho Avenue NW, #425
Washington, DC 20016
The Translator's Home Companion (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster