Interpreter Certification Programs: Overview of Options

Oct 12, 2019

Essential Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the educational requirements for interpreters vary. However, they must be fluent in at least two languages.

Some employers prefer to hire interpreters who have a bachelor's degree, though a certificate may be sufficient for many positions. Certificates in interpretation allow students to specialize in sign language interpretation, interpretation, or translation. Graduates can work in schools, hospitals, courtrooms or any other setting where it might be important to translate spoken or signed words into another language.

Various certifying agencies, including the American Translators Association and the National Association of the Deaf, have their own educational requirements for certification.

Certificate Programs in Sign Language Interpretation

Ethics of interpretation, deaf culture as well as American Sign Language (ASL) are all covered in these 3- to 5-semester programs. Graduates are prepared for entry-level employment in the field of interpreting between English and ASL, while working for public schools, health facilities, state agencies and universities. Some programs focus on child development and psychology in addition to sign language, to prepare graduates for careers educating deaf children. Programs generally offer instruction in:

  • ASL linguistics
  • Conversational sign language
  • Deaf literature
  • Ethics of interpretation
  • Transliteration

Certificate Programs in Interpretation

Community college certificates are found in either interpretation or in translation and interpretation studies. These programs cover business practices, the acquisition of vocabulary and the most commonly translated documents. These 1- to 2-year programs are designed for people who are already fluent (at the native-level) in at least two languages. Applicants may be required to submit written and oral examples of their work in target languages.

Interpreters work in courts, hospitals, the military and federal government as well as with social-service organizations. To prepare for work in medical and legal settings or for jobs involving international diplomacy, students learn about:

  • Business practices
  • Ethics
  • Ethnic diversity
  • Terminology research
  • Translation technology

Popular Careers

According to the BLS, in May 2014, about 20% of the 61,000 interpreters and translators were self-employed. Job titles for which these individuals are prepared include:

  • Court interpreter
  • F.B.I. linguist
  • Software localization professional

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an expected 19% employment increase for interpreters and translators from 2018-2028 ( The BLS notes that this fast increase is due to increasing globalization and increases in the number of non-English-speaking people in the United States. Professionals employed as interpretation and translation specialists earned an annual median wage of $49,930, as of May 2018.

Certification and Continuing Education

State-level certification in sign language is available for interested parties, though requirements regarding certification or licensure vary by state. Graduates of certificate programs generally spend up to two years in mentorship programs prior to taking state examinations.

The most prestigious credential available to sign language interpreters is the National Interpreter Certification, administered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). RID offers a variety of certifications tailored to different skill sets, including generalist and K-12 educational certifications. Continuing education credits must be earned every 4-year period; requirements vary according to certification type.

Training programs are available at a variety of colleges and universities, including in learning environments tailored to the deaf. Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs are available to interested parties. The Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination program is administered through the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in Haitian Creole, Navajo and Spanish. State court systems also administrate state-run certification programs for interpreters.

Additionally, the American Translators Association (ATA) administers a translation certification exam that covers translation into and out of a variety of languages. The examination is an open-book exam that lasts three hours. Test-takers must translate two passages of text - of roughly 250 words each - one of which is editorial and the other of which is either financial or scientific in nature.

Eligible applicants must have been ATA members for at least one month. Continuing education requirements include 20 hours of credits every 3-year period, for as long as the applicant remains an active member of the ATA. Translation and interpretation programs are available through a variety of colleges and universities from the bachelor's-degree level to the graduate level. Undergraduate students aren't required to have yet achieved fluency in a second language, but graduate students are expected to already be fluently bilingual.

A certificate program in interpretation trains students in topics such as ethics, business practices, and research techniques. Graduates are prepared to apply for professional certification or to advance their education with a bachelor's degree.

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