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California Occupational Guides

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Summary 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 those of another. Translators deal with written text. Interpreters work with speech.

The work environment for Translators and Interpreters can be quite varied. Most work indoors in settings such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms, conference centers, and at home. However, Sign Language Interpreters and those acting as guides work in whatever setting these clients need to communicate. They may work a standard 40-hour workweek or irregular hours.

Will This Job Fit Me?

Those who enjoy providing service to others should enjoy this type of work. Interpreters or Translators should be detail-oriented and observant to perform the job well. They would also benefit by having a good memory, good research skills, and high ethical standards.

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)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$48,229$63,717$88,275
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 vary by specialty and language. In California, the majority of translation and interpreting jobs require fluency in Spanish, Mandarin, or Vietnamese.

How Do I Qualify?

Interpreters and Translators must be fluent in at least two languages. Their educational backgrounds may vary widely, but many need a bachelor's degree. Many also complete job-specific training programs. For instance, those working as Medical Interpreters or Translators are more likely to complete job-specific training programs. Formal programs in interpreting and translating 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. On the other hand, many people who work in more technical areas, such as engineering, have master's degrees.

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 www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

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


Learn More About Interpreters and Translators