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How much does a translator earn?
Thread poster: Markus Heinr (X)

Markus Heinr (X)
German to English
Aug 12, 2010

Could anyone give me a ball-park figure? I realise that it depends on a lot of factors, but assuming one gets a reasonable amount of work regularly, what is an average annual salary for a freelance translator?
Thank you in advanceicon_smile.gif


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:50
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
2210 Euro Aug 13, 2010

This is one figure from a statistic of 1400 Finnish professions.



Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:50
Flemish to English
+ ...
Depends Aug 13, 2010

Depends from country to country and where he or she works. At government institutions of a certain trilingual country it is about e1650-€1850 per month. At the parliament of the same country, add €1000 to this figure. At the international institution down the road of the parliament, you may add another €1000 depending upon your grade.

At agencies in the UK, translation is considered a secretarial service and paid about £ 20.000-28.000 as an in-house.
As a freelancer, it depends upon your ingenuity and production capacity.
As an interpreter it is about e4000-5000$ per month at international institutions and as a freelance conference interpreter, the minimum is about 500 euros per month. The other types of interpreting, escort, court,... pay less.

[Edited at 2010-08-13 11:46 GMT]


Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:50
Swedish to English
+ ...
Ballpark figure - EUR 20,000 a year? Aug 13, 2010

That is my guess, based on very little evidence, though partly on a survey carried out by a Swedish translator organisation a couple of years ago.

That indicated that there are a large number of part-time freelance translators who earn much less -- perhaps only EUR 5,000 a year. On the other hand, the Swedish survey reported a few translators who earned over EUR 100,000 a year.

Another approach is to work backwards from 20,000. Assuming you actually obtain translation work 200 days a year (the rest is marketing, holidays sickness, no work etc) you are earning EUR 100 a day. Assuming you can translate and review and handle 2,000 words a day, you need to charge EUR 0.05 / word. My impression is that many translators are actually working at that sort of rate, at least in the main FIGS ( French, Italian, German, Spanish) combinations, while in other combinations (such a Swedish) rates are much higher.

I also suspect that 20,000 is a sort of a borderline. Below that is, in most countries, not enough to live on, let alone save for a pension. Above that, there must be many successful translators with experience, specialisms, flair who are earning more like 50,000 and above.

To put it another way, my bell curve runs from 5,000 to 100,000, and peaks in the 20,000 to 30,000 area.

Any other guesses?


John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
Good guess Aug 13, 2010

Peter Linton wrote:

To put it another way, my bell curve runs from 5,000 to 100,000, and peaks in the 20,000 to 30,000 area.

I feel that is a very good guess.


Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:50
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Literary translators: see previous thread Aug 13, 2010

The bottom line: "not much"


Christopher Fitzsimons
Local time: 04:50
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Specialisation Aug 13, 2010

With the correct education/experience, an in demand area of specialisation (marketing, law, medicine for example), language combination (Scandinavian languages/German and French to a lesser extent, in and out of English) and of course sufficient marketing (and refusing to accept peanuts for your work) I estimate that 35K per year (gross) is a good figure to aim for. Starting out I would say 18K-21K.


George Hopkins
Local time: 04:50
Swedish to English
Little Aug 13, 2010

Very little unless you have sufficient regular direct clients.


Adi Al-Ka'bi
Local time: 06:50
Arabic to English
+ ...
If you are reasonably smart, you can make more than $300 per day Aug 13, 2010

If you are reasonably smart, you can make more than $300 per day or more than $1500 weekly on a 5 day week.

I see that Peter has answered the question, but as he mentioned "backwards", which to some may not sound intelligible.

To put the same in another way or "front wards" I would arrive at the figure sought or the solution of the mathematics in the following manner.

You assess how many words per day you can translate. Some, like newcomers, may only translate 500-700 words per day. But after some time, all will fall in the average of 2500-3000 words per day. Let's be pessimistic and assume the lower figure to be on the safe side of our calculation.

Now you don't want to work all day every day of the week, of the year and of your life. You won't last long if you do. If you are young and healthy and strong don't think that will last you without rest periods. You may be able to work at a stretch of 2 to 3 weeks without a day off, but that does not last longer without repercussion. I consider myself a persistent working jackass, but I developed high blood pressure at the end of a five-week stretch on a series of assignments that I got in around 2005. Hence that's not advisable. If you do have some health relapse, don't fret. I'm a believer in alternative medicine. Just find a way to get back to normal (a short break of 2-7 days with plenty of sleep, rest and doing whatever you enjoy doing) and forget about being chronic. Most of the time it's the pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma) brainwashing the public to keep them hooked on their poisons. That maybe sounds like beside the point, but rest periods also come into the calculation.

