This series includes positions the primary duties of which are to administer, supervise, or perform work in rendering from a foreign language into English or from English into a foreign language the spoken or written word where the objective is accurate translations and/or interpretations.
You must be a U.S. citizen to apply
The yearly salary for a GS-11 is $68,036 to $88,450 per year.
Interpreters and translators typically do the following:
- Convert concepts in the source language to equivalent concepts in the target language
- Compile information and technical terms into glossaries and terminology databases to be used in their oral renditions and translations
- Speak, read, and write fluently in at least two languages, one of which is usually English
- Relay the style and tone of the original language
- Render spoken messages accurately, quickly, and clearly
- Apply their cultural knowledge to render an accurate and meaningful interpretation or translation of the original message
Interpreters and translators aid communication by converting messages or text from one language into another language. Although some people do both, interpreting and translating are different professions: interpreters work with spoken communication, and translators work with written communication.
Interpreters convert information from one spoken language into another—or, in the case of sign language interpreters, between spoken language and sign language. The goal of an interpreter is to have people hear the interpretation as if it were the original language. Interpreters usually must be fluent speakers or signers of both languages, because they communicate back and forth among people who do not share a common language.
Translators convert written materials from one language into another language. The goal of a translator is to have people read the translation as if it were the original written material. To do that, the translator must be able to write in a way that maintains or duplicates the structure and style of the original text while keeping the ideas and facts of the original material accurate. Translators must properly transmit any cultural references, including slang, and other expressions that do not translate literally.
Translators must read the original language fluently. They usually translate into their native language.
Nearly all translation work is done on a computer, and translators receive and submit most assignments electronically. Translations often go through several revisions before becoming final.
A bachelor’s degree is typically needed to become an interpreter or translator along with proficiency in at least two languages, one of which is usually English.
High school students interested in becoming an interpreter or translator should take a broad range of courses that focus on foreign languages and English writing and comprehension.
Beyond high school, people interested in becoming interpreters or translators have numerous educational options. Those in college typically choose a specific language as their major, such as Spanish or French. Although many jobs require a bachelor’s degree, majoring in a language is not always necessary.
Interpreters and translators generally do not need any formal training, as they are expected to be able to interpret and translate before they are hired. However, those working in the community as court or medical interpreters or translators are more likely to complete job-specific training programs or certificates.
Continuing education is a requirement for most state court and medical interpreting certification programs. It is offered by professional interpreter and translator associations such as the American Translators Association and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters on a regular basis.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
There is currently no universal certification required of interpreters and translators beyond passing the required court interpreting exams offered by most states. However, workers can take a variety of tests that show proficiency. For example, the American Translators Association provides certification in 29 language combinations.
The federal courts offer court interpreter certification for Spanish language interpreters. At the state level, the courts offer certification in at least 20 languages.
The National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf jointly offer certification for general sign language interpreters. In addition, the registry offers specialty tests in legal interpreting, speech reading, and deaf-to-deaf interpreting—which includes interpreting among deaf speakers of different native languages and from ASL to tactile signing.
The U.S. Department of State has a three-test series for prospective interpreters—one test in simple consecutive interpreting (for escort work), another in simultaneous interpreting (for court work), and a third in conference-level interpreting (for international conferences)—as well as a test for prospective translators. These tests are not considered a credential, but their completion indicates that a person has significant skill in the occupation. The National Virtual Translation Center and many other organizations also have testing programs.
The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters offers two types of certifications for healthcare interpreters: Associate Healthcare Interpreter, for interpreters of languages other than Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin; and Certified Healthcare Interpreter, for interpreters of Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin.
The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters offers certification for medical interpreters of Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese languages.
General qualifications excerpted from Job Announcement SV10193957
- Translates a wide variety of technical, legal, medical, and any other documents such as: medical records; legal briefs discussing issues of fact and law; etc.
- Based on a thorough knowledge of titles II, VIII, and XVI of the Social Security Act, as amended, reviews and carefully selects documents that require translation based on the issues presented in the case.
- Recommends alternative wording to resolve differences relative to the meaning of illegible entries.
- Provides a full summarized or partial translation or abstracts of photocopies of articles from foreign language publications.
- Applicants must have had at least fifty-two (52) weeks of specialized experience equivalent to the GS-9 grade level or higher in the Federal service that has equipped them with the particular knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform successfully the duties of this position, and that is typically in or related to the work of this position
- To be creditable, experience in translating, interpreting, or other work requiring the use of English and Spanish; or a combination of work (that required English and Spanish) and training at the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Service Institute, or comparable training.
Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program
Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth reflects increasing globalization and a more diverse U.S. population, which is expected to require more interpreters and translators.
Demand will likely remain strong for translators of frequently translated languages, such as French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Demand also should be strong for translators of Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages; for the principal Asian languages including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and Korean; and for the indigenous languages from Mexico and Central America such as Mixtec, Zapotec, and Mayan languages.
Demand for American Sign Language interpreters is expected to grow due to the increasing use of video relay services, which allow people to conduct online video calls and use a sign language interpreter.
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