For translators, these questions are especially important because of myths revolving around machine translation. People who don’t know that much about translation will usually label the occupation as something that’s either “destined to die” or “not that useful anymore.”
But is that really the case? No matter what the general public might think of the occupation, translation is still extremely important, and it matters to those who care about customs. So, naturally, there will always be people who are willing to pay for high-quality cultural adaptation.No matter what the general public might think of the occupation, translation is still extremely important, and it matters to those who care about customs. #TranslationMatters Click Here To Tweet
In this article, we’re going to discover how much translators actually make. This means that we’ll analyze many factors in the world of translation; what works, what doesn’t, how much you can expect to make, whether pursuing a career as a professional translator is worth it or not, etc.
Now, for the quick answer to your question…
The Quick Answer | Translators Make Around $35K/YearSo, how much do translators make? If you want the quick and dirty answer, translators make around $35K/year. This number is based on pro-rated salary averages for translators across the entire globe, not just the USA. I’m using USD here for easy reference.
You shouldn’t take it from me though. Wages for professional translators fluctuate on a constant basis, and there’s a big difference between being a freelancer and being an employee. Freelance translators have the potential to make more, but the risks they undergo are also much higher.
In the USA, surveys show that professional translators hover around the $44K/year mark while in the UK translators receive around £23K/year. In Italy and other EU countries, translators can expect to make anywhere from €17K/year up to €30K/year. So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.Did you know that translators make around $35K/year based on a pro-rated average for translators across the entire globe? #TheMoreYouKnow #TranslationMatters Click Here To Tweet
The translation business is a fragmented sector where highly skilled English to Japanese translators could “easily” make $100K/year whereas people with more “common” skills (English to Spanish) could see their revenue sink to <20K/year depending on their working conditions.
This is all a matter of how the translator treats their businesses in the first place though, and it doesn’t apply to everybody. If you’re an employee, you don’t really have to think about much. You have a paycheck and tax deductions are made on your behalf by the company you work for.
However, most translators are freelancers, and let me tell you, there’s no “quick and dirty” answer to how much you could make as a freelance translator, especially if you’re a beginner. Starting a freelance journey can be terrifying; there’s no clear answer to how much you’re going to make!
Don’t let that scare you off though – translation is needed and alive.
The Not-So-Quick Answer | It Depends On Many FactorsThe scary (and interesting) thing about platforms like Fiverr is that you can kind of tell how much professional and non-professional translators are making just by looking at their rates. Here, rates are mostly public, and the website tells you how many orders freelancers have at the moment.
Browsing the website is a good way to understand how much translators are getting paid, but don’t be fooled; most “translators” on there are simply people who speak two languages, and it’s not uncommon to hear about “professionals” who simply use Google Translate with no editing.Translation work is hard to control. The market is fragmented, and only translators themselves can take their income to the next level. #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
The thing is, translation work is very hard to control. It’s a fragmented market where only translators themselves can take their income to the next level by attacking the market as either experts or key players. A recognizable brand (usually your name) is key to success in the industry.
But how do you get there, and what are the steps required to potentially achieve a six-figure translation income? As a freelance translator, it’s easy to get stuck in a whirlwind where money coming in is never enough to pay the bills, but it doesn’t have to (and it shouldn’t) go that way.
Let’s look at the main factors that influence a translator’s income over time. We’ll pair numbers with each factor to get an overall idea of things you should definitely focus on compared to things that are not as important when first starting out. Here are seven factors to look out for!
1. Employees vs. Freelancers | How Much Do These Translators Make?The first factor is probably the most obvious one. Is it more profitable to work as an employee or should you venture into the wondrous world of freelance translation? As a translator, you have various ways to source your work, and they ultimately come down to three main areas:
- Working for a company or a public organization that requires your services for internal purposes, translating documents that are needed for a smooth operation.
- Seeking out clients directly, looking at the industry in large and targeting areas which either go hand in hand with your specialization or make sense for your language pair.
- Working for an agency which finds clients on your behalf and subcontracts jobs directly to you without the need to actively seek out prospects or recurring work.
All three options are valid, and all three have nuances of their own. In order to compare the two options, you have to look at translation rates and hourly wages first; these represent the baseline of a translator’s efforts, and they vary based on education, skills, seniority, etc.
Professional translators with a bachelor’s degree working as employees can make anywhere from $15/hour to around $40/hour depending on language pair, location, and other factors that we’re going to explore in the next few sections. Beware if you’re offered less than the bare minimum.
