How do I certify myself as a translator?

The United States does not have any official requirements for doing translation work, as long as you can attach a statement to your translations saying that your translation is a “true and accurate” representation of the original document. Make sure to include your contact information in this statement.

If you have a talent for languages and fluency in more than one language, you may have considered becoming a translator. One way to do this is to become a certified translator. 

A certified translator has the ability to perform translations for official purposes. This could include translations of birth certificates, identification documents, visa applications, and a variety of other legal paperwork.

Despite the lack of formal requirements, some translation customers may require you to have specific qualifications or membership in a professional association. You will stand out in the increasingly crowded translation market if you can boast accreditations that provide an assurance of the quality of your work, especially when it comes to finding new translation customers.

This article will explore how you can gain certification to work as a translator in the US.

How to become a certified translator? The ATA exam

The United States has no official requirements for people doing translations, but you can increase your employment prospects if you can offer certified translations. Here’s what you need to do:

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  1. Attain fluency in at least two languages – It is essential to have native fluency in the language you will translate into (called the target language in the translation business). You also need to have close to native fluency in the language you will translate from (the source language). Brush up on grammar and vocabulary in both languages as needed.
  2. Get your foot in the door by doing any paid translations you can – Your goal should be gaining as much experience translating as possible.
  3. Accumulate some references – Having happy customers who can vouch for your work is key to finding more projects and customers, both new ones and repeat business.
  4. Don’t overlook professional development at any stage – Getting more training should be part of your plan for each year in order to constantly increase your language skills. Think about subject areas you can specialize in and gain expertise in those fields.
  5. Achieve certifications and credentials – You could become more qualified by, for example, gaining ATA certification or by becoming a Chartered Linguist (CL).

Why Get Your American Translators Association Certification to Become a Certified Translator?

Gaining certification as a translator in the US means you have more chances at being hired for a broader assortment of projects and better-paying jobs. 

Your certification makes you more attractive to individual customers as well as translation agencies. Getting an additional credential like this may also pave the way to a good career.

If your aim is to start working in translation, either full time or as a “side gig” for extra income, gaining certification is a good way to enhance your resume.

Is it worth it to become a certified translator?

There are a number of advantages to getting certification in the US, such as:

  • Your chances of secure employment are higher, especially in the legal field.
  • More and better paying jobs may be available in more subject matters.
  • You offer extra credentials as a freelancer. Customers choose certified translators because they can expect translations of higher quality.
  • You may be eligible to perform a wider variety of language services.
How to become a certified official translator in the UK

Which institutes offer certification programs in US?

The Chartered Institute of Linguists and other official organizations have certification programs for you. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) website also lists options and course providers, plus tips on certifications.

Those seeking translation work beyond the United States should check into foreign accrediting bodies and see which providers of accreditation they recommend. In Australia, for instance, look up the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI). In Canada, try the Canadian Translators, Terminologists, and Interpreters Council. The International Federation of Translators has a list of member organizations in many countries. 

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How do I become a bilingual translator?

As a reference, here are some of the most popular translator certification programs in the United States. Getting a degree or passing an examination will require advanced proficiency in your language pair:

ATA certificationAmerican Translators AssociationATA membership and passing a three-hour examination in your language pair
UN CELP (formerly the LCE)United NationsPassage of the CELP examination, skills tests, and interviews
MA or MSc in translationUniversities offering graduate degrees in translation1 to 3 years of studies and completion of a master’s thesis
PhD in translationUniversities offering graduate degrees in translation4 to 7 years of studies and completion of a doctoral dissertation

In addition to translation courses, consider taking specialty courses in certain aspects of translation (i.e. interpretation) and find universities offering postgraduate studies. It’s a good idea to seek accreditation or membership in one of the American translation institutes. Many of the organizations listed above emphasize education and training, but do your research on the differences between them. There is no one best translation program for everyone, so you need to find what works best for you.

What are the requirements for ATA certification?

The first step in becoming a certified translator is to attain excellent skills in both a foreign language and your native language. As a certified translator, you take responsibility for the accuracy and truthfulness of your translations. 

Translation agencies often look for a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or other relevant qualification in one or more foreign languages. Agencies also generally require you to take a test to demonstrate your comprehension and speaking and writing skills. Some may ask you to participate in an interview to assess your competency.

Accreditation is also highly desirable if you are seeking full-time employment in the translation industry.

Also Read: What is a certified translation in the US? What you need to know

How does certification differ from accreditation?

In the United States translation industry, the terms “certification” and “accreditation” are basically interchangeable.

What qualifications do you need to be a translator?

You do not need any specific qualifications to work as a freelance certified translator in the US. In order to find a full-time job or to get projects from a translation agency, however, it is most helpful to have a language degree or some similar qualification or proven experience as a translator. Agencies that are ISO 17100 certified are more likely to look for formal qualifications, because qualified translators are key to their ISO certifications.

It may take a few years, but attaining a translation degree or diploma will boost your resume as well as polish up your language skills, thereby improving your prospects in the job market. Even if you have a few years of experience doing translations, you should consider getting a master’s degree (MA or MSc) in translation as part of your professional development.

