Becoming a Certified Translator
Your Questions Answered about Certification (Part 1)

For more questions and answers, check out part two:
Should I Work to Be a Certified Translator

Becoming a certified translator is something you can do as a translator to enhance your ability to get hired as a freelance translator, especially as more and more translation organizations around the world are focusing on translation certifications.

Before I talk about some of the things involved with becoming a certified translator, I feel the need to address a question that should be popping up in your mind. That question is whether or not you should go through the steps to be certified. Certification (or accreditation) is a process that requires a significant amount of time, as well as money.

There are two groups of people that weigh in on the debate of whether or not it's important to become certified. One group of translators say that it is an absolute must and that every translator working professionally should go through the certification process for their country or region. The other group discounts the whole process, saying that certification is just a way for translator organizations to collect money from translators without providing anything of real value in return.

I personally feel that certification could be useful when just starting out because having that on your resume could give you some clout. However, the biggest factor in getting and keeping work is the quality of work you do, the way you treat your clients, and your overall professionalism. Translation accreditation or certification only takes into account your ability to translate between two languages; it doesn't test your ability to run a successful business. Keep that in mind when deciding if it's right for you. You can read more about my thoughts on certified Spanish translation.

As I mentioned previously, different regions around the world have different accrediting agencies for translators. Different countries might have different requirements for freelance translators, so make sure you understand if there are any certification requirements you have to have before you start working.

In the United States, for example, there is an agency called the American Translators Association, which accredits translators in various language pairs. However, receiving an accreditation from them is not required by U.S. law in order to become a translator. In fact, contrary to popular belief, translation certification isn't even required for becoming a translation professional.

If you're wondering whether it's worth to to be certified by ATA, check out a small survey I did on ATA membership.

Another option would be to go back to school and get a translation certificate or diploma. However, if you're able to pick up and go back to school, check out some places where you can get an online translation certificate.

So, now that I've talked about the question of whether or not to go through the process of becoming a certified translator, I will discuss some of the issues involved in actually becoming a certified translator.

Process for Becoming a Certified Translator

The first thing you need to do when wanting to become is to figure out which translation organization in your area can grant you certification you desire. There might be specific agencies that can grant you specialized certifications (such as in medical translation, technical translation, etc.) but you might just be interested in a general translation certification.

Doing a quick search on the Internet using "translation accreditation" or "translation certification" will get you some good leads.

The next step is to look at the organization's requirements for becoming a certified translator and for providing a certified translation service. These requirements can vary, but most involve at least three requirements: paying money to the organization, passing a translation test, and continued involvement in the organization or industry (yearly dues).

The American Translation Association, for example, requires that you be a member of their organization before you can take the certification test. You also have to prove that you have the right combination of education and work experience in the translation field. After you take the test and pass, you are then required to fulfill a "continuing education" requirement every year.

Different organizations will have different requirements, but these are the most common ones. If you decide it's something you want, be sure and do practice tests and talk to others who have taken the tests so that you can be prepared. Good luck!

Remember that becoming a certified translator is different than becoming a certified interpreter. Just because you become certified in one mode doesn't mean that you are automatically certified in the other. If you'd like to read more about becoming certified as an interpreter, be sure and read the articles on interpreter certification.

Questions and Answers

OK, now that you've read some of my thoughts on becoming a certified translator, I know that many of you have had questions on translation certification. Judging by the many emails I've received on the topic, it's safe to say that this is a hot topic for translators.

Well, here are questions you've posed about translation certification and both my answers and the answers from fellow translators.

Becoming a Certified Translator in Multiple Languages

Question: If you have followed courses and are also certified to translate English-French, French-English and French-Spanish, Spanish-French, do you then have to follow further courses in order to then become certified as an English-Spanish, Spanish-English translator?

Answer: Great question, I'm pretty sure I know what you are asking, but we need to walk through this to make it a little clearer to those who might have the same question.

So I'm guessing that what you want to know is the following:

Let's say a person named Tom is a translator and he has received translation certification in the following language combinations:

English to French
French to English
French to Spanish
Spanish to French

Now, Tom is a very gifted translator and is also able to translate professionally not only between the above language combinations, but he can also translate between:

English to Spanish
Spanish to English

Since he can already translate into and from these two languages (albeit from and into different languages) does he have to get a separate translation certification in these two language combinations? Is that confusing enough?

