GoKunming Forums

How much do interpreters make?

chris8080 (226 posts) • 0

Just wondering whether anyone knows how much a professional interpreter can make. Like a high-level English-Mandarin interpreter working for a big organisation such as the UN or a multi-national corporation.

I heard they can make big bucks, $800+ a day as a contractor (with the tax advantages that go with that). And that since Mandarin is especially in demand you will never find it hard to get a job. But I can't find any reliable info on the net to back this up.

I'm a million miles away from the required level, but just thinking about future career moves..

laotou (1714 posts) • 0

First - there are different grades of interpreters - ranging from translators (post facto) to the legendary "simultaneous interpreter" or SI. To work for the UN - you'll need to pass a very rigorous test. SI is essentially "as they speak, you speak".

While the pay is high - if you're an hourly contractor, you'll still have to "get the hours" to generate consistent pay - but yes - for UN level SI's, the pay competes with other high-end professional salaries (such as senior engineering, management, etc).

Look HERE for more info:



faraday (210 posts) • 0

A friend, bilibgual all her life in cantonese and danish, works in scandinavia as a consultant interpreter with the police, hospitals, and various other state bodies. The pay is indeed on the same scale as senior professionals, as is the level responsibility. Peoples lives are literally in your hands, for example during judicial trials or medical examinations. At her level, its not a good job at all, despite the salary. The stress far outweighs the compensation..
One step lower down on the ladder, where my friend started her career, is going with the police to chinese restaurants looking for illegal workers. A bit better than minimum wage, and all the chinese people get to hate you.
Its very hard to make a career out of languages alone...but good luck to anyone who goes for it

tigertiger - moderator (5084 posts) • 0

In addition to everything said above, I was told that SIs burn out, and usually only do it to about age 30.

There is a glut of general low level interpreters. They usually are paid on a per word basis. Last time I saw anything it was about 5 jiao per word, but that was in Shanghai. This is not big bucks.

tommann (423 posts) • 0

If you apply to the UN, be prepared to wait up to a year or more to hear back from them.

Liuer (15 posts) • 0

If you are far from it; forget it.
All SI's I know (And only those make the top salaries) were brought up bilingual by their parents and think bilingual. They do not translate anything they read the thought of the person they are translating for. If you are still learning Chinese you get lucky if you get a few hundred kuai for a whole days hard work.
(Of course there are exceptions like the Finnish girl I knew who spoke 14 languages fluently [Chinese was not one of them!])

chris8080 (226 posts) • 0

Yeah, I guess to do that kind of work you need to be pretty much native level. Maybe something for me in a few decades!

How about other kinds of (well-paid) work for Mandarin speakers? I have 6 years B2B sales experience. I was thinking about doing sourcing for a big company - i.e. they send you to China to check out suppliers, tour the factory, drink a lot of bai jiu etc., but I don't know how much this kind of work would pay.

I met a guy in a hotel who had a business exporting furniture and he seemed to be doing very well as his girlfriend was half his age and stunning. He said it would be a good business to get into because all the big buyers in the UK (e.g. M&S, Debenhams etc.) will be keen to work with you if you're a fluent Mandarin speaker and familiar with Chinese culture.

tigertiger - moderator (5084 posts) • 0

Many buyers also have a degree in economics.
You can make money doing import export, but the majority of people just make a living out of it. I have know a few that had to supplement their incomes through teaching.
Remember you will be competing for jobs with local Chinese who are fluent in both languages already.

One thing I learned very quickly on arrival in China, to succeed in business in China, you really need to come from a Chinese business family. Even local chinese get shafted here. For every get rich quick story there must be a thousand others who have lost their shirts, but you rarely here their stories.
There are lots of expats who make a reasonable living here, it is hard work, but they achieve it. The expats who make larger amounts of money are rare, like Neil Heywood.

Dave_M (2 posts) • 0

Dude you don't wanna get involved with "drink a lot of bai jiu" stuff, trust me, it does more harm than you can imagine. A friend of mine was having this business dinner with lot of baijiu not long ago, he ended up in the emergency room because of severe stomach problem. Although I understand it's a cultural thing to drink baijiu here, you might wanna watch out for the baijiu that are over 40°.

Regarding big buyers in the UK that are keen to work with mandarin speakers, that's interesting, you might have noticed the lack of good furniture market in Kunming. Many friends of mine have been expecting the opening of IKEA branch in Kunming for years, I'm not saying IKEA is that good, but the city does need better furniture market.

laotou (1714 posts) • 0

For furniture - most Chinese here go to Guangdong to buy their custom furniture. That should be a clue about the level or lack of craftsmanship here...even with prefab furniture - these local gorillas can still hack it up.

Maybe you can do furniture import from Guangdong to Yunnan, eh?

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