What It Means to be a Certified Translator or Interpreter


When a business or organization is looking for a translation service, one of the most important buzzwords they seek out is “certified.” However, what does that mean? In today’s blog, we will discuss what it means to be a certified translator or interpreter. It may not mean what you think!

First of all, there is no such thing as a “certified” translation company or language service provider (LSP). However, LSPs and translation companies can provide certified translations, as well as certified translators and certified interpreters. The closest thing to a “certification” for a LSP would be something like an ISO 9001:2015 Certification for Quality Management and/or ISO 17100:2015 for Translation Services Management. There are also specific standards related to translation and interpretation services that have been published by ISO and ASTM International.

It is important that LSPs and translation companies follow these international standards which were drafted through cooperation between the language industry, governments, and other relevant parties. These standards are meant to establish baseline requirements so that customers can expect to receive quality services.

Secondly, there is no single domestic or international governing body for the certification of translators and interpreters either. If an interpreter or translator wants to become “certified,” there are numerous different certifications they can pursue, either nationally or internationally.

American Translators Association (ATA) Certification

The American Translators Association (ATA) is the premier organization for professional translators. However, while the ATA does offer one of the best translation certifications in the industry, they only have a limited language offering (e.g., they currently have a test for Chinese to English translation, but no test for English to Chinese translation) and they do not “certify” either LSPs or interpreters.

Some of the languages for which the ATA offers a certification examination include Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian. However, a number of languages are only tested in one direction. The pass rate for the ATA translation certification examination is around 20% and there are approximately 2,000 ATA-certified translators.

While the ATA certification is undoubtedly an outstanding credential, there are certainly many other good certifications available.

Other Types of Certifications for Translators and Interpreters

There are numerous other certifications for translators and interpreters. Many of these follow the government’s Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) system of grading language ability. Some commercial examinations that follow this system (and are also used for testing linguists to work in the government sector) include ALTA and the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Examinations are generally available in each of the fundamental skills of speaking, listening, reading, writing, translation performance, and interpretation performance. The U.S. military and intelligence services also use the ILR scale for the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT), which is also a reliable certification (depending, of course, on the candidate’s scores in each of the fundamental areas).

In addition to the above, many universities and colleges also offer translation and/or interpretation certifications. Some are degree programs, such as a M.A. degree in translation, while others are non-degree programs. Generally speaking, a certification from an accredited university or college is often a reasonably reliable gauge of translation and/or interpretation ability.

Finally, all fifty states in the U.S. offer court interpreter certifications. These are through the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) or individual state court systems. It is important to note, however, that these certifications are specifically for interpreters, not translators. Also, the U.S. Federal Court System offers a certification examination for Spanish/English interpreters only.

What Does This All Mean for Clients?

Hopefully, potential customers of translation and/or interpretation services now have a better understanding of what it means to be a certified translator or interpreter. However, what does that mean for you? Do you need a “certified” translator or interpreter?

The answer typically depends on the type of translation project or interpretation assignment you have. For example, do you need an interpreter for a court matter? If so, you should ask your language service provider (LSP) for a court-certified interpreter. However, a “certified” translator or interpreter does not always mean “better.” Other factors, such as years of experience and subject matter expertise are also key factors in determining which translator is right for you. There is also an important difference between a “certified translator” and a “certified translation.” You can learn more about a “certified translation” on our website.

At Latitude Prime, our expert project managers assign translators and interpreters to projects based on all of these factors. They work with hundreds of linguists each day and know which one is best for interpreting your business meeting with a group of investors from South Korea or to translate your patent into German for filing in the European Patent Office.

To find out more about our comprehensive multilingual services, please feel free to contact one of our experts at (888) 341-9080 or info@latitudeprime.com.

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