The job site Indeed reported in April 2018 that UK translators earned an average £24,115 per year over the past 36 months.
As the graph above suggests: translation salaries vary considerably. They depend on a number of factors including the country of employment, language pair, language direction, specialisation and whether the translator works as a freelancer or in-house employee.
- Language Pair and Direction Language pair refers to the language being translated to and from. For example, a translator may convert Chinese into English, French into German, or Vietnamese into Spanish. The direction of translation between two languages is also an earning variable. Translating Chinese to English is more valuable than English to Chinese because there is a lower supply of English speakers proficient in Chinese than there are Chinese speakers proficient in English. Language pair and direction influence the earning potential of a translator because of supply and demand. Languages like French and German are in high demand but there are also lots of professionals that can translate them. For languages where demand exceeds supply, such as Vietnamese, translators tend to earn more.
- Evening and Weekend Work It is possible for translators to charge more when they work evenings and weekends. A freelancer may choose, for example, to add a 25% surcharge to their normal rate. In reality, not everybody does, nor is it necessarily a good idea.
- Speed The length of a project depends on its specific requirements, but as a general rule, a faster translator can get more work done in less time, and thus has the potential to earn more money. This isn’t always true. Quantity without quality is a sure-fire way for a translator to lose clients and earn less in the long term.
In-House Translator Salary
On average, translators in the UK earn a starting salary of £18,000 to £21,000 per year. They may earn over £30,000 in more experienced roles. In the US, the average salary for a translator is $40,000 per year (Sources: Glassdoor, Totaljobs, LinkedIn — via Translate Media). Translators for the European Union and United Nations tend to earn the most. As a result, these positions are extremely competitive.
Freelance Translator Salary
The salary of a freelance translator is much harder to determine than that of an in-house translator because they have more control over the type, quantity, and price of the work that they do.
As a translator, freelancing has its financial advantages and disadvantages. A highly skilled and experienced translator could earn over £40,000 per year as a company employee. As a freelance translator, they could earn as little as £10,000 per year or as much as £100,000 per year. Simply, freelance translators must have the ability and skills to run their own business.
Freelance Earning Variables:
- Clients Freelancers can work directly with clients or through an agency. An agency is responsible for finding and communicating with clients. They then ask a freelancer, or a team of translators, to work on the client’s project. Working with an agency is perhaps the less risky employment type, but it may mean lower pay, as the agency earns a proportion of the client’s budget. Working directly with clients has its advantages and disadvantages. It could mean working on higher value projects, but to do so requires better sales, marketing, and communication skills. Without these, the salary could easily be much lower than working with an agency or as an employee.
- Business Skills Freelance translators are essentially self-employed business owners. They are responsible for finding their own work, marketing themselves, and selling their services — directly to clients or through an agency. As previously discussed, this has its financial pros and cons when compared to working as an in-house translator. Ultimately, the better one’s business acumen, the more likely they are to earn a high salary. Some freelance translators need a job on top of their translation work, others earn hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.
There is a massive gap between the lowest and highest paid translators, which may be explained by the fact that the majority of translators are freelancers. By nature, the income of freelancers varies considerably. In the UK, in-house translators earn between £18,000 and £30,000 per year. Average income in the US is $40,000. Freelancers can earn a lot less or a lot more. They need business skills like sales, marketing, management, and communication. Overall, translators can anywhere between £18,000 per year and £100,000 + per year.