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Language Specialist Job Description

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Language specialists, also known as interpreters and translators, interpret and translate the spoken and written word. Their task is to correctly interpret or translate the original meaning. They are self-employed or work for private and governmental entities in specialized roles. Attention to detail, critical thinking skills, cross-cultural sensitivity, a good memory and precision are essential qualities in this profession.


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Interpreters work with the spoken word. Translators work with the written word. They must properly convey the intended meaning from the source. Most specialize in either American Sign Language (ASL), judicial, literary, medical, sports or technology genres.

Interpreters interpret either consecutively (directly after the speaker stops) or simultaneously (while the speaker talks). Translators specialize in subject areas and translate communications for a variety of businesses and governmental agencies.

Job Requirements

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A high school diploma is required. A bachelor's degree with a concentration in liberal arts, English or foreign language studies is beneficial. Courses in cross-cultural communication styles, law, linguistics, medicine, political science, world history and writing are beneficial.

Interpreters and translators require fluency in at least two languages. They specialize in language pairs; for example, Italian to English or Japanese to English. They must have near-native fluency in the source tongue and native fluency in the target language. Foreign residencies and advanced language study are integral to understand cultural nuances and idioms (terms that don't translate literally).

Anticipated Salaries

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean hourly wage for interpreters and translators was $20.74 as of May 2008. The mean annual salary was $43,130. Yearly salaries ranged from $22,170 to $69,190.

Future Prospects

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According to the BLS, future employment opportunities are excellent for interpreters and translators. The projected job growth rate is 22 percent from 2008 to 2018. This figure represents a much faster rate than all other occupations.


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The American Translators Association provides certification in 24 language pairs. State, local and federal court jurisdictions offer certification credentials in Navajo, Haitian Creole and Spanish, respectively.

The U.S. Department of State offers tests for interpreters and translators. The International Association of Conference Interpreters provides certification examinations. The National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offer certification for American Sign Language (ASL).

Expert Insight

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Published author and translator Wayne Rebhorn stated, in "Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince and Other Writings," his impression of the role of translator: "I offer mine (translation) as yet one more, in full awareness of the truth in the Italian saying 'traduttore traditore': 'the translator is always a traitor.' "


Steve Amoia is a writer, book reviewer and translator from Washington, D.C. He began his writing career as a software technical writer. Amoia focuses on career-related themes, Chinese martial/healing arts and international soccer journalism.