Become a Certified Translator: Certification and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a certified translator by watching this video. We'll cover the job description and see the education and the certification requirements needed to start a career in translation.

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Should I Become 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 legal, healthcare or educational documents. While they may have to deal with the stress of working under deadlines, many translators also have the opportunity to work from home and travel frequently.

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  • Comparative Literature
  • Language Translation
  • Linguistics

Career Requirements

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is typically required
Degree Field A specific area of study is not always needed; however, some translators choose programs in language translation or a related field
Certification Certification exams, such as the American Translators Association's exam, allows translators to designate themselves as 'certified'
Experience Experience requirements vary; experience may not be required for some entry-level jobs, while other employers prefer translators with up to 5 years of experience
Key Skills Fluency in at least two languages, excellent communication skills, knowledge of Microsoft Office and related software, an thorough understanding of the culture and customs of the speakers
Salary (2014) $43,590 (Median for all translators and interpreters)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster.com job postings by employers (August 2015)'

Step 1: Earn a College Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most certified translators 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 give them a deeper understanding of the native speakers of the language that they are studying.

Success Tips:

  • 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.
  • Get involved with community language organizations. 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 2: Get Certified

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 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 required and is 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.

Success Tip:

  • Take a practice test. The ATA certification exam is a difficult exam with a failure rate of approximately 80 percent. Translators can prepare for this challenging test by taking practice tests, which are available from the ATA (www.atanet.org).

Step 3: Build Professional Experience

Some employers prefer to hire translators who have up to 5 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.

Success Tip:

  • Compile samples of 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.
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