Become a Certified Translator: Certification and Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

What is a Certified Translator?

Certified translators transfer written and spoken information from one language to another language. They can work in a number of fields, including the legal, healthcare, and educational fields. While they may have to deal with the stress of working under deadlines, many translators also have the opportunity to work from home and get to travel frequently. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all translators and interpreters is $51,830/year from May 2019. The same source cites a 20% growth in job outlook from 2019-2029, which is much faster than the average occupation. If you are asking yourself, 'how can I become a certified translator?' read on to learn about the types of jobs you can pursue, qualifications of certification and translator license, and the best ways to advertise your skills once you have entered the job market.

Types of Translator Jobs

  • Conference Interpreter
  • Medical Interpreter
  • Escort/Business Interpreter
  • Sign Language Interpreter
  • Community Interpreter
  • Media Interpreter
  • Court Interpreter

Certified Translator Career Requirements

  • Be fluent in another language: Able to comprehend, speak, read & write
  • Get Certified: The American Translator's Association, the International Medical Interpreters Association, and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators all offer programs that aid in the process of how to be a certified translator. Schools like University of Massachusetts Amherst and University of Arizona offer limited programs for how to become a certified translator online.
  • Get Tested: Proficiency tests like the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) are great resume builders on the path to become a translator. The DLPT measures how well a translator can perform in real-life situations, and are offered annually focusing on the skills of reading and listening
  • Gain Experience & Market Yourself: The best way to get a job is to have experience; internships or entry-level positions are a great way to gain experience. Start a website or blog, and utilize social media, to get your name on the market. Join active communities of online language professionals and make sure your resume is up to date and you are clear about your rates.

How to Become a Certified Translator

Step One: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A great first step in how to become a translator is to earn a bachelor's degree; students can earn a degree in the language of their choice. Degree programs focusing specifically on translation are also available. In addition to grammar and conversation, courses in these programs may also concentrate on the use of the target language in business, legal or commercial settings. Courses on culture and history supplement students' language training and can give them a deeper understanding of the native speakers of the language that they're studying.

Prospective translators should also take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Many degree programs will offer students the opportunity to study abroad in order to fully engage in the language. Full immersion in a foreign culture can help students refine their reading, writing, and conversation skills in that language.

It's a good idea to get involved with community language organizations. VE Note: Please change the word 'getting' to 'get' when putting this text on the screen. Students may be able to find community language associations that are devoted to the study of language and culture. These organizations often offer events where students can network with other foreign-language speakers and work on their conversation skills in fun, social settings.

Step Two: Get a Translator Certification

One notable certification organization for translators is the American Translators Association (ATA), which provides certification in 24 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, German, Japanese, and Spanish. Translators must have the required experience, education, or a combination of the two to be eligible to take the certification examination.

The ATA translation certification exam requires test-takers to translate two written passages. One passage is assigned and it's usually a newspaper article or other piece of non-fiction writing. Test-takers then have the choice of translating either a scientific document or a financial report or business contract. Test-takers are graded on their grammar and word choice, as well as the overall quality of their translation.

Studying is the best way for how to get certified as a translator. All test-takers are advised to take a practice test. The ATA certification exam is a difficult exam with a failure rate of approximately 80 percent. Translators can best prepare for this challenging test by taking practice tests, which are available from the ATA.

Step Three: Build Professional Experience

Some employers may prefer to hire translators who have up to five years of practical experience. In areas with few opportunities for professional translators, this experience can be found through volunteer work. The Red Cross, hospitals, and international sporting events all offer excellent volunteer opportunities for aspiring translators, who may also seek out internships and mentorship opportunities to build experience.

Job-seeking translators should also compile samples of their translation work. Keeping a portfolio of translation work can be beneficial for translators seeking to gain experience. Any type of samples, even of work completed for practice, may help translators find new opportunities.

Remember, becoming a certified translator will require an undergraduate degree, fluent knowledge of a foreign languages, an official certification from an organization such as the American Translators Association, and extensive work and/or volunteer experience.

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