So like normal working people try to keep your working hours within the number of hours for normal working people, which is 8 hours per working day. If a freelancer, you have the advantage of an average of 2 hours travelling to work and back time. Hence you can churn out 10 hours of work per your working day. Also you have the advantage of short rests during your working hours. This can assist you to increase to a total of around 12 working hours per working day broken up into two or more periods.

At say 25 days average per month, that 25 X 2500 words per month without health problems.

But it's also not advisable to be open to having to accept requests of one client after the other. This can overlap (example - 3 clients wanting 3 tasks at the same time) and cause you tensions. But that does enter into the calculations. You'll have to sort that out in another discussion of say "how to satisfy clients if requests overlap".

Since some want to arrive at annual figures we can say we can get up to 25 X 2500 X 12 = 750,000 annually when our business is going comfortably fine, fluent.

Now multiply that by the going rate in your country and you'll get how much you can make within a year if you manage to be in or to create a comfortable market. If like some, you have a $0.04 per word rate going in your country, that works out to be 750,000 X 0.04 = $30,000 annually. If $0.20 per word, you'll make $150,000 annually.

But be realistic. You won't really get that much. So, for a more realistic figure, let's half that amount for each of those rates. In other words you can expect between $15,000 to $75,000 annually depending on the going rate in your country.

That should hopefully answer the question of this forum "front- wards".

I'll take the advantage of answering here to get on to another matter. A long awaited-for opportunity arises here to insert a comment to those who offer their services at ridiculously low rates. If you are good, why do you set low rates for yourself. Double your rates and work less for the same incomes. It's healthier for you and a better economics than the foolishness that you think you are getting up to. And if you really are good, you'll end up making a lot more. To put that in another way 200 words at $0.05 per word makes $10,00. So does 100 words at $.10 per word. It's the same $10 for half the sweat. But if some insist on remaining smart, go ahead and drop your price to $0.0005 and you'll get loads of customers to give you 20,000 words and get that same $10. Sounds great if you can get 20,000 words per day. It means you'll have a full day of work every day at 100 hours of work per day every day. Wow, you guys are real smart. Why don't you go for 200,000 words per day?

The smart rate that any good translator wherever he's residing should set for himself is the going rate for the highest cost of living country. If it's $0.30 per word, set your rates at that rate wherever you are. Your tomatoes and hut rent might cost less, but your refrigerator, TV, automobile, plane tickets, medicines cost the same. You have a highly educated profession (even if you are only translating silly love letters), so why don't you value yourself as being so? If you are on the Internet, be international. If you insist on being local, keep your prices local. If you want to be both, have two rates one for local, not on the Internet, and another rate international that you can put on the Internet. If being educated doesn't help to arrive at the advantages for you take the special 10-year course for foolish translators on "How to Become Smart and Stop Being Foolish". If you are lucky, you may complete it in 60 years.

Someone on one of those other forums concerned with the latter matter can link to this page on that latter column. I may soon prepare a syllabus for that course and all foolish translators can then enroll.

There's more on those foolish guys, but I'll leave that for another time. Today I am busy with a big job of 50 words that I'm doing for $625 followed by a private lesson for 4 hours to teach a foolish translator on how foolish it is to be foolish. It costs him $500 daily and he's happy with his improvement over the past 24 years. He started the course when he first started working as a translator. He can pay because he churns out 13,000 words daily at $0.04 per word, which works out to be $512 daily. It leaves him with $12 per day net income in his pocket after paying me for his daily lessons. He's happy about it because he sees it as a success for him. As long as he remains happy, that's improvement enough. I'm very happy for him and for myself. If 10 enroll I'll start the course. I wannabe happier for making more people happy.

Another question to all those amateurs that have entered the market and brought the prices down, while all other professions as well as commodities etc have had their prices going up. Do some calculations and stop being foolish too. With similar calculations, you'll find that you can daily earn more by not breaking the market. But you guys entered the market because you weren't good at anything else with worse translations than those CAT tools can come out with. Now copy-paste this into a word processor with the spell check facility and see how many green and red lines you get. You'll spot only one (Pharma) because Bill Gates forgot to include it in his spell checker. Now stick the best translation you ever made into a spell checker. If you find more than 10 green and red lines in a 200-word text, go and apply to be an astronaut and leave us alone. And I am not a native English speaker. In fact I even speak right to left as my native language.

