How to Make Money as a Translator

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Want to make money as a translator? Today, Rebecca Brown shows us how.

A white box is drawn around the words, 'Make extra money as a translator.' Below is pictured white Japanese lamps with black lettering.

I am a native English speaker. But thanks to my multicultural family, I happen to speak German at a near-native level. I have managed to turn my bilingual background into a fruitful career.

Prior to jumping into the translating industry, my grandparents had been the only ones to capitalize on my translating skills. They called me over every time they bought a new appliance and struggled to make sense of the English user manual.

I managed to slowly break into the industry by translating for people in my network for some pocket money. But the road would have been much easier if I had someone to answer a few how’s and why’s.

So, to help those who are looking to make some extra money as a translator, I’ll address some of the most important FAQs related to translation.

What Does a Professional Translator Do?

A professional translator translates written text from one language into another. Professional translators translate books, subtitles, blogs, emails, legal documents, etc.

You may be wondering: Why do we still need translators when we have Google Translate?

To be a professional translator, you need to be able to relay the meaning, style, and tone of the original source in your translations. That’s something Google Translate cannot yet do reliably.

You need to keep the facts and ideas from the original text accurate, and the sentences must flow as well as the original. A professional translator must consider slang and other expressions and cultural references that do not translate literally.

Translation is not the same as interpretation. While translators translate written words, interpreters translate spoken language. To be a translator, you don’t necessarily have to speak the original language fluently, but you must be able to read it and write it impeccably.

Translation is also not to be confused with transliteration. Transliteration is the act of converting words or letters from the alphabet of one language to another. Transliteration just converts a text into a new format. It doesn’t render the meaning of the text. For instance, “חֲנֻכָּה” is the Hebrew word for the Jewish holiday called Festival of Lights. The English transliteration of the word is “Hanukkah.”

How Do I Become a Professional Translator?

Being bilingual or multilingual is a great start, but it’s not enough to become a professional translator. As mentioned, translation requires skills that go beyond understanding and speaking a language. You also need sound research skills, in-depth cultural knowledge, excellent writing skills, proofreading skills, computing and CAT (computer-assisted translation software) skills. Since most translators get paid by the word, you also need good time management skills.

To gain those skills, first, you need to get specialized training. If you are looking for schools that can help you prepare to work as a translator, check out:

Get certified as a professional translator.

The next step is to get certified. Not all translation gigs require you to have a certification, but you will have a much easier time finding work if you become ATA certified. The ATA certification is a highly regarded credential in the US.

The Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) is another great resume builder. Be sure to check whether your state offers accreditation programs.

When you gain experience, you can specialize in a certain niche and get an industry-specific certification. These credentials usually target interpreters, but they are great proof of your expertise nonetheless. For instance, you can get the CMI credential from the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters.

How Much Money Can I Make as a Translator?

Most translation jobs pay per word, but my tip is to try to convert the rate-by-word to an hourly rate. The average translator can translate 300 to 600 words per hour.

Let’s say that you are a beginner and that it takes you 3 hours to translate 1000 words. If your goal is to make at least $20 per hour, you wouldn’t want to accept jobs that pay under $0.06 per word.

In the US, the average hourly wage of a translator is around $24. More experienced translators make around $33. But your hourly rate will depend on your experience and location, as well as the languages you know. When starting out, you can expect to make between $15 to $20 an hour.

The highest paying region for translators is Washington D.C. On average, a translator in D.C. makes $38 an hour.

Generally, translators for these languages are in great demand, so they pay better:

  • German.
  • Arabic.
  • French.
  • Chinese.

For instance, German translators in the US make between $26 to $33 an hour on average. The rates for Italian and Spanish are generally lower, but these two languages can still bring translators consistent income.

Where Can I Find Work as a Professional Translator?

I’ve come to learn that attending industry events, such as workshops, meetups, and conferences, is one of the best ways to promote yourself as a freelancer and find new clients. However, face-to-face networking isn’t always a possibility, even though it can be a great way of landing a job.

Some online platforms where you can find work as a translator include:

  • Smartcat.com
  • Proz.com
  • TranslatorsCafe.com
  • Upwork.com
  • Freelancer.com
  • Fiverr.com
  • PeoplePerHour.com

If you apply for a job at an agency, they will likely give you a test piece of about 200 to 600 words. Beware of agencies that require you to translate a test piece that is longer than 600 words. Some dodgy agencies will give you long test pieces to translate, but they are actually looking to get some client work done for free.

Is Translating a Good Side Hustle?

Translating is an excellent side hustle if you speak more than one language. It may not be the best-paying gig out there — at least not for those who are just starting out. But the extra money is nothing to shrug off considering the low startup and overhead costs.

Many — if not most — translators work from home, and the job is pretty flexible. This is a major plus point in times of non-essential business closures and social distancing.

Picture of Rebecca Brown


I’m Rebecca, a translator, avid traveler, and a bookworm. My job has given me the amazing opportunity to travel to dozens of countries around the world, and writing on Rough Draft gives me a chance to try to showcase some of them.

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