Career Spotlight: Translators

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany Trojca
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany Trojca

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Interpreters and translators are vital in today’s military and society in general. These language specialists do more than just translate words — they relay concepts and ideas between languages. So... if you're an excellent communicator and you enjoy foreign languages and cultures, you should consider a career as an interpreter or translator.

Interpreters must be able to focus, understand what is communicated in both languages, and express thoughts and ideas clearly. Strong research and analytical skills, mental dexterity, and an exceptional memory are also important.

Translators also convert written materials from one language into another. They must have excellent writing and analytical ability. Because the documents that they translate must be as flawless as possible, they also need good editing skills. Translating involves more than replacing a word with its equivalent in another language; sentences and ideas must be manipulated to flow with the same coherence as those in the source document so that the translation reads as though it originated in the target language.

Working Conditions

Working environments for interpreters and translators vary. Civilian interpreters work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, courtrooms, and conference centers. Military translators and interpreters working conditions are similar to civilian interpreters, however many military translators also serve in roles such as community relations, inelegance gathering, and other related military missions.


There is no single form of certification required for interpreters and translators in the United States, but there are a variety of different tests that workers can voluntarily take to demonstrate proficiency. The American Translators Association provides accreditation in more than 24 language combinations for its members; other options include a certification program offered by The Translators and Interpreters Guild. Many interpreters are not certified. Federal courts have certification for Spanish, Navajo, and Haitian Creole interpreters, and many State and municipal courts offer their own forms of certification. The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators also offers certification for court interpreting. Military translators undergo rigorous training that prepares them for translator careers both in service and in the civilian world.


Earnings depend on language, subject matter, skill, experience, education, certification, and type of employer, and salaries of interpreters and translators can vary widely. Interpreters and translators with language skills for which there is a greater demand, or for which there are relatively few people with the skills, often have higher earnings. Interpreters and translators with specialized expertise, such as those working in software localization, also generally command higher rates.

Individuals classified as language specialists for the federal government earned an average of $71,625 annually in 2005. In addition the Military will pay an annual special pay of up to $12,000 a year for servicemembers who are proficient in foreign languages. This is paid in addition to the military base pay rate.

Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to increase faster than the average for all occupations over the 2004-14 period, reflecting strong growth in the industries employing interpreters and translators. Higher demand for interpreters and translators in recent years has resulted directly from the broadening of international ties and the increase in the number of foreign language speakers in the United States. In addition, current events and changing political environments, often difficult to foresee, will increase the need for persons who can work with other languages. For example, homeland security needs are expected to drive increasing demand for interpreters and translators of Middle Eastern and North African languages, primarily in federal government agencies such as the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

Next Step

The U.S. Army is is currently offering the following cash bonuses:

  • Translator Aide (Middle-Eastern languages) bonus of $10,000 for enlisting in the U.S. Army Individual Ready Reserve.
  • An Army Civilian Skills bonus of $5,000 for the Army (active duty) or $15,000 for the Army Reserve for applicants with no previous military service experience.
  • An additional $20,000 Quick Ship bonus for those who are willing to report to basic training within 30 days.

These bonuses may be combined with the Army's other cash enlistment bonuses for a maximum combination of $40,000 a four-year enlistment.

Note: In addition to regular pay and benefits, Army translators also qualify for up to $1,000 a month in Foreign Language Proficiency Pay.

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