California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Interpreters and Translators in California

May also be called: Foreign Language Interpreters; and Linguists

Specialties within this occupation include: Administrative Hearing Interpreters; Braille Translators; Conference Interpreters; Court Interpreters; Escort Interpreters; Guide Interpreters; Legal Translators; Literary Translators; Localization Translators; Medical Interpreters; Medical Translators; and Sign Language Interpreters

What Would I Do?

Interpreters and Translators convert the spoken or written words and expressions of one language into another. This is done as accurately as possible. Translators work with written text. Interpreters listen to speakers and interpret what they say. Both of these professionals must have near-native fluency in the languages with which they work. They must be quite familiar with the subject matter involved. Therefore, Interpreters usually start an assignment by researching the subject before going to the interpreting session. Interpreting and translating involve more than replacing a word with its equivalent in another language. Interpreters and Translators try to deliver the intended meaning. So, they must consider concepts such as the other culture's expressions and slang.

There are different styles of interpreting. Simultaneous interpreting requires Interpreters to listen, as well as speak or sign, at the same time someone is speaking or signing. This style needs a high degree of focus which can be mentally draining. So, these Interpreters may work in pairs, sharing the work by switching at regular time periods. For the technique of consecutive interpreting, the interpreter begins after the speaker has spoken a group of words or sentences. Consecutive Interpreters often take notes while listening to the speakers. Therefore, they must develop some type of note-taking system. For person-to-person communication, Interpreters most often use this mode. The technique is also used for witness testimony in court or administrative hearings, as well as medical exams, conferences, and video remote interpreting.

Interpreters and Translators may not completely specialize in a particular field or industry. However, many focus on one area of expertise. They may work in a variety of areas including business, education, social services, government, and entertainment. Common fields they work in are as follows:

Court Interpreters may work in settings which include courtrooms, detention facilities, and district attorney offices. These Interpreters’ skills are used in court hearings, as well as in preparatory tasks, such as interviews with the parties to prepare and file cases. Or, they could prepare reports to be submitted as evidence. In addition to interpreting what is said, Court Interpreters may read written documents aloud in a language other than that in which they were written. This task is known as sight translation. Legal Translators translate legal documents, such as birth or death certificates, submitted as evidence in federal, state, and local courts.

Administrative Hearing Interpreters interpret during state agency hearings before Administrative Law Judges involving cases such as workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance.

Medical Interpreters help patients with limited English skills communicate with doctors and other medical staff. Medical Translators mainly convert patient materials issued by medical facilities into the desired language. Additionally, Medical Translators may translate medical testimony in court.

Guide or Escort Interpreters accompany either U.S. visitors abroad or foreign visitors in the United States to ensure that they are able to communicate during their stay. These specialists interpret on a variety of subjects in informal settings and more structured meetings.

Conference Interpreters work at conferences that have non-English-speaking attendees. The work is often in the field of international business or diplomacy. Employers prefer high-level Interpreters who have the ability to interpret from at least two languages into one native language—for example, the ability to interpret from Spanish and French into English.

Sign Language Interpreters convert a speaker’s words into American Sign Language (ASL) using their hands, fingers, and facial expressions. They also repeat the deaf person’s signed response to the speaker. One specialty includes tactile signing, which is interpreting for those who are blind and deaf. These Interpreters make manual signs into their clients’ hands. An Intermediary Interpreter interprets nonstandard sign language into ASL for another Sign Language Interpreter. Another person then interprets into the spoken word.

Braille is a writing system using a series of raised dots. People who are blind or cannot read printed material due to eye problems read with their fingers. Braille Translators usually operate a computer with specialized printer and other related equipment to prepare texts in braille. They transcribe a wide variety of documents between braille and the typed word.

Literary Translators may translate any number of documents, including journal articles and books. Literary translation is usually paid for by price per word or on a commission basis for publishing houses.

Localization Translators adapt a product or service for use in a different language and culture. The goal of these specialists is to make it appear as though a product originated in the country where it will be sold and supported. At first, this work dealt with software localization. However, the specialty has expanded. It now includes areas such as the adaptation of Internet sites as well as foreign consumer and copyright laws.

