How to Become a Certified Translator

New translators always want to know about certification.

How to become one.

Whether or not it’s even necessary.

How it will help (or not) their business.

I’m here to answer all those questions and more.

First of all, let’s talk about the question of whether or not it’s even necessary to become a certified translator in the first place.

Whether you call it certification or accreditation it’s all the same. It takes time and money to get it. And once you have it, there’s no guarantee that it’ll help you get more translation jobs or better paying translation clients.

In reality, there are two opposing (extreme) viewpoints to the whole idea of translation certification.

The first group believes that certification is 100% necessary for any professional translator.

The belief is that without certification, clients won’t trust you enough to hire you.

They say you’ll be left with crappy clients, stuck translating Ted Cruz’s birth certificate for some Spanish newspaper in Paraguay.

The other side claims the whole idea of certification is a joke and merely a ploy to con would-be translators out of their money by forcing them to take “refresher” seminars and training classes at $200 a pop.

This side points to the fact that certification is not required for translators in the United States and that there is no tangible benefit for people who go through the hyped-up certification process.

So what side are you on?

Should you be on any side?

Does either side (or both) have valid points?

Here’s what I think.

I’m not certified.

I’ve never been certified.

And I don’t plan on becoming a certified translator.

The truth is that the biggest factor in getting and keeping work is the quality of work you do, the way you treat your clients, and your overall professionalism.

Translation accreditation or certification only takes into account your ability to translate between two languages.

Certification does not test your
ability to run a successful business.

Keep that in mind when deciding if it’s right for you.

In addition, some countries actually require translators to be certified in certain instances.

However, the U.S. is not one of those countries. So if you’re a translator here and aren’t convinced certification will help you, then forget it and work on making more money by finding real clients.

That being said, if you still feel like you want to become a certified translator, here’s your checklist.

Process for Becoming a Certified Translator

First, find out about all of the organizations that can grant you a certification.

In the U.S., these organizations are either commercial or educational.

Let’s look at the commercial organizations first.

The most well-known of course is the American Translators Association, or ATA. Founded in 1959, this organization boasts about 11,000 members in around 95 countries.

It makes money through a variety of ways, including membership dues, conference fees, and of course certification exams.

ATA offers those exams in a bunch of languages to and from English.

I won’t go into detail about their certification program because they lay out all the information on their website.

The other type of certificate-granting organization in the U.S. are educational institutes. These schools and universities typically offer translation certificates that are either general in nature or geared towards a certain genre of translation, usually medical translation.

These certifications also cost money and can take a significant amount of time, especially if the university requires that students attend the courses in person and only offer the program certain times of the year.

So, back to step 1: finding out about the certification programs near you.

Contact your local colleges and universities and ask about translation certification programs.

Or, even easier, go to Google and type in the following:

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Put the name of the state you’re living in or the closest ones around your for the nearest translation programs to you.

It’s that simple.

Step 2: Find out the requirements for the top three programs you are interested in.

Not all translation programs are created equal.

They each have their own requirements and some will suit you better than others.

Let’s compare two different translation programs in California.

UC San Diego|Extension – Overview

The first result I pulled up is based out of the UC San Diego|Extension program and offers two different certificates:

  • a Professional Certificate in Translation and Interpretation and
  • a Specialized Certificate in Translation

Both programs consist of a series of courses that must be taken at the UC San Diego campus.

The Specialized Certificate in Translation is more of an introduction to translation, while the Professional Certificate allows students to take electives that focus on a specific area of translation and/or interpretation:

  • Business
  • Community
  • Medical
  • Legal
  • Education

Entrance Requirements

In order to be admitted, you have to take and pass an entrance exam that assesses your skills in English and Spanish. You need to be fluent in Spanish and English, since the programs only work for these languages.

You also need to be admitted into the program through an application process.

Cost and Length of the Program

Each program costs about $5,000. However, this doesn’t include books, other materials, or other outside fees.

The program can be finished as soon as you take and pass all the required classes.

This can depend on how much time you have to devote to the program and the classes. If you’ve got other things going on in your life, you can take up to five years to finish the program.

My Thoughts

A program like this would be great for someone that lived near the school and wanted to get certified on a part-time schedule.

However, it’s no good for someone living outside the area or state. And since it only works for Spanish/English translators, it does you no good if you have a different language combination.

The cost is also something to think about. Ultimately, you’ll have to ask yourself: will spending that $5,000 be the difference between becoming a professional translator or not?

Only you can answer that.

Here’s more information on this program.

CalState LA – Overview

CalState LA offers a program in southern California called the Legal Interpretation and Translation Certificate program. (It also offers a Medical Interpreting Certificate.)

This program is more focused on training students to become certified court interpreters for the state of California, as well as to work in the federal court system as a translator or interpreter.

Entrance Requirements

The program is similar to the UC San Diego|Extension program in that you’ll have to pass an admission test in Spanish and English before formally being accepted into the program.

Once you pass that exam, you can register for the first class and complete the admission process by submitting either transcripts of college coursework or two letters of recommendation.

Cost and Length of Program

The total program costs just over $4,000 and includes all the regular fees, while textbooks and other materials are extra.

In terms of length of time, there are seven quarterly classes you have to take in order to receive the certificate.

That means you could probably complete the course in two years, but could probably take longer if needed.

My Thoughts

This is another certificate program where you have to be willing to take classes on a specific campus in order to complete the program.

That works for those living nearby but doesn’t help those who live outside the region.

These types of programs would do well to offer online certificate options, but it could be that enrollment numbers don’t justify that added expense and effort.

Here’s more information on this program.

And these are just two programs out of a countless number of schools and organizations throughout the country offering translation certifications.

The final step in becoming a certified translator is to take the course you signed up for and finish it as quickly as you can.

The reason you take the certification course is to be able to tell potential clients that you’re certified, the intent being that you’ll have more credibility.

So if you’re going to take five years of your life to become certified, then there’s really no point in becoming certified in the first place.

You could have spent those five years actually building up your portfolio instead of playing around with a certification course.

If you’re using the idea of taking a translation certification course or program in order to postpone real work you need to do as a translator to make it viable, just quit right now and go into something else.

You’ll save your money, your time, and you’ll (hopefully) be able to get on with your life.

Until next time.

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