Certified Translation

Certified Translation: Some Thoughts

OK, a couple of questions you might have if you’re looking into becoming a freelance certified translation provider:

Do you have to be a certified translation provider to be a good freelance translator?

Is translation certification really necessary to find translation jobs?

If I’m not certified, will I be able to have success as a professional freelance translator?

You’ll find a bunch of different answers to these questions. In fact, every translator (as well as people that aren’t translators) will have all sorts of opinions on the correct answers to these questions.

In order to sort through all the different opinions, though, you’ll need to understand a few things.

Official Certification VS. Accreditation

First of all, it’s important to realize the difference between official certification required by certain countries, and accreditation (or certification) that is offered by private organizations (which isn’t necessarily required).

Some countries (not the U.S.) require that translators have a government-issued certification that allows them to offer translation/interpretation services. This is especially true for certain clients such as government organizations or the courts.

In addition to these types of certifications, there are also private organizations that offer certifications that aren’t necessarily required by any organization to begin translating. These types of certifications are not required by the government. They are instead promoted as a way to “prove” the ability of translators and/or interpreters.

One of these organizations is the American Translators Association.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, there are different thoughts on whether or not it’s necessary to be accredited or certified by translation organizations (the private ones).

Is Certification Necessary?

What do I think?

It’s not necessary, and here’s the reason why.

Certification alone does not guarantee you translation jobs. I don’t think it’s even a strong factor in finding more freelance clients.

Most translation clients don’t know anything about the translation profession. They don’t know that in some countries like the U.S., there is no such thing as a national translation certification. Every translator can say that they offer “certified” translations. The client usually doesn’t know the difference.

So what does it matter whether you are “certified” by a private translation organization?

It doesn’t matter.

(It might matter in other countries if you want to become a sworn translator, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

Remember, I don’t translate in other countries, and for those of you that live in a country other than the United States, you’ll have to do some more research on what the requirements are specifically for that country.

When you’re building your client base as a freelance translator or convince a potential client that your able to do a particular job, instead of touting certification as your most valuable asset, the most important thing you can do is have a list of previous clients that are happy with the work you’ve done for them.

Experience Trumps Certification

Why is this important?

Well, because potential clients are going to feel safer giving you their business if they know that you have experience doing translation work.

Think about it. Anyone can say they are certified, or even make up their own official-looking certificate that says they are certified, but if you have clients that are happy with your work and willing to provide references saying as much, this is much more convincing to a potential client.

Whenever potential clients inquire about hiring me to translate for them, they never ask if I’m certified. The one thing that they do ask for, however, is contact information for some previous clients. They don’t care if some arbitrary organization thinks I know how to translate. They’d rather verify that I can with actual clients I’ve done work for already.

And because I’ve done some good translation work for these other clients, they are more than willing to provide references whenever I need them. That’s worth a lot more than being a certified translation professional.

Yes there are some advantages you might gain by being a certified translation provider, but in my experience, it’s not worth it.

Certified Translation

Now that’s not to say that certification is totally worthless. I get a lot of emails from beginning translators who are just starting out and don’t have a lot of translation clients.

For these translators it can be hard to provide these much needed references to potential clients because they don’t even have many clients to begin with! In this case, certification can provide a needed boost to show clients that even though you’re just starting out, you have proved your ability to translate.

You won’t be able to prove how professional a translator you are since you won’t have had any translation clients before. However, every translator had to have their first client take a chance on them and give them an opportunity.

But certified translation professionals can use their certification as a means to get that first job. From there they can rely more on word of mouth and reputation.

Want help to find your first translation job? Check out Translator’s Market.

2 thoughts on “Certified Translation: Some Thoughts”

  1. Shaimaa Mostafa

    In Dubai& Abu Dhabi, any document in any language other than Arabic required for official use should be translated by a legal translator duly authorized by The UAE Ministry of Justice. The translator should pass a certification test and obtain a license from the ministry to perform legal translation services.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Shaimaa. It’s important for translators to understand the requirements for the country they’re translating for, especially when translating official documents.

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