Tools and Technology

Professionals mainly use personal computers, printers, and various online resources. Other common tools used by Interpreters and Translators include audio equipment such as the telephone, ear phones, and microphones. They may also use video conferencing equipment, interpreter's console (a self-contained audio control center), transceivers, and visual display units.

Software these professionals often use includes word processing, messaging, computer-assisted translation (CAT), electronic dictionaries, and glossaries. Some may also use optical character recognition (OCR) software.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Follow ethical codes that protect the confidentiality of information.Monitoring
Identify and resolve conflicts related to the meanings of words, concepts, practices, or behaviors.Critical Thinking
Translate messages simultaneously or consecutively into specified languages, orally or by using hand signs, maintaining message content, context, and style as much as possible.Active Listening
Proofread, edit, and revise translated materials.Writing
Check translations of technical terms and terminology to ensure that they are accurate and remain consistent throughout translation revisions.Written Comprehension
Read written materials, such as legal documents, scientific works, or news reports, and rewrite material into specified languages.Reading Comprehension
Refer to reference materials, such as dictionaries, lexicons, encyclopedias, and computerized terminology banks, as needed to ensure translation accuracy.Active Learning
Adapt translations to students' cognitive and grade levels, collaborating with educational team members as necessary.Written Expression
Listen to speakers' statements to determine meanings and to prepare translations, using electronic listening systems as necessary.Oral Comprehension
Check original texts or confer with authors to ensure that translations retain the content, meaning, and feeling of the original material.Coordination
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

The work environment for Translators and Interpreters can be quite varied. Most work indoors in settings such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms, and conference centers. Conference Interpreters may work in a sound-proof booth. Interpreters who work over the telephone or through videoconferencing may work in call centers. They tend to keep to a standard 5-day, 40-hour workweek. On the other hand, Sign Language Interpreters work in whatever setting a deaf person needs to communicate. Interpreters sometimes get the opportunity to travel when acting as escorts or guides and when interpreting at conferences. Many Translators and Interpreters work as independent contractors, either directly for their clients or through language service agencies. Their schedules often vary, with periods of limited work. Conversely, there are periods requiring long, irregular hours.

Translators usually work alone. They spend most of their time in front of a computer. Frequently, they must perform under the pressure of deadlines and tight schedules. Fortunately, technology enables Translators to work from almost anywhere. So, a large percentage works from home. They are susceptible to repetitive strain injury from typing on a keyboard for long periods. To minimize this health hazard, Translators should follow proper ergonomics and take breaks. They may also use voice recognition software.

Interpreters may experience stress and mental and physical exhaustion. Their job involves a high degree of concentration. They may work with speakers who have poor speaking skills or a variety of dialects. Or, they may have too little preparation time or knowledge of subject area. Therefore, they should maintain good physical health and develop coping strategies to deal with stress.

Some Translators and Interpreters are members of national unions, such as the Translators and Interpreters Guild. Some may be members of a union in their specialty, such as the California Federation of Interpreters for Court Interpreters.

Will This Job Fit Me?

Those who enjoy helping or providing service to others should enjoy this occupation. Strong research skills and analytical ability are important. Translators must have excellent writing and editing skills to produce accurate translations. Interpreters should have good oral communication skills and an exceptional memory. They should also be able to concentrate and understand and process information quickly. A pleasant voice is helpful for Interpreters. Additionally, it is useful for them to be able to react promptly, calmly, and with tact to a changing situation. Both, Interpreters and Translators, need to be able to maintain confidentiality.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Pay may vary depending upon geographical location, experience, specialty area, and certifications held. The language can influence pay depending upon how great the demand and how many others can interpret or translate the language combination. Pay may also depend upon the required time, complexity, and technical nature of the interpreting job. For instance, Conference Interpreters often have higher earnings because their services require a high level of skill and subject matter expertise. Many Interpreters and Translators work as independent contractors. The number of words, lines, or pages they translate often determines salaries of self-employed Translators. Freelance Interpreters and those working as employees usually earn an hourly, or a daily, or per session rate.


