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  • Should I earn more for being bilingual?

Jan 2007

Q. I am a bilingual executive administrative assistant, using both English and Japanese in my job and occasionally serving as an interpreter or translator. Previously my position was held by someone who was not bilingual, and I don't believe my salary gives consideration for my bilingual abilities. How much more, if anything, should I be earning?

A. The answer depends on how many hours a week you are expected to translate, and whether you are translating spoken or written communication. It is important to make that distinction because translating documents is a more involved skill than translating speech.

Second, the amount of a language differential normally depends on the local market. Language differentials typically range between 5 and 20 percent per hour more than the base rate. If there is a scarcity of people who can translate written or spoken Japanese into English in your region, the differential would be in the higher end of this range.

So, you could make the case that your employer should apply an hourly differential to your base wage for those hours in which you are expected to translate or interpret a second language.

Talk to your employer and get a clear definition of whether you are primarily an executive administrative assistant who is called upon from time to time to function as an interpreter; or whether you are primarily an interpreter or translator. Once you have a clear definition of your responsibilities, speak to your manager. If your primary responsibility is as an executive administrator, find out how many hours a week you're expected to interpret or translate. Then you can tell your manager you would expect the organization to apply a percentage differential to those hours in which you function as an interpreter.

On the other hand, if your primary responsibilities are to function as a interpreter, then research the pay for interpreters in your region using the Salary Wizard.

Good luck.

- Erisa Ojimba, Certified Compensation Consultant

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