Certifications for Interpreters & Translators

Within the United States, no official certification is needed to work as an interpreter or translator.

Nevertheless, there are many national and international tests and certifications interpreters and translators can pass to demonstrate their proficiency.

Among professional translators and interpreters, there is great debate over the importance of certification. One side believes that all professional translators and interpreters must be at least regionally certified in order to “open up shop.” On the other side of the debate are those who state that certification is simply a way for translation and interpreter organizations to make money, and that a translator or interpreter’s experience and samples can provide more information to potential clients or employers than a test score.

For translators who do choose to get certified, the most widely recognized certification in the United States is that of the American Translators Association. They provide certification in 24 language combinations involving English. The American Translation Association requires that translators be members of their organization before they are allowed to take the certification test. Moreover, translators must prove that they have a certain level of education and/or work experience. Even after a translator passes the American Translators Association test, he or she must fulfill a continuing education through ATA (for an additional cost) each year to keep certification current.

United Nations certification for translators is perhaps the most prestigious certification available on the international level. The Languages Service comprises one translation section for each of the six official United Nations languages (Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Russian and Spanish).

Though not a certification per se, the U.S. Department of State has a series of three tests that interpreters and can pass to demonstrate proficiency. The first test is for simple consecutive interpreting (for escort work), the second is for simultaneous interpreting , and the third is for conference-level interpreting (for international conferences). They also have a written test for translators.

The International Association of Conference Interpreters also offers certification for conference interpreters.

The Federal courts have certifications for Spanish, Navajo, and Haitian Creole interpreters. In addition, most State or municipal courts have their own specific forms of certification. Translators and Interpreters interested in pursuing court translation and interpreting can also get certified through The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

Translators who are not certified can still provide clients with a certified translation. A certified translation is simply a translation that has been notarized as being done by a certain professional. Typically, translators will attach a sheet listing their degrees, certifications (if any) and the url to their professional site to the translation, along with a notary public stamp and signature.

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