The median wage in 2021 for Interpreters and Translators in California was $63,717 annually, or $30.64 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


There is a wide variation in the benefits available to Translators and Interpreters when they work as employees. Benefits may include medical, dental, and life insurance. Additional benefits include vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Those who are self-employed must purchase their own insurance and retirement plans. Many professional organizations for Interpreters and Translators offer options to purchase benefits at a group discount.

What is the Job Outlook?

Job prospects for Interpreters and Translators vary by specialty and language. In California, the majority of translation and interpreting jobs require fluency in Spanish, Mandarin, or Vietnamese. Those who can both interpret and translate have an advantage in the job market. Urban areas usually have more job possibilities, especially for Interpreters. The increase of international trade should increase demand for Interpreters and Translators. The increase in the number of non-English speaking people in the state should also contribute to the growth in demand. This should be true across all industries in the economy.

Spanish Interpreters and Translators should have good job opportunities. This is due to the expected increase in the Spanish-speaking population. In healthcare and legal fields it is critical that information be fully understood among all parties. Therefore, demand is expected to be strong for Interpreters and Translators specializing in these fields. Additionally, there should be increased demand for specialists in localization. Globalization of business and the growth of the Internet will drive this demand. However, outsourcing of localization translation work to other countries may dampen demand, somewhat. Skilled Interpreters and Translators for the deaf will continue to have favorable work prospects. There has been a shortage of those meeting employer skill needs for serving the deaf for several years. On the other hand, competition can be expected for both Conference Interpreter and Literary Translator positions. This is due to the smaller number of jobs in these specialties.

Technology has made the work of Interpreters and Translators easier. However, technology is not likely to have a negative impact on their employment. Technology cannot produce results comparable to those created by these professionals. Voice recognition and machine translation must improve greatly before they could replace human Interpreters.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Interpreters and Translators is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Interpreters and Translators are expected to increase by 19.3 percent, or 2,100 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Interpreters and Translators
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Total Job
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Interpreters and Translators must be fluent in at least two languages. Their educational backgrounds may vary widely. A college degree may not be required for independent contract work. Yet, it provides the base knowledge necessary for this work. Although a bachelor's degree is required for many jobs, majoring in a language is not always necessary. However, specialized training in how to do the work is generally required. An educational background in a particular field of study can provide expertise in a subject, such as economics. Formal programs in interpreting and translation are available at colleges and through other training programs, conferences, and courses. Interpreter jobs with schools generally require high school graduation or the equivalent. Then, applicants must pass that particular school district's bilingual/bicultural test. Those working in the community as Court or Medical Interpreters or Translators are more likely to complete job-specific training programs. Many people who work as Conference Interpreters or in more technical areas, such as engineering, have master's degrees.

The Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey offers several master’s degree programs. It is recognized as one of the top translation schools in the U.S. There are several translation certification programs which focus on a language or specialty, such as conference interpreting.


Experience is an essential part of a successful career in either interpreting or translating. Familiarity with the industry's terminology is most important. In fact, many companies use only the services of people who have worked in the field for three to five years or who have a degree in translation studies, or both. People seeking to enter Interpreter or Translator jobs should begin by getting experience however possible. A good start often begins by doing informal or volunteer work. Opportunities are available through local community, nongovernmental, and religious organizations, like the Red Cross.

Early Career Planning

High school students can prepare for these careers by taking a broad range of courses that include English writing and comprehension, foreign languages, public speaking, journalism, and basic computer proficiency. Other helpful pursuits include spending time abroad and engaging in direct contact with foreign cultures. In addition, reading extensively on a variety of subjects in English and at least one other language is beneficial. Those interested in sign language can find classes at some Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Apprenticeship and Work-Study Programs

New Interpreters and Translators can establish mentoring relationships. This can build their skills, confidence, and professional network. Mentoring may be formal, such as through a professional association. It can also be informal with a coworker or an acquaintance who has experience as an Interpreter or Translator. Both the American Translators Association and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf offer formal mentoring programs.

