Summary of the ATA Compensation Survey

As an ongoing effort to provide business strategies and solutions, the ATA Compensation Survey is an important service provided by ATA to its members.

To address the need for a comprehensive picture of the market for translation and interpreting services, ATA recently conducted a compensation survey. The ATA Compensation Survey (previously called the Translation and Interpreting Services Survey) serves to provide professional practitioners and others with an overview of the income and pay rate data of translators, interpreters, and company owners working in the U.S.

The survey is an invaluable benchmarking tool for nearly everyone in or affiliated with the translation and interpreting industry. The survey allows an individual or company to easily compare their compensation to their peers. Translators and interpreters can review rates across languages, specialties, and location, and companies involved in translation and interpreting can refer to this report when determining their competitiveness with respect to compensation. Students considering careers in the translation and interpreting industry can also use this tool to guide their specific career decisions and gain insight about potential compensation. In addition, the survey serves as a practical tool for a broader audience—individuals and businesses in the market for translation and interpreting services.

As an ongoing effort to provide business strategies and solutions, this survey is an important service provided by ATA to its members.

Survey Design

ATA worked with Dynamic Benchmarking, LLC., an independent firm specializing in association-related research, to conduct an industry-wide survey of compensation for translation and interpreting services. Responses were received from language services professionals residing in the U.S. Dynamic Benchmarking collected the survey responses, thus ensuring participant anonymity. ATA membership was not required to participate.

To show the effects of the pandemic on translator and interpreter income and rates, the survey was designed to collect data both from before the pandemic (2019) and during the pandemic (2020).

The 11 classifications of language services roles in this report include:

  • Self-employed/freelance translator
  • Self-employed/freelance interpreter
  • Self-employed/freelance project manager or coordinator
  • Self-employed/freelance terminology manager, translation or interpreting teacher, translation or interpreting examination designer/grader, cultural trainer
  • Staff translator
  • Staff interpreter
  • Staff project manager or coordinator
  • Staff terminology manager, translation or interpreting teacher, translation or interpreting examination designer/grader, cultural trainer
  • Bilingual/dual role employee who also translates
  • Bilingual/dual role employee who also interprets
  • Language services company owner, president, or executive

Demographic information was obtained for detailed analysis by, among other factors, age, gender, years of professional experience, education, ATA membership, geographic region, and certification and interpreter certification/credentials. This comprehensive data allows users to compare their income, hourly rates, and per-word rates to individuals with similar profiles. (See Figures 1-3.)

Figure 1: Respondent Demographics

Some Key Findings

Respondent Demographics: Survey respondents had varying backgrounds and experience. More than two-thirds of respondents were female, more than 44% were over 55 years of age, and nearly one-third were ATA-certified. Slightly more than half the respondents (54%) identified as White, 16% as Hispanic/Latino/a/x, just over 9% as Asian American/Asian, and 2% as Black. Almost 10% identified as Mixed.

In terms of education, more than 59% of respondents held a master’s degree or higher. Years of experience were also fairly even, at about 15% for those reporting between 11-15, 16-20, and 26-30 years of experience, with a mean of 20 years.

Income Varied by Employment Classification: Translation and interpreting company owners reported the highest mean gross income at $142,271, which was well ahead of staff translators ($94,091) and staff interpreters ($80,787), freelance interpreters ($71,000), and freelance translators ($49,000). The lowest income was reported by multiple-role staff translators/interpreters who are also freelance translators/interpreters ($32,000).

Education and Language Services Income: The results showed an unexpected dichotomy between education and income level. Reported average income increased with higher education levels: $46,467 (associate’s), $57,972 (bachelor’s), and $57,581 (master’s). However, respondents with some college but no degree reported a higher income than those with a doctoral degree or other advanced degree ($58,002 vs. $48,932).

Membership Matters: ATA members reported higher income than nonmembers, with median income 22% higher ($41,200 vs. $32,000) and mean income 42% higher than nonmembers ($50,751 vs. $29,708).

