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What Are the Most Useful Languages for Legal Interpretation and Translation?

Legal translation and/or interpretation is a rapidly expanding field. If you are interested in a career — and maximizing your earning potential — in this field, you might be wondering which of the roughly 6,500 spoken languages it would be best to focus on.

One of the most important factors that will have an impact on your earning potential — particularly if you intend to be a freelance translator — is your language combination. Therefore, it is imperative that you carefully decide which language combinations to focus on, because not all language combinations will earn you the same amount of money.

How much you can earn depends on the simple laws of supply and demand: the supply of translators that use your language combination, and the demand of that language combination. According to a report made by the American Translators Association, Arabic, Chinese, and Danish proved to be some of the most lucrative languages. Consider this excerpt:

“At an average of $0.19 per word, the language combinations commanding the highest rate per word were English into Arabic and English into Danish," the report reads. "At an average of $0.12 per word, the language combinations commanding the lowest rate were English into Italian and English into Portuguese. The highest average hourly rates by language combination were English into Chinese ($74.92) and Chinese into English ($65.79).”

These numbers seem to hold steady across different industries, though it is pertinent to note that legal translators were one of the more popular specializations in the ATA survey, eked out only by business and finance.

Need a translation?

Looking at some of the most popular languages overall, you might include Spanish alongside your Arabic and Mandarin, and you’ll be armed with some of the most widely sought-after languages in the world of translation. Korean, German, and French would be other strong contenders, but translators of those languages are easier to find, and thus the demand for English/German, English/Korean, and English/French translations is much lower.

Regardless, a legal specialization for interpretation and translation will mean that your skill set will continue to be in high demand, regardless of the languages in which you choose to specialize.

Photo credit: Claire Anderson

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About Jennifer Bustance

Jennifer Bustance is a California-based freelance writer, playwright, and novelist. Her plays have been performed all over the country, and her prose has appeared in various online and print publications. Jennifer is a teaching artist with the Playwrights Project, San Diego Writers, Ink, and UCSD Extension. She is the Playwright in Residence at the Scripps Ranch Theatre and a founding member of their New Works Studio. She has an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College.

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Meet the Authors

Brian Gruters

In addition to writing blogs for us, Brian Gruters manages translation projects for corporate clients. He started with Language Translation in 2015.

Brian brings several years of experience as a Spanish to English translator to his work. He has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Arizona and a master’s in Environment and Resource Studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

As a writer, Brian is mostly interested in language, science, and environmental conservation issues. He writes for various publications, as well as his blog, briangruters.com.

Jennifer Bustance

Jennifer Bustance is a California-based freelance writer, playwright, and novelist originally from Troy, Michigan. Her plays have been performed all over the country, and her prose has appeared in various online and print publications.

Jennifer is a teaching artist with the Playwrights Project, San Diego Writers, Ink, and UCSD Extension. She is the Playwright in Residence at the Scripps Ranch Theatre and a founding member of their New Works Studio. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College.

Chris Maroulakos

Chris Maroulakos has worked at Language Translation since 2007, and he is currently the director of operations. He has been a blogger and managing editor for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear since 2008, and he also worked as a blogger and associate editor for NBC San Diego's SoundDiego music blog.

Chris holds certifications in SDL Trados Studio for Translators (Advanced Level), SDL Trados Studio for Project Managers, and SDL MultiTerm for Translators and Project Managers. He is Inbound Certified by HubSpot and also has certifications in Localization and Localization Project Management from California State University Chico, the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), and the Localization Institute.

He graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a BA in Communications and with minors in Italian and International Studies.