The answer is that most of the time, yes. Most certification agencies don't certify on the basis of one or two language pairs, but instead certify on language combinations. What this means is that if a translator is certified to translate from Language A to Language B, is cannot be automatically assumed that this person will be certified to translate from Language B to Language A.

Example: There are many translators I know that can have been certified through ATA to translate from Spanish to English. However, some of these translators aren't necessarily certified to translate back from English to Spanish.

Now the above example is a little more complicated because the person (Tom) has already proven (through certification) that he can translate into both Spanish and English, even though the certifications are from other languages. But in the end, an organization like ATA would say that the translator has to take an English to Spanish test and Spanish to English certification test in order to be certified in those language combinations.

Other translation certification organizations might have different ideas, and might do things differently, which is one of the difficulties of providing an answer that will be universal everywhere. For example, I'm not sure how they would handle this in some European countries or other places where translation is much more regulated by the government. There might be exceptions that would grant a translator some sort of certification status after having shown some competency in translating to and from the same language.

However, like I said, the American Translators Association here does this strictly based on language pair or language combination, always to or from English. It might make things more redundant and/or cumbersome, especially for a translator that has that skill with multiple languages, but it's a way to standardize the process a little more.

College Minor Vs. Translation Certification

Question: I'm a college sophomore at the University of New Mexico majoring in Emergency Medical Services and doing pre-med. I'm trying to decide whether or not I should get a minor in Spanish in order to increase my chances at getting a job, and having a better pay, and how this would play into becoming a certified translator.

I speak Spanish fluently and I would only translate as a second job or as a home job. But I'm not sure how much of a difference it would make, and I just don't know which path to take.

Also, I know some German, and I'm thinking about taking Chinese next semester. So in your experience, would you say it's better to be fully certified in just one language, or being fluent in Spanish, English, and partially fluent in German and Chinese?

Answer: My advice is that you study Spanish to perfection, mostly on spelling, grammar, writing. It's one thing to speak and another more difficult thing is to be able to write. The other languages are fine to know but Spanish and english are the most important right now, globally at least.

I would also that if you already know Spanish fluently, then just having a minor isn't going to necessarily get you more translation jobs. You already have an up on your competition by knowing Spanish fluently. If you are dedicated to learning another language, though, and can spend the time on either German or Chinese, I say go for it.

Translation Certification: A Necessity?

Question: I have a post-college degree in French Literature and have taught French Language and Literature for many years. I plan to open a translation business in New York but after reading your article I feel it would be helpful to work towards becoming a certified translator in order to have an edge over the competition.

Answer by Fellow Translator: I have been in the translation business for over 30 years. I remember only one instance of someone requesting specific certification. Your prospective clients are going to be overwhelmingly concerned with one thing, price. Especially in this economy. If you take a certification like the one from the American Translators Association (ATA), it's going to cost you a mint (even if you get it on the first time and you don't take the prep test), and it is going to be a gift that keeps giving... to the ATA, because you are going to have to maintain your certification by participating in ATA sanctioned events. If you are really into becoming a certified translator (a waste of time in my opinion), get the certification, which won't cost you anything and you won't have to maintain.

Certificate Certification

Nilka asked: I speak, read, and write English, Spanish, and Portuguese fluently. Do I have to worry about becoming a certified translator in order to do any translations of birth or marriage certificates?

The Spanish Translator: Thanks for the question, Nilka. The short answer is no. You do not to have any kind of certification in order to translate, whether that's translating birth, marriage, or death certificates or any other type of translations. With these types of translations, however, you might have to notarize them because the agencies that are requesting these types of translations require notarization.

Certification Seems Impossible

Karin wrote: Hi, thank you for all your useful information. I am looking to become a freelance translator and would prefer becoming a certified translator or an accredited one. I've been trying to educate myself about the process, and it seems that in order to do that, you must have either 1. a bachelors degree and 2 years of experience, or 2. have 5 years of professional experience (per ATA).

I am bilingual (German-English), but don't have the professional experience. I don't mind the membership fees and tests, but how do I get around the professional experience that I don't have, but seems to be required to become certified? Any suggestions? Your input is appreciated! Thank you.

