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.

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, specialization for legal 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.


  1. Lama 04.11.17

    I have BA in English Language and literature and my MA in Translation with 30 years multi cultural experience. I have been working as legal translator certified from UAE Ministry of Justice English Arabic and vice versa . Unfortunately, I have been looking for a job since 2 years ! Any suggestions to solve this matter!

    1. Caitlin Nicholson 04.13.17

      Thank you for your comment. Are you interested in freelance translation opportunities? If so, please contact Scott Forkel, our vendor manager. His email is sforkel@lingualinx.com.

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