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  • The Highest Paying Languages for Translators

    Certified Translation

    With so much turmoil in today's world, more people are looking for ways to increase their independent income streams or to leverage the skills they already have into new ways of making money. Knowing a second language has always been a nearly fool-proof way to provide a boost to your income, or even provide a whole new set of career options. A recent Forbes article described translation work as a "portfolio career," which means it is a personal skill set you can utilize to make money at any time, (a bulwark against recession).


    While the last official studies seem to have been over a decade ago, you can still look at data compiled by sites like Salary.com and economic experts, which show the salary boost for knowing a second language can be anywhere from 2 to 20 percent. The income earned will depend on the industry, language, and location of the job. According to The Economist, without a specialization, Spanish came out to about a 1.5 percent bonus. French was a 2.3 percent bonus, German was a 3.8 percent bonus, and many of the most popular languages fell into about that range. This doesn't tell the whole story, however.


    It should be no surprise that some languages can be more lucrative, while others may offer more regular work. In this article, we are going to take a look at how to evaluate your options and find the highest paying languages to translate, as well as those that get you the most consistent work.


    Finding Highest Paying Languages to Translate


    Figuring out precisely what may be the most lucrative language for you to learn could be a challenging undertaking. Different languages can offer you various opportunities for both the short term and the long-term. In contrast, the financial benefit of a language is heavily dependent on the local industries and demographics of an area. The language you learn may (or may not) also synergize well with your other skills. The most highly paid translators and interpreters are the ones who work in highly specialized fields like medical translation. 


    With the internet offering a more significant percentage of jobs each year, physical location is slowly decreasing in relevancy for finding work. 

    Another complication for being able to say what the highest paying languages to translate is that translation requires a language combination. Transitioning from Spanish to Mandarin will pay differently from English to Mandarin, and the opportunities will be different as well. If you are learning a third language, you may be able to find one that synergizes better with the two languages you already know. All of these factors must be weighed and considered for your personal situation. You might also want to consider that some languages like Mandarin are currently growing, while others around the world are shrinking in the relative speakership, and future prospects may change. 



    The best language to learn for translation jobs is going to be dependent on these two factors:


    • The number of jobs.
    • The paying rate of those jobs



    To find the best language to learn for translation jobs, you should begin by grouping your language options into categories. These categories should be High Rates versus Low Rates and High Competition versus Low Competition. Some language combinations may pay quite a bit because they are rare, but that often means jobs will be scarce as well. It would help if you found the right balance between pay scale and job opportunity as these will be the highest paying languages to know in the long run.


    By looking at current job openings posted and the number of businesses and freelancers offering services, we were able to chart out a few of the more common English language combinations. The High and Low ratings are relative to the other options on this list.


    • Spanish with English: High competition, high demand, low to average rates.
    • Mandarin with English: Average competition, high demand, high rates.
    • English with Arabic: Average competition, low demand, average to high rates.
    • English with Korean: Low competition, low to average demand, average rates.


    Now you replace English on that list, or a specialized skill-set like technical translation, and this chart will be completely different. This should, however, help you to begin to figure out which are the highest paying languages to know today.


    Languages That Usually Pay the Best in the Long Run


    Now that we have covered how you can conduct your personal evaluation of a language, we can spend a little time looking at the languages that tend to top the lists. These languages are often more common, but so is trade and industry in that language. German, for example, doesn't have many relative speakers, but the language's financial output is immense and provides ample opportunity to earn a living. 




    While Spanish didn't get very good marks in our previous section, you have to keep in mind how Spanish is becoming increasingly more important in the United States. More businesses than ever are either owned by Spanish speakers or are attempting to reach out to a Spanish speaking audience. The opportunities are likely to continue to increase and building a resume now can set you up well for future work. Spanish translators are already decently paid, and the rates are expected to grow into the foreseeable future.




    With the sheer number of people and businesses that utilize Mandarin, there will always be opportunities to earn within this language. A good translator for the Chinese markets can already earn a great deal, and with Chinese exports growing around the globe, Mandarin appears to be an excellent investment into the future. 

    In addition to translation work, English to Mandarin tutors can earn quite a bit on the side teaching from home.




    Italian may be surprising to some, but when you weigh in the competition and rates for Italian translation work (at least Italian to English translation work), you see stable average earnings of around $50,000 a year. Much of that work can be accomplished remotely as well, meaning you can use Italian as a fantastic supplement to your normal day job.




    Japanese is another language that offers a great balance between competition and earning potential. Japanese industries have provided plenty of opportunities in a variety of sectors, and an experienced Japanese translator stands to make quite a bit.




    German is a wealthy country with a large amount of trade, with very few outside speakers. German translators are amongst the best paid in England and the United States. While it may take some time to find the right opportunities, with the right work schedule German translation can be very lucrative.




    Arabic business has a solid customer base nearly worldwide with very lucrative opportunities to be found with the right companies. There are quite a few startups and investors looking for quality to English translation, so much so that Arabic was ranked as the second most lucrative language to learn in Great Britain.




    English is the default language of most international businesses and is still regularly rated as the most financially beneficial language to learn. Regardless of your first language, or first two languages, English will likely be your next option if you are strictly looking for financial incentives.


    A note for Interpreters:


    The highest demand language for interpreters may be different than that for translators as these are very unique skill sets. If you wish to find the highest demand language for interpreters you can likely use this information as a start point, but will ultimately need to do a different set of research.


    A Chinese language interpreter (Mandarin) is going to work from a completely different set of jobs than a Mandarin translator, so will need unique research with Chinese language interpreter relevant data. 

    To reiterate with another example, the demand for Japanese translators will be entirely separate from the demand for Japanese interpreters -Japanese translators should not base their choices off of Japanese interpreter data and vice-versa.