Becoming a Certified Translator: Your Questions Answered

I know that a lot of you have questions about becoming a certified translator.

I get emails every day from you wanting to know about the process, whether it’s worth it, or how it works in other countries.

So rather than continuing to answer the same questions over and over again, I’m going to post the questions and answers here.

If you don’t see the answer to your question here, feel free to ask me your question on Twitter @ClintTustison and I’ll answer it either there or back here on TranslationRules.

OK, first question.

Becoming a certified translator
in multiple languages

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?

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

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?

Secondly, can that be any more confusing?

The answer is that it depends.

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, it 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 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.

However, like I said, ATA in the U.S. certifies 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 that’s how they do it.

College minor vs. translation certification

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?

My advice is that you study your target language 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.

Here’s another truth.

If you already know Spanish fluently, having a minor isn’t going to get your more translation jobs or clients.

You already have an up on your competition by knowing Spanish fluently.

Get a minor in something else not language related. Take a course on law or science. Showcasing your knowledge in a subject area is way more valuable than a minor in a language you’re not going to use.

Take an online class and become specialized.

Do I have to be a certified translator?

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 I feel it would be helpful to work towards becoming a certified translator in order to have an edge over the competition.

This answer is from a fellow translator, not me.

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.

Becoming a certified translator in language X

I get variations of this question almost daily.

“I know you said this could work for Spanish, but I’m a Wu to Icelandic translator and I’m not sure if your advice applies to me.”

Look, stop with the special snowflake syndrome.

You’re not that different from every other translator, as much as you’d like to pretend you are.

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Maybe there’s a certification program for your language combination. But if you have a less commonly used one, you might not find one.

In that case, screw the certification.

Spend time doing something productive like finding new clients.

If you really want to be a translator, act like one.

Translators don’t spend time worrying about getting certified.

They worry about getting paid.

No matter what languages they work.

How to be a certified translator in Mexico

This is an email I got from a translator named John, who lives in Mexico. He wanted to comment on how to become certified in that country.

I have been translating for the last 5 or 6 years. Since I got my bachelor’s degree I landed some jobs as a freelancer. After I finished my bachelor’s degree, I got 2 master’s degrees while doing translation jobs.

For me, translation doesn’t represent my main income. I have always had a full time job and I translate because I love languages and I love translation.

I became a certified translator a few months ago here in Mexico and want to talk about what my experience is with that here.

It turns out that it’s not easy to find information on how to be a certified translator here in Mexico. It’s like a unicorn: a lot of people are looking but hardly ever find anything.

To start with, a certified translator produces certified translations. Of course, that’s obvious, at first. But what’s a certified translation? The easiest answer would be that it is a valid or accepted translation.

The question then becomes valid for whom or accepted by whom?

If you need the Mexican government to accept a document written in a foreign language you need to have it translated by a Perito or expert accepted by them. Well, the Mexican Government selects the experts and the translations produced by these experts are the only ones considered as valid translations.

It is important to say that this is for the Mexican government and not for other private institutions or companies. This means that a valid translation for the government wouldn’t necessarily be a valid translation for a company. You could be certified for the government but that doesn’t mean your translations would be valid for other situations other than government-related paperwork or bureaucracy.

Each one of the States of Mexico can have their own experts.

In order to be certified by the government you need to look for the convocatorias públicas of the local courts. Depending on the State you apply for, they will require different things. In some states they ask for 3 years experience in the domain, translation-related studies and possibly you might have to take a translation test.

The requirements depend on the State and there isn’t a consensus among them, so certification from one State might not equal certification in another State. Every state reserves the right to accept or not the certified translations coming from other places.

And there you go.

Some of the most common questions I get about becoming a certified translator.

As always, let me know if you have any other questions.

I’m on Twitter: @ClintTustison

Until next time.

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