This business seems to be one where anyone that can say "I love you" in a language not his/her native tongue can claim to be a professional translator. But even being able to say that in any language is not enough for translation or whatever. Try "Ich leibe dich" when you are in France. You might get a job as a translator there if you don't get a slap in the face for saying "I love you" in German, in France. Keep trying and you'll get the job. "If you don't succeed, try, try, try again".

[Edited at 2010-08-13 12:54 GMT]


TransLangues  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:50
English to French
+ ...
figures from the ARAPL Aug 13, 2010

I just got the latest figures of ARAPL (French organisation which, to put it short, checks the tax declarations of freelancers before they are transmitted to the tax office and compiles statistics regarding to each profession).
For 2009, the breakdown is as such for translators (all figures are net turnover i.e. after retrocessions)
25 % under 26904 EUR
25 % 26905 to 39659 EUR
25 % 3960 to 57412 EUR
25 % above 57413 EUR
Average: 46296 EUR

From this, of course, you need to deduct your social contributions, expenses and taxes to get your net income (average for the profession: 23890 EUR)
I hope this helps.


Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:50
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
translators Aug 13, 2010

are amongst the lowest paid, university educated professionals...
At least in the Netherlands,
Be that as it may , there are a lot of parttimers, students and people who do it for a second income or pocket money.

As a professional, freelance, full time translator you should be able to net 50.000 euro... depending on your speciality, clients and jobs afte a few years.



Liv Fridtjofsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:50
English to Norwegian
+ ...
if you accept every job offer Aug 13, 2010

and want to spend your life infront of the computer, you can earn a lot.

I have a few good clients and I earn about 2,000 € per month, as I also want to have free time to live my life.

Have a great weekend and good luck!


Sandra B.
Local time: 03:50
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
... Aug 13, 2010

It depends also a lot on the rates charged. The problem is that this activity is full of people that think they can translate just because they speak a couple of languages and only want to make some pocket money, so they charge very low rates. But even qualified people with translations degrees accept ridiculous low rates, which damages the all market.
I just got an email with a job offer from a big translation agency, and they want to pay USD 0,04/word for a medical translation. I’m sure they will find someone who will do it, but I can’t even bother to answer them...


United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
@Translangues Aug 13, 2010

That's fascinating. When I saw the question I thought the best people to answer that would be the tax authorities, but that's classified information. I didn't realise it was publicly available in France.

So from their figures, it's a fairly well paid profession, with 50% earning over EUR40,000 and only 25% under EUR27,000. But of course lots of people work part time, and lots don't declare their income.

By the way, there's an interesting article here about translators earning more than $100,000:

[Edited at 2010-08-13 14:57 GMT]


Claudio LR
Local time: 04:50
Member (2007)
English to Italian
+ ...
rates, volumes and time Aug 13, 2010

philgoddard wrote:

By the way, there's an interesting article here about translators earning more than $100,000:

[Edited at 2010-08-13 14:57 GMT]

I will quote an interesting part of the article:

For example, the average full-time freelancer might translate 400,000-600,000 words per year. If you charge 10 cents a word, you have to translate almost double that amount to reach six figures. But at 20 cents a word, 100K starts to look practically doable. So, although not everyone making six figures is charging very high rates (which I would define as 35-40 cents a word and up, and yes, there are people out there who are commanding those rates!), I would say that if you are not averaging at least 18 cents a word, you would have to work very long hours or very, very efficiently to reach six figures.

There are 3 factors that come into play: rates, volumes and time you spend (which depends on your productivity). In order to command rates that are much higher than average and still get very high volumes you need to be much better than average (especially if you work mainly with translation agencies). Still, often translators who earn over 100k euros per year also work a lot (almost every weekend and take very little holidays during the year). If you charge for example 0.15 EUR on average (which is around twice the average you see on proz statistics for its members, at least for Italian...) you need to translate at least around 13000 words per week on average to go over 100k, allowing for a couple of weeks of holidays. Now delivering that amount with an outstanding quality takes time, 50 or 60 hours per week every week, which is a rhythm that not everyone can withstand (it becomes virtually impossible when you have children). But some do that and more...

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