Linguist and Translator Salaries

How much do Linguists and Translators make?

As a generalization: it depends greatly upon where your job is located. If you are hoping to break $50K per year then you need to work in one of these areas: Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Texas or Virginia.

Linguist and Translator Salaries

Working in the District of Columbia easily puts about $15K more in your pocket than jobs located in the neighboring Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Where the (reliably) best paying jobs are

There are some localities that pay well about state and regional averages in annual mean compen$ation:

  • $74,940 — Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, VA
  • $70,550 — Silver Spring-Frederick-Rockville, MD
  • $69,330 — Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA
  • $68,010 — Trenton, NJ
  • $66,480 — San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

Rounding out the Top 10 locations are these five which should provide you with paychecks in the range of $62-65,000.

  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA
  • Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO
  • Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
  • Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY Metropolitan Division
  • Columbus, GA-AL

Probably the only category of linguistic employment which routinely will earn you more income, plus great benefits, is if you are able to work your way into a position as a federal government linguist.

Working on a federal contract, or for the federal government, as a linguist also means that you need to be certified! Having grown up in a foreign language environment or having studied a foreign language in college or university is not a sufficient credential.

Got thoughts, data or questions?

Best regards,
Bill Golden

Linguistic and Translator Careers – You NEED to be certified

Career Guide Index

Got a resume? Send it to us:

Linguistics and Foreign Languages
Foreign world languages study concept background – stack of dictionaries isolated on white background

This is an update from our online Career Guide and provides a brief overview about Linguist and Translator careers.

Intelligence, Defense and the global media industry has ever greater need for linguists.

Currently available Linguist Jobs

Once upon a time a linguist was needed because a group of foreign language speakers at some point on the planet had something of interest that we needed to understand. This was usually a very short-term need, and being a linguist was not something that paid the bills dependably. That has all changed since the 1990s. Between social media and inexpensive telecommunications connectivity, the potential exists for even the rarest of languages to be used 24/7 potentially anywhere on the planet.

There remain trends. Certain languages will be in greater demand than at other times, or seemingly not at all. However, a smart linguist will build a portfolio of certified skills that are always employable.

Being able to speak and to understand a foreign language is not enough to earn a living within the linguistic career field. Having gone to school, whether at college or at a specialized language school, is usually also not enough to entitle you to calling yourself a linguist.

To be employable as a linguist requires certification that you have a certain level of expertise in the language.

Career success as a linguist, and a larger paycheck, is even more dependent upon you knowing something specific about the world. You should always strive to be: “I am a junior/mid-level/senior ____ professional, and I have language expertise in ___.”

Many organizations have globalized operations that seek out professionals, and these professionals also need to have a foreign language capability.

Currently available Linguist Jobs


Almost all certifications evaluate your foreign language capability as four different skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing (expression). Depending upon the position’s requirements, your market value as a linguist may depend upon your capability in as little as just one or two of these skills.

ACTFL – American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

The ACTFL is popular for the certification and recertification of non-governmental language instructors.

DLPT – Defense Language Proficiency Test

The DLPT is a mandatory recurring examination of foreign language skills among military linguists and many linguists that work on federal contracts. DLPT standards are defined by the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR).

NAJIT – National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators

NAJIT is not a certifying authority per se. Due to the extreme importance of accurate translation in a legal environment NAJIT members must be certified, and can be certified through a variety of means. This is a website full of good information if the legal system is of interest to you as a linguist.

ALTA – ALTA Language Services is becoming more popular as a certification source for government agencies, healthcare organizations, and business. ALTA administers language assessments in more than 90 languages.

Curious as to how well you might do on some of these tests? Transparent Language offers online free testing in a variety of languages. Their goal is to sell you language training software so as to increase your proficiency — but there is nothing to buy to take their tests.

Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR)

The ILR does not administer certification tests although it has made some recommendations as to testing sources which meets its guidelines for foreign language proficiency (AKA ‘scales’). The ILR Skill Level Descriptions and the ILR Scale are used to develop and score U.S. Government (USG) tests of language skills. USG language tests are used for USG employees only and are not available to private individuals, commercial services, or other non-government organizations. Applicants to USG positions may be tested if they are sponsored by a governmental agency. You can find a description of the ILR foreign language skill level descriptions on the ILR homepage, towards the bottom of the page.

Currently available Linguist Jobs

NSA Language Analyst – Chinese & Korean


NSA Language Analyst – Chinese & Korean

Job ID: 1063025

NSA – National Security Agency
Location: Honolulu, HI and Fort George G. Meade, MD



Why should you come to work at NSA? The work is important with real-world impact, in addition we offer strong growth potential and the world’s best language resources.

A passion for foreign languages is a must for this profession. Language proficiency and understanding of nuance, context, cultural overtones, and dialect enables NSA Language Analysts to provide the most complete and accurate Signals Intelligence picture to U.S. policy makers, military commanders, and Intelligence Community members. As a Language Analyst, you will be part of a team working directly with the original written or spoken language in a dynamic environment. You will determine the relevance of the intelligence collected, research it, analyze it and put it into context. Language Analysts can spend many hours per day translating or transcribing the foreign language into English as part of their analysis. It’s a tremendous responsibility, but one which is extremely satisfying.


As a Language Analyst at NSA, you will have the opportunity to further develop your language abilities, increase your regional expertise, and cultural awareness. Your career as a Language Analyst at NSA will expand your horizons in the profession and provide you with more opportunities than those offered in a comparable career in business, commerce, or academia.

Let’s talk about your advancement potential! As a Language Analyst at NSA, you will continue to develop your language abilities and learn new skills. You may take on additional research and reporting responsibilities, apply for field assignments abroad, learn a new dialect or language, or teach at our National Cryptologic School.

We are always looking for well-qualified applicants with exceptional language skills. We are currently looking for applicants with proficiency in the languages listed below. However, if you don’t see your language in the list, you should still apply because our language requirements can change at any time.

Chinese (Mandarin)



Salary Range (Entry/Developmental):

Fort George G. Meade Salary Range: $43,057 – $68,465
Honolulu salary range: $40,385 to $64,216

Entry is with a high school diploma plus relevant language experience as specified in examples.
* Experience speaking, reading, listening, and/or writing in a language.
* Participation in a three-year language program (e.g., high school, college, summer language course) that is in the language for which the candidate is being considered.
* One year of language experience such as other IC agencies, living abroad, military, or teaching preferred.


Salary Range (Full Performance):

Fort George G. Meade Salary Range: $63,722 – $99,296
Honolulu salary range: $59,767 – $93,133

Entry is with a high school diploma and 2 years of experience.
* Two years of experience must be cryptologic in the language for which the candidate is being considered.
* If the candidate has 8 years of post-grammar school immersion (in the language for which he/she is being considered), this is minimum with no cryptologic language experience required.
* If the candidate has experience at NSA in another language work role, less experience would be considered..

Pay, Benefits, & Work Schedule

Salary is commensurate with education and experience.

This Ad closes on December 19, 2015.

*Candidates hired for a position in Hawaii may be eligible to receive an annual recruitment incentive, not to exceed three years.


NSA - National Security Agency

Jobs / Foreign Languages and Linguistics

Hot JobsDiscover careers in Defense, Intelligence and Linguistics at Northern Virginia Community College — taught by Bill Golden, CEO of Seminar/Course: Careers in Defense and Intelligence / Nov 21st

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