Translators and Interpreters: A Career or a Side Job?
CSA Research conducted a large-scale survey of over 7,300 translators and interpreters in all corners of the world. Our goal was to characterize the demographics, behaviors, attitudes, and challenges of translators and interpreters to understand the present reality − and likely future − for linguists. In this blog, we’ll explore some of their responses tied to earnings and career focus.
We asked linguists to share with us how much money they earn from language services such as translation or interpreting but excluding services such as project management or consulting.
- The global earnings average is US$29,000 per year before taxes.
- One in five respondents (21%) earn less than US$5,000 annually, making translation more a source of supplemental income than a career.
- Nearly one-half (49%) earn less than US$20,000 annually.
- At the other end of the spectrum, some linguists earn more than US$200,000 from their language services.
The Need for A Second Job
A large majority of respondents (62%) work exclusively at their translator or interpreter profession. The remaining 38% hold other jobs – sometimes more than one – either inside or outside of the language services industry.
We asked actively practicing linguists that have a second job to rate their level of agreement with various statements about their relationship to this other job.
A few patterns emerge:
- Diversification is a conscious choice. Most linguists (92%) appreciate diversifying what they do. This means that trying to contain these individuals within a single role may not motivate them in the long run.
- Being a linguist is a source of pride. Even when they have a second job, 69% of them see themselves first and foremost as a translator or interpreter.
- Dual jobs are a necessity for some of them. More than one-half of respondents (54%) find their language services income insufficient to live on by itself. However, the main job of 60% of respondents is their other profession – and 53% wish they didn’t have to supplement income from that job. Being a linguist that works as needed offers the opportunity for talented speakers of multiple languages to make ends meet.
What Does it Mean for the Industry?
Some profiles of freelancers emerge from this:
- Career linguists. Translating or interpreting is their livelihood so they invest significantly in their careers – through professional development, certifications, conferences, proactive efforts to maintain both source and target language skills, and dedication to developing specialty areas. They are proficient in language technology relevant to their work and usually don’t shy from adding new tools. They expect a close, respectful relationship with their customers through efficient and organized work practices.
- Regular “part-time” linguists. They have characteristics similar to those of their career counterparts but, due to other responsibilities, they can’t devote as much time or money to maintaining the same standing. They may push back more easily on having to add new tools they’ll barely use, yet they may also be more willing to work nights or weekends. Some like to keep their workload what it is while others may wish for a more predictable stream of linguistic work to be able to dedicate themselves exclusively to translation or interpreting.
- Gig linguists. They work when the opportunity arises as a complement or supplement to other revenue sources. It is more luck of the draw if they are available but their willingness to work as needed adds great scalability to the industry to expand and contract based on the peaks or valleys of work. These linguists need clear offers and a painless process so they can be efficient in delivering their services.
- Volunteer linguists. These translators and interpreters – who may fall into the other categories as well at various times – work at no cost to fulfill a passion to serve others or to gain experience. They want to use their language skills but may be less able or willing to invest in learning technologies or complex processes. They often crave recognition for the work they put in.
Vendor management practices tend to lump all linguists in the same bucket. However, it’s important to understand the needs and motivations of different types of freelancers to attract, retain, and motivate them. For example, public credit may motivate a volunteer linguist, but a rush premium may provide strong encouragement for a gig linguist to jump on a time-sensitive job, while a career linguist may be motivated more by the potential of a long-term collaborative arrangement. A deeper understanding of what makes each group tick will enhance collaboration and improve their job satisfaction – both of which can favorably influence the odds they’ll accept a complex job, tight timeline, or special rate.
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