Freelance translators instead can see their income rise all the way up to $100/hour and above (PDF download), but that doesn’t mean it will be stable. As we will see in the next section, most freelance translators charge on a per-word basis, and that can lead to some degree of insecurity.
2. Hourly Wages vs. Word Count-Based Quotations | What’s The Difference?Another major aspect of translation is how quotations are sent out to prospects, and how you get paid as a result of that process. As an employee, hourly wages are the obvious choice; they’re easy to track, they’re seamless for the employer, and they’re ultimately predictable.
On the other hand, word count quotations can become quite complicated, and if they aren’t done right, they could take away a lot of income from the translator’s hands. It’s the quickest method to get up and running with new clients, but it’s not always the best one, even for freelancers.Did you know that ATA certified translators can "easily" reach up to $0.2/word while translation agencies usually pay much less than $0.1/word? #TheMoreYouKnow #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
So, how much do translators make when using word counts? The bare minimum that agencies like Translated usually pay is $0.02/word, going all the way up to $0.1/word. However, it’s worth noting that high-end, certified professional translators ask much more than that.
For example, the bare minimum that ATA certified translators usually hover around is $0.12/word, but they can “easily” reach up to $0.2/word, which is a real boost in day-to-day income. Take a 2435-word document as an example and compare the minimum wage with the high-end one…
We’re looking at a 10x increase! Translating a document like that could make you as little as $48.7 and as much as 487$… No wonder why many translators around the world complain about their wages; that’s a huge jump! Therefore, it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that you could make a six-figure income by translating documents. You just have to know where to look.
3. The Language Pair | It Matters More Than You’d Think
Think about it… How many people can translate from or into Latin these days? It’s an extreme example, but the laws of offer and demand apply to translation too. If you’re one out of ten people in the country that can translate Latin into Italian, why not shoot for the moon?
The same principle applies to other language pairs. For example, getting into Spanish translation might seem like a great idea at first, but the competition is extremely high in that niche. If you type “English to Spanish” on Fiverr, you get an overwhelming 9292 results back.
Nine thousand, two hundred ninety-two! That’s a huge number even for the most sought-after categories on the website. And guess what; the first page mostly shows the same faces, over and over again. That’s why you need to differentiate yourself by specializing in something specific.If you type "English to Spanish" on Fiverr, you get an overwhelming 9292 results back. The industry is saturated with bilingual people who are willing to translate any document for as little as $5. #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
Choosing the right language pair before you start your professional translation journey can go a long way towards helping you achieve your financial goals. Nobody wants to chase clients for payments after all, so you should consider working with language pairs that are in demand.
Some of the more in-demand languages at the moment are French, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese while some of the most sought-after language pairs are Chinese/Japanese » English, English » Spanish/French/Italian/German, English » Russian, English » Arabic, and so on.
The idea here is that you should almost always translate into your native language. There are various reasons why you should do this which we won’t discuss in this article, but generally, if you can specialize translating specific documents into your native language, that’s great!
4. The Pudding Is In The Marketing | Scaling Your Translation BusinessBelieve it or not, your translation skills have little to do with how much you’re going to make as a professional translator. They do matter obviously, and they are quintessential to achieving high-quality results for your clients, but they’re not the driving force behind higher income.
It’s marketing that does that for you. Right, marketing; that one evil practice that convinces people to spend more on things which inherently have no added value hadn’t they been described as “revolutionary” or “exquisite.” Power words matter, and translation is all about words.
But how can you benefit from marketing your services in a certain way rather than throwing yourself into the mix with no real guidance? There’s an entire website hosted by famous translator Tess Whitty called marketing tips for translators, and you should definitely read it!What differentiates you from bilingual providers who can translate 500-word documents for just $5? The industry is saturated with non-professional translators. #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
Think about this… what differentiates you from bilingual providers who can translate 500-word documents for just $5? There are many freelancers that offer translation services at those rates and you simply can’t beat them if your client doesn’t see real, return-on-investment value in you.
One simple way to start your marketing journey is to curate your image on social media and make it consistent with your professional efforts (PDF download). For example, if you’re using ProZ to hunt for new jobs, prospects are likely to look at your Twitter or Linkedin before working with you.
Make sure that what they find is worth looking at. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just check back once in a while to position yourself as someone who’s specialized in something, like “Scientific Translation from US English into Italian” for example. Don’t leave anything up to debate!