Continuing Education

It is important for professional Translators or Interpreters to keep up with developments in their specialized and general fields. In addition, continued education is required for retaining several certifications. For example, 30 hours of approved continuing education is required every 2 years to maintain registration or certification for Court Interpreters. There are a few certifications for Medical Interpreters which require a varying number of continuing education hours every 4-5 years. The certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf requires 80 hours in 4 years. The American Translators Association (ATA) requires 20 hours of continuing education every 3 years.


There is currently no single certification required of all Interpreters and Translators in California. However, there are a variety of different tests that workers can take to prove their proficiency. The ATA provides a renewable three-year certification exam in several language combinations. The Certification for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters offer certifications for Medical Interpreters. The National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) jointly offer certification for general sign interpreters. In addition, the registry offers other specialty tests, such as legal interpreting. The different agencies have various requirements to receive their certification. Visit their websites for details.

The federal courts require their Interpreters to be certified, classified, or registered in order to work for the courts. California state courts require Interpreters to be certified or registered before working in the courts. Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in each of the three modes of interpreting, as well as a written exam. The website for the California state-level courts provides requirements to obtain and maintain a California certification. The website for the United States courts provides federal court requirements to become an Interpreter. Note, federally certified Interpreters must also meet California requirements to work in California state-level courts.

The U.S. Department of State tests and certifies Interpreters and Translators who work for or provide services to the federal government. This includes U.S. embassies and consulates. The classifications are Escort, Seminar, and Conference Interpreters. Applicants are screened prior to an interview and exam. For specific requirements, see the website for U.S. Department of State at For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Interpreters and Translators are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Other Professional & Technical Services26.7%
Elementary and Secondary Schools20.4%
Local Government7.3%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals5.5%
Junior Colleges3.0%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers, such as translation and interpretation language service agencies, is an effective job search method. Those seeking work in government, or within the court systems, may view the government websites for application instructions. Applicants can also find networking opportunities through the events of local professional associations.

Many self-employed Interpreters and Translators start businesses by submitting resumes and samples to many different translation and interpreting agencies. They then wait to be contacted when an agency matches their skills with a job. Also, work is often acquired by word of mouth or through referrals from existing clients. Independent contractors may pay for their listing in a Translators' directory or view posted jobs on a Web portal. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Interpreters and Translators.

  • Department of Education
  • Government Offices
  • Interpreter
  • Publishers
  • Translator

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Once Interpreters and Translators have gained enough experience to develop their skills, they may then move up to more difficult assignments resulting in higher pay. They may train, manage projects, review the work of other Translators, or may eventually manage or start a translation agency.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Interpreters and Translators with links to more information.

Court ReportersProfile
Detectives and Criminal InvestigatorsGuide
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special EducationGuide
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Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification27-3091
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Interpreters and Translators27-3091.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ASC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Foreign Languages and Literatures, General 160101
   Linguistics 160102
   Language Interpretation and Translation 160103
   African Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.160201
   Chinese Language and Literature 160301
   Japanese Language and Literature 160302
   Korean Language and Literature 160303
   East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, Other 160399
   Russian Language and Literature 160402
   German Language and Literature.160501
   Modern Greek Language and Literature 160601
   French Language and Literature 160901
   Italian Language and Literature 160902
   Portuguese Language and Literature 160904
   Spanish Language and Literature 160905
   Arabic Language and Literature.161101
   Hebrew Language and Literature.161102
   Classics & Classical Languages, Literatures, & Linguistics, 161200
   Latin Language and Literature 161203
   Filipino/Tagalog Language and Literature 161404
   Vietnamese Language and Literature 161408
   American Sign Language (ASL) 161601
   Sign Language Interpretation and Translation 161603
   Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, Other 169999
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Sign Language085000
   Sign Language Interpreting085010
   Foreign Languages, General110100
   Hebrew and Semitic111100
   African Languages (Non-Semitic)111600
   Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islands (Chinese and Japanese excluded)111700
   Filipino (Tagalog)111710
   Other Foreign Languages119900
   Legal and Community Interpretation214000