The Spanish Translator: Thanks for your comments and questions, Karin. This is a common question that people have not only in the translation industry but in other industries as well, namely, how do you go about getting experience if you need experience first? It does seem impossible when you first look at the issue.

However, the good thing about the translation industry and becoming a freelance translator is that you can get your own experience without becoming certified. Not everyone (and probably not even the majority) who needs a translator requires a certified translator. If you recall some of the things I've written about this in the past, I've mentioned that organizations such as the ATA are not nationally mandated programs that all translators have to go through. If you do want to worry about becoming a certified translator, there are other programs that offer certification without the same requirements of ATA (you can look at some here: Online Translation Certificates. But you should remember that nobody requires you to be certified as a freelance translator.

Follow-up by Karin: Thank you for your input. I just wanted follow up and post what the outcome was for me.

I have done additional research and decided to work on becoming a certified translator with an organization that you have posted a link to: Global Translation Institute. Their rates are reasonable, and they do not require proof of professional experience to register for the certification exam. Since I lack professional experience, I have decided that I want to get a certification to help me get jobs and clients as I am starting my new business. I have been a Real Estate Professional for the past 7 years, and I have found that my certifications and accreditations have helped me when competing with other Realtors. Thank you again for all your useful resources.

Russian Translation Certification

Jenia said: Even though I'm trying to work on becoming a certified translator for Russian and English, your site helped a lot. I agree it is a hard thing to do, and in addition, most organizations require certification from ATA. Thank you very much for links, as they were just what I was looking for.

The Spanish Translator: Thanks, Jenia, for those kind words. I'm glad that the website has been helpful even for a Russian/English translator. It can get discouraging trying to find either a job as an in-house translator or finding clients as a freelance translator, but hang in there and don't give up if that is what your dream is.

Not all organizations require becoming a certified translator through the American Translators Association, so keep looking and hopefully you'll find what you're looking for. If you're looking for an in-house position and are having difficulties, be sure and do what you can to build up your client base as a freelancer and use that to show those hiring for in-house positions that you do know what you are doing as a translator and they'll soon forget about requiring you to be certified by the ATA!

And don't forget that more and more certification organizations (to include universities that offer certification programs) are expanding the number of languages that they offer. It used to be that you could only found Spanish and maybe one other language, but in the recent past there have been numerous programs that have added languages such as Arabic and Chinese to their curriculum. Russian is also being added to some of the programs, so be sure and check back with them periodically. You also might want to contact the programs and indicate to them that there is interest in Russian certification. That might help give them the motivation to start offering Russian classes.

Follow-up Comment by a Fellow Translator: I'm glad you enjoyed the site, Jenia. Most of the information posted focuses on the Spanish language, but it is true that a lot of the information can be related to other languages as well. All translators need to know how to find clients, market their services, and improve their business, no matter what language they are working with.

Becoming a Certified Translator in Norwegian

Eva asked: I live in the Cincinnati, OH area and was wondering if you could tell me how to go about becoming a translator (i/e getting jobs as one) and/or becoming a certified translator. My languages would be English to Norwegian or Norwegian to English. Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated.

The Spanish Translator: Thanks for the question on being a certified translator, Eva. Many people have the same question and are interested in becoming freelance translators. First of all, your language combination seems like a pretty good pairing, as I can imagine that there probably aren't that many Norwegian translators.

The only thing to remember about becoming a freelance translator is that there really aren't any requirements. If you say you are a freelance translator, then that's what you are. The thing that separates some translators from others is the amount of clients that they have, and that is what you want to work on when building up your freelance translation business.

There are lots of ways to build your client base, and you just need to find the best ways that work for you. You can have your own web presence, network with other translators, contact local organizations that are in need of translators, or even use The Freelance Translator's Ultimate List of Translation Agencies to contact translation agencies.

Translation certification, while not necessary to become a freelance translator, can be useful to some people. The American Translators Association is probably the most well known translation organization in the United States, but there are other options if you wan to become certified, such as getting an online translation certificate.

Follow-up by Fellow Translator Dave: You don't really hear of too many Norwegian to English translators, at least here in the United States, so I would think that you have a golden opportunity to market yourself as one of a kind. That being said, there might not be a large market here for those language combinations, but the great thing about a freelance translation career is that there are no boundaries when it comes to working. You can still find plenty of work through the Internet and using your Norwegian. contacts, which you probably have some since you speak the language.

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