Some of the top providers in the US for language degrees are the the University of Arkansas (for literary translations), Kent State University (Ohio), the Middlebury Institute (Monterey, California), Binghamton University (New York), and New York University, and most of the “ivy league” universities. Many of these offer online degrees as well. A degree from one of these universities will mark you as a person who is qualified to perform high-quality translations. 

Can I get certified in multiple languages?

Few people grow up bilingual, although it’s great if you did. Even if you are a native speaker of only one language, you can still always learn another languages to work as a professional translator. Once you have the language level and skills to pass the accreditation tests, certifications are possible in multiple languages. Many translators do, indeed, get certified in multiple languages, because expertise in two languages can make it easier to gain proficiency in a third or fourth, especially in the same family of languages. 

Truly multilingual translators, especially those seeking government employment, should look into translation certification from the United Nations (UN). Accreditation in two or more official UN languages, such as English, French, or Spanish, will be a big enhancement to your translation credentials.

Also Read: How much does a certified translation cost?

What is the best certification for translation?

There is no “one size fits all” solution for translation certification. The right program for you will depend on your specific goals and your area(s) of subject matter specialization. Generally, if your aim is professional development, think about the skills you need to work on and then research which programs are best for that purpose. 

Two aspects should be taken into account when making these choices: time and money. If you are already working full time as a translator, it could be a challenge to find time to pass the certification assessments. Also make sure you budget for tuition, examination fees, and any other costs involved.

What kind of certification do you need for a translator?

In the US, there is no official certification process, and it doesn’t follow a tiered or level-based system. Rather, there are a variety of qualifications and memberships to professional bodies that translators can attain to demonstrate their competence and professionalism.

Here are a few key ones: 

  • ATA (American Translation Association) certification
  • United Nations (UN) translation accreditation
  • The Global Translation Institute’s Certified Translation Professional (CTP) certificate
  • Academic degrees (an MA, MSc, or PhD in Translation Studies or the like)
  • Translators specializing in the medical field could consider in interpretation qualifications like the CHCI (Certified Health Care Interpreter) or CMI (Certified Medical Interpreter) credentials
  • Translators in the legal field could consider Federal Court Interpreter (FCI) certification.

What is the most recognized translator certification in the US?

The translator credential most widely recognized in the US is the American Translators Association (ATA) certificate. The American Translators Association offers practice tests and a paid examination to attain this certificate.

Some professional certifications that include a translation assessment will be recognized throughout the world. Many foreign countries have stricter certified translator requirements than the US does, so you should also think about the most popular certificates in the country or countries where your source language is spoken. Refer to the FIT’s list of translation credentials in various countries to find one that is relevant to you.

If you are seeking a job in government services, consider pursuing a translation certificate from the United Nations, which you can get by submitting an application and taking their entry exam.

FAQ

How long does it take to become a translator?

This depends heavily on your current level of language proficiency. Those with native or near-native fluency in at least two languages may be able to attain a certificate fairly quickly, but otherwise it will depend on your skills and training. Even with great skills, don’t forget to prepare for the exam. How much time you spend on exam preparation is also a factor.

Local examination schedules are up to the local ATA chapters. You can also take the exam online (once per year); you must register and pay the fee at least two weeks before the exam. The ATA recommends that you take at least one practice test before you take the exam.

What are the credentials for translators?

There is no official requirement to work as a translator in the United States, but you should have at least some formal language and translation education and/or paid translation experience. A bachelor’s degree in translation is a good start, and an advanced degree is even better.

Even if you don’t have a degree in translation, you can attain one or more certifications that prove you can produce a quality translation. This also gives prospective translation customers an idea of the quality of your work. Note that the ATA provides an certification program, for which you must pass a challenging examination.

Needless to say, your writing in the target language must be excellent, and thorough knowledge of the subject matter of your translations is important.

Is it worth it to become a certified translator?

If you want to work as a translator, being a certified translator in the United States offers many benefits in the eyes of potential clients as proof of your professional competence. When you get certified as a translator, possibilities will open up for you to work for translation agencies, government bodies, legal courts, or other official institutes. And being listed in the ATA directory exposes you to potential customers.

In short, offering certified translation services can help your translation career take off.

How much does the ATA exam cost?

You must be a member of the American Translators Association (see their membership charges) before you can register for and then take the ATA examination. Registration for the ATA certification exam cost $525 as of January 2024.

How long is the ATA certification valid?

An ATA certification does not expire. Because a translator must keep their skills sharp, continuing professional development is highly recommended with or without certification.

Can I become a certified translator online?

Some universities allow you to get a translation degree online. An online translation certification is also possible. You can, for instance, study for the ATA certification online and then take the ATA either online or at a local chapter. And, of course, doing translation work online is fairly common.

Can I translate without being certified?

You certainly can perform translations without having certification, but it will be harder to find translation customers without some kind of credentials, such as a degree or certification unless you have significant experience doing translations for pay. Becoming certified as a translator will help you attract clients and add to your resume. For example, it is a good idea to become ATA certified as part of improving your translation skills.

Can you become a certified translator without a degree?

Yes, you can get ATA certification or pass the UN translation test if you do not have a degree in translation. The main qualification is your knowledge and skills in translation and interpretation, so a degree or some kind of formal language training will definitely be helpful in your quest to become a translator.

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