How to become a translator or interpreter in the U.S.

What is a translator and interpreter? 

Language interpreters and translators help people understand what is being said in a different language. They change what is being said or written into another language. It is a good career choice for someone who is fluent in more than one language.

Interpreters translate spoken words. They provide language services in person, over the phone, or via video. There are different types of interpreting.

  • Consecutive: translate a few sentences at a time
  • Simultaneous: translate speech at the same time it is spoken
  • Trilingual: translate speech between three languages

Translators interpret written text, such as books and articles, along with audio and video files.  

What areas can I specialize in? 

You can specialize in one or more particular languages. There is also the option to specialize in a certain field.

Specialty Area
Examples of translations
meetings, conferences
school curriculum, materials for non-English speaking families
patient-doctor visits, medical records
policy, programs
community events
Film and literature
books, essays, subtitles for a movie
applications, personal documents
news articles, interviews
legal documents, hearings, trials

Interpreters and translators working in specific fields typically have knowledge of the general subject and are familiar with technical terms. 

What skills do I need?

To be a successful translator or interpreter you need certain skills and experience.

Language skills
You must speak, read, and write fluently in two or more languages. Good grammar skills are also important.

Listening and concentration skills
You must be able to pay close attention to what is being said or written. You need to be focused to properly translate.

Communication skills
You must be able to share information accurately. It is important to clearly state the facts and ideas.

Interpersonal skills
You must be comfortable talking with different types of people and interact well with others. This is especially important for in-person interpreters.

Cultural awareness
You must understand cultural terms, ideas, and practices for the languages you are translating from and to. You must be able to adjust what you are translating to be culturally appropriate.

Technical knowledge
You need to be familiar with technical terms if you are specializing in a certain industry or field.

Computer skills
If you are translating written text, it is often helpful to know how to use different computer applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Google documents.

How much money can I earn?

You can make $29,000 to over $97,000 a year as a full-time translator or interpreter. Most earn around $49,000 a year or $25 per hour. Your pay depends on your language specialty, skills, and education. 

What type of education do I need?

This can vary depending on the job. There are college programs to prepare you for a career in interpretation and translation but they are often not required. A college degree in your native language or another language can make you more qualified for an interpreter or translator job. You can also take courses on technical subjects if you want to specialize in a certain field. 

If you need to improve your English language skills first, find free English classes and apps. Consider our free online GED class if you need a high school diploma. 

Do I need to be certified? 

Most interpretation and translation jobs do not require certification. You may need certification to work as a professional translator in certain fields, such as government, law, or medicine. There are different organizations that offer certification.

How can I get experience?

Most jobs will require you to have experience as a translator or interpreter. A good way to gain experience and learn about the translation process is volunteering. You can:

  • Offer help in your local community
  • Look for opportunities on websites such as VolunteerMatch

USAHello, along with our partners Tarjimly and Translators Without Borders, are always looking for volunteer translators. You can fill out our volunteer form if you are interested in helping translate our website pages and other content. We are always happy to write letters of recommendation for our volunteers. 

You can also get hands-on experience by signing up for internships or offering freelance language services.  

Where can I find job opportunities?

You can search for interpretation and translation jobs on the internet.

  • General jobs: LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster
  • Freelance jobs: Upwork
  • Non-profit jobs:
  • Government jobs for U.S. citizens:

Get tips and resources on where to find jobs. 

Most translators in the U.S. work full-time and from home. They are typically self-employed but some may work for agencies that offer translation services. Interpreters often travel to provide interpretation services in person. 

Which languages are in demand for interpretation and translation? 

There is a need for good translation in most U.S. industries. Target languages in demand include: 

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Dari
  • Filipino
  • French
  • German
  • Hindi
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Mayan 
  • Mixtec
  • Pashto
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Ukrainian
  • Vietnamese
  • Zapotec 

These can quickly change based on current events. The Afghan evacuation and Ukrainian war have shown us that.

The information on this page comes from, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.