interpreter certification

How to Become a Certified Interpreter

Earning an interpreter certification degree is one of the best ways to prove to potential clients that you are a capable interpreter. It’s not always an easy thing to do (I personally think interpreting is harder than translating), but it can be well worth the effort.

It used to be that the only place where you could get certified as an interpreter in the United States was through the federal court system.

I remember when I was in college studying to be a translator that we had a guy come talk to our class one day. He was a federal court interpreter, and while his job sounded cool, I could not understand how anyone could ever pass a federal court interpretation certification exam.

Talk about tough.

But now, there are more places than just the court system where you can go to get certified as an interpreter. Their exams might be just as hard to pass, but more options means that interpreters can pick and choose the right interpretation certification for them. I mean, if you’re going to be an interpreter for someone other than the court system, it doesn’t make sense to have to be certified strictly by the courts.

So, once you’ve decided that you want to become a certified interpreter, it would be good to keep a couple of things in mind, especially as you shop around to find the best place for you to get certified as an interpreter.

Choose Your Language Pair

First of all, you want to make sure that the institution that offers the certification will train you in your target and source languages. If you are an interpreter between Thai and Spanish, for example, there’s no need to go to an institution that concentrates on English and Spanish interpretation. Pretty obvious.

What’s not so obvious, though, is that some interpreter schools don’t even work with different languages. Instead of teaching you how to actually interpret, the instructors will merely give you an understanding of the theory of interpretation, without focusing on any practical application.

This is not what you want.

I come from the line of thinking that while translating and interpreting are fine to study as abstract concepts, you actually need to be engaged in the language work to really get a feel for what it’s like

Choose Your Specialization

Not all interpreter certifications are alike.

I just mentioned that it used to be that you could only become specialized as a court interpreter. That’s no longer the case.

However, the legal and medical fields are very popular areas of specialization for interpreters. Because of this, obviously, a ton of interpreter training programs and interpreter certification programs focus on catering to interpreters working in these fields.

However, if you’re interested in becoming an interpreter for the United Nations, or would rather be a general conference interpreter, these training programs aren’t going to do you a whole lot of good. You’ll want to make sure that you find an interpreting program that will give you experience in the field you’re focused on.

I’ve already written about where to get information about both federal court interpreter certification as well as locations (at least in the United States) to find more information and links about becoming a state court interpreter in Texas.

However, in order to help interpreters and those interested in becoming better interpreters, I’ve put together this list of places to go to get more interpreter training. This list is constantly being updated and if there is any information you would like to add to the list, please email me and let me know.

As you can see, most of the schools and programs out there that focus on interpretation are heavily geared towards the medical field. What that means is that if you’re a medical interpreter, you’ve got a wide variety of choices. However, if you want to interpret in other areas, you’re going to have to dig around a bit more to find a program that is suitable to your specific needs.


P.S. If you’re interested in more tips and techniques on how to become a better language professional, read my book.

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