3.1 Learn the Meaning of Certified Translator
There is no single meaning for “certified translator”. The qualification for a “certified translator” will depend on factors such as how and where the translated document will be used.
Different countries will have different requirements for a translation to be considered “certified” or “accredited”. Even within a country, requirements may vary according to the purpose of the certified translation. And, finally, depending on how difficult it is to find a translator, such requirements may be ignored by authorities such as a court.
Advantages of Being a Certified Translator
- Proof of Standard: certifications reflect a commitment to language translation quality translation standards and demonstrate the capability of the translator in following such standards.
- Access to Potential Clients: certified translators are usually added to a directory maintained by the certifying body (e.g.: the “ATA Directory” or the “NY Court System Directory”).
- Attest your Professionalism: a certification makes easier to the client to understand you are better than someone who is just a bilingual.
A certification is not a must requirement for a freelance translators. Many successful freelance translators never took the time to go through an examination. However, it does help you a lot when you are competing head to head with another translator to secure a relationship with a recruiting translation agency.
Our recommendation? We recommend you do take an examination such as the ATA if possible. If you live outside the US a certification from an association body in your own country may be helpful as well.
Types of Certification for the Translated Document
Our first step is trying to clarify the different terminologies around the certified translation services. The main types of certified translations one will find:
- Certified translation: this is a term commonly used in the US to describe a translation that was signed with a affidavit identifying the translator who did the translation. Note that the translator doesn’t need to be “certified” himself, although many translation agencies will employ certified translators in such assignments
- Sworn translation: few countries adopt sworn translations. In Brazil, for instance, all translations must be provided by a “Sworn Translator” to be accepted in court and government branches. Sworn translators must pass examination in order to be “sworn”. In some Brazilian states, such examination exams may take literally decades to be offered, so this examination also works as a kind of market reserve against newcomers.
- Official translation: some companies will use the “official translation” term instead of “certified translation”.
- Accredited translation: some states such as California will require a company to be registered with the state before purchasing from a translation vendor. Once the vendor is registered, it becomes an “accredited vendor” and, thus, the “accredited translation” term. Some translation companies will call “accredited translation” any of their translations bearing an affidavit
Why do translation companies use different terms for the same type of translation?
When a translator has received certification or accreditation, their abilities, knowledge and skills have been evaluated and deemed satisfactory by an appropriate institution. There are not a lot of options for certification or accreditation for professional translators in the United States, and there is not any international certification available. Nevertheless, one of the first questions that you may find yourself asking upon entering the translation field is whether or not you need to get certified; and the answer really depends.
While it is true that some agencies in the United States only hire ATA certified translators, most are more concerned with education, relative experience and translation history. If you wish to pursue interpretation along with translation, you may be required to obtain a state certification focusing on interpretation in a given field, though certification in interpretation does not necessarily certify you as a translator. It is important to note that a number of private companies claim to be “associations” or “institutions” providing translation certification. These claims are often false and such “certifications” may not benefit you in the long run. Be sure to research the certifying credentials of any program that you plan to pursue and their acceptability in the professional translation world.
The American Translator Association (ATA)
The American Translator Association (ATA) is the leading accreditation institution available to translators in the United States. They require applicants to have already obtained higher education and have a few years of experience in the translation field before taking their rigorous exam. ATA translators are tested on comprehension of the text, translation methods, and proper grammar–including placement of punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and translation theory and practice. The American Translator Association also requires that applicants translate a document within a specialized field (for example, legal or medical), that the translator is comfortable with. After obtaining ATA certification, you are required to receive a certain amount of supplementary education every few years to maintain your membership.
Outside the US
Professional translators living outside of the United States that wish to receive translator certification need only do a little research to find what is available in their area. There are a number of professional organizations and associations worldwide that cater to translators in other countries as the ATA does within the United States. Translators in the United Kingdom are able to receive certification through the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) or in France through the Sindicat national des traducteurs profesionals (SFT), in Australia with the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, Ltd. (NAATI), etc. Translation workplaces will be able to help you find the certifying body best suited to you in your area.
Professional Translator Associations
Joining a professional translator association is not only a good way to network and promote your abilities, but also adds credibility to your profile. When you join an association, you are making yourself available to potential clients. However, joining is also a great way to meet fellow translators. In the translation field, it is beneficial to have colleagues with whom you can discuss translation theory as you will spend the majority of your time working by yourself as a freelancer. When you have translator colleagues, you are able to get additional opinions and experiences when you have a difficult or confusing translation. Everyone translates differently, and you never know where you may learn something.
The American Translator Association offers membership without certification, but they are not the only option available to you. The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) is a way to expand into an international market. Some big cities and regions have professional translator associations–the New York Circle of Translators (NYCT), the Northern California Translators Association (NCTA) the New England Translators Association (NETA)–look in your area to see what is available. Once you have decided your fields of specialization, you may even want to join a specialized translator association such as the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) or the National Association for Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT). It is not required that you join any associations, but joining does add you to the list of eligible translators in that area or field. Potential clients might find you this way, and it is a good way to meet fellow translators. You may even join more than one association. Nevertheless, as with most things in translation, you don’t have to join any associations if you choose not to do so.
Main Associations in the United States
- American Translators Association (ATA) main Web site
- Chapters and groups affiliated with the American Translators Association (ATA)
- Florida Chapter of the American Translators Association (FLATA)
- The International Federation of Translators (FIT)
- The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI)
- National Capital Area Chapter of the ATA (NCATA)
- The New York Circle of Translators
- Network of Translators in Education
- Northern California Translators Association (NCTA)
- Society of Translators and Interpreters of B.C.
- Society for Technical Communications (STC)
- Southern California Translators and Interpreters Association (SCATIA)
- The Translators’ & Interpreters’ Guild
- Transref’s list of Translation Organizations
Associations in Other Countries
- AGTS – Professional Translators Association of Santiago
- Latin American Translator Associations
- Spanish Association of Centres of Translation
- Asociación Colombiana de Traductores e Intérpretes (ACTI)
- Asociación Profesional Española de Traductores e Intérpretes (A.P.E.T.I.)
- Associación de Traductors i d’Intèrprets de Catalunya
- EUATC (European Union of Associations of Translation Companies)
In need of Certified Translation Services? Check our dedicated page here.