Client Mix: Almost half of the freelance translators surveyed reported working mostly with language services companies (LSCs) and some direct clients, while 13.7% each reported working for direct clients only or LSCs only. Close to half of freelance interpreters also reported working mostly with LSCs and some direct clients, but far fewer (4%) reported working for direct clients only while 14% reported working for LSCs only.

Rise of the Machines(?): Freelance translators continue to embrace technology. Just under 22% of freelance translators reported providing post-editing of machine translation (PEMT) services, but only 0.6% reported PEMT as their sole service offering. The use of MT was slightly more prevalent at 30% and computer-assisted translation tools are the norm, used by 79% of freelance translators.

Interpreter Delivery Modes: Not surprisingly during the pandemic, 64% of freelance interpreters reported providing remote interpreting in addition to on-site delivery. Only 3% reported providing only remote interpreting, and 28% reported providing only on-site interpreting.

Figure 2: Gross Household Income (Single and Dual Role Respondents Only)

Figure 3: Gross Income from Language Services (Single and Dual Role Respondents Only)

Access the Full Report Online

The 58-page ATA Compensation Survey (Sixth Edition) presents the survey results in much greater detail than is possible in this summary. The complete report includes translation and interpreting hourly rates and rates per word for a wide range of language combinations. It’s important to remember that the statistics published by ATA should be regarded as guidelines rather than absolute standards. ATA intends the survey to reveal general trends in the industry, not exact amounts.

The full report is available to ATA members for free by logging into the Member Center area of ATA’s website (https://bit.ly/ATA-compensation).

About this Survey

Care has been taken to meet applicable legal guidelines for survey data, and therefore the survey has been managed by Dynamic Benchmarking, LLC. as an independent entity on behalf of ATA. All income or pay rate data upon which the survey is developed is more than three months old, and the reported information has been aggregated so that no individual participant can be identified. Strict confidence of survey responses was maintained throughout the course of the project. ATA makes no recommendations, suggestions, or exhortations regarding the conduct of its members or others in areas or activities addressed by this survey.

5 Ways the ATA Compensation Survey Can Help in Your Business and Career

I want to know if I’m charging enough. How do my rates compare with everyone else’s?
While your rates really have to stand on their own based on your specialty, language pair, experience, and more, having access to industry-wide data will help you know if you’re in the same ballpark as everyone else––or if you can charge more.

I provide translation/interpreting services as an employee. Is my salary in line with other language company employees?
There are a lot of variables to consider when it comes to compensation for your services, but knowing what other staff translators and interpreters earn will show you if your salary is in the same range as others in the profession.

I’m considering a new specialty. What should I charge for my services?
It takes a lot of time, energy, and planning to take on a new specialty. Knowing what revenue this specialty can bring in will help you determine if it’s worth the work.

I’m thinking about becoming a company owner. Will the change be worth it financially?
Starting your own language services company may be a way to increase revenue. With data from your peers, you will know what your take-home could actually be rather than just assuming.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook says translators and interpreters earn $52,330/year on average. Can I trust this number?
Currently, independent contractors are not adequately represented in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report. With your help, ATA will have the data to lobby the agency for a more reliable revenue statistic.

 

 

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Ted Wozniak is a full-time ATA-certified German>English translator specializing in finance and accounting. He has bachelor’s degrees in German (University of Texas at Austin) and accounting/economics (University of Miami). He is also a graduate of the German Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. His career path has included stints as an accountant, stockbroker, and U.S. Army translator, interpreter, and “liaison officer.” He was also an interrogation and language instructor at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School. He has served ATA as president (2019–2021), treasurer (2013–2017), director (2010–2013), and chair of the Ethics Committee (2016-2017), and as current chair of the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee. He is president of Payment Practices, Inc., an online database of translation company payment practices, and owner/moderator of Finanztrans, a mailing list for German financial translators. ted@tedwozniak.net

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