5. Certified vs. Non-Certified | How Much Do These Translators Make?Certification is a huge topic in translation, and you know what? It does pay off. However, you have to get the right certification… You can’t just shoot for random papers and hope for the best. Look into organizations like ATA, TAUS, FIT, and other local associations in your country.
ATA has found that translators with an ATA certification (probably the world’s most renowned certification for translators) are likely to gain $10K+/year more than translators without any kind of certification. However, as their report clearly states, this is true with other certifications as well.ATA certified translators are likely to gain 10K+/year more than non-certified professionals. Do you think that certifications are a worthy investment or a waste of time? #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
So, should you invest in a certification? Definitely… but I wouldn’t jump out of my seat to get one either. Certifications that matter are hard to obtain, and they come at a cost. It’s better to experience the world of translation on your own terms before going after specific certifications.
This allows you to test the waters and see what truly works for you. Real work experience can be a blessing when it comes to deciding the path you’re going to take as your career evolves. You might discover a new love for marketing material for example, but ultimately ignore localization projects.
Generally, your rule of thumb should be not to spend on certifications unless you’re already working in a specific industry or in a certain market. Spending on specialization and certifications before you even attempt to work as a translator is wasteful, and it won’t guarantee results.
6. Location and Currency Exchange | They Can Become ProblematicThis is a topic that’s very close to home for me, and it has to do with currency exchange. In fact, I started my freelance translation career on Fiverr, and I’m still working on there even though I’m trying my best advertising my services directly to clients on a few other platforms nowadays.
Fiverr only accepts USD, but I live in Italy, and my bank only accepts EUR. This means that every time I transfer my money from Fiverr to my bank account, I lose anywhere from 3% to 6% of my total income in fees… That on top of the already meager exchange rate between the currencies.Location matters, a lot. For example, if you work as a translator in Italy, you're highly more likely to make less money than a translator who works in Germany or the USA. #TheMoreYouKnow #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
Add 5% taxation on the exchanged sum together with retirement contributions every month and you have a recipe for disaster. Obviously, I’m getting better with this as time goes on, but I can’t say that I haven’t had my doubts about freelancing in the past, especially as a translator.
Fortunately, I truly love languages and I want to pursue them as a career, so that helps mitigate the problems I still have to this day. However, you should know that location matters, a lot. If you live in Italy, you’re highly more likely to make less money than your peers in Germany.
So, take that into consideration before you start your translation journey. Making a lot of money might not matter to you personally, but many translators cannot sustain a freelancing lifestyle without making a bare minimum of at least $20K/year (which is less than ideal).
7. Sheer Volume of Work | Never Underestimate This Key ComponentOk, assume that you’ve finally just decided you want to become a translator. Woohoo! It’s a big step and you should be proud of it. However, all big steps come with big responsibilities, and your responsibility is to translate as many documents in your niche in the least amount of time possible.
Yes, translation is also about speed. It’s not just about searching interesting words in dictionaries and improving your vocabulary; if you can do it faster, people will be coming back. And you have to stay consistent too! Translation as a profession is not easy so don’t assume it will be for you.
Increasing productivity in your day-to-day translation business means taking steps towards that six-figure income that all freelancers dream of. You can learn more about it in this podcast, or simply by looking up terms like “translation productivity” and “translation efficiency.”Translation is also about speed. Increasing productivity in your day-to-day translation business means taking steps towards that six-figure income that all freelancers dream of. #TranslationMatters Click To Tweet
Never ever underestimate the power of working harder than your peers! Even if you have lower rates, working harder can (and will) yield results in the long-term. As a freelance translator, it’s easy to get lost in marketing details, but marketing itself won’t pay your bills.
You should always make sure that your marketing efforts are paired with real, tangible results. One new client today, two returning clients tomorrow. If you can’t keep up with this, and if you don’t hear from clients for weeks, then you should definitely reconsider your strategy.
Think about it… If you charge $0.1/word and you are able to proficiently translate 2500 words rather than 1800, that’s $70 more that you’re gaining in one day! It’s not peanuts, and you should definitely consider working with agencies initially in order to get work done as fast as possible.
How Much Do Translators Make?So, did you find any useful insight in the previous sections? I certainly hope so. I genuinely loved writing this article, and I hope it will help you achieve results in the translation industry. Yes, it can be scary to start on your own, but the translation community is a place where people are truly passionate about language, and they wouldn’t give it up for anything else.
Obviously, I’m one of those people. You can find me on Twitter and Linkedin (text me, I don’t bite!) or you can also write a comment down below if you have any further questions. I’d love to know more about your story, what you think about translation as a career, and whether you already started or not.