Headphones which can be useful when practicing for the ATA translation exam

How to Become a Certified Translator in the USA: Your To-Do List

If you want to establish a rewarding career as a translator, you need to complete a translator certification program. Offering translation services is a serious undertaking and you’ll need to prove that you’re trustworthy and capable. Some employers and clients will only work with you if they know you’re a certified translator who can do the tasks they require.

Wondering how to become a certified translator? In this article, we’ll look at the three main ways to meet common translator education requirements. This will help you to understand how you can get certified and offer better service.

Professional Training Needed to Become a Certified Translator in the USA 

There are a few different ways you can get your translation license. You should make sure any organization you choose is one that employers and clients value and respect. If you want a general certification, you should pursue accreditation from the American Translators Association (ATA). 

However, if you want to specialize in legal translation, you’ll need to do more than an ATA translation course and exam. It’ll be best to do a program with the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in the medical field, you’ll need a certificate from the National Board of Certified Medical Interpreters (CMI).

Even though the ATA certification exam leads to a less specialized certificate, you’ll still need to put in time and effort to pass. If you get your certificate, you’ll likely be able to charge higher rates than someone who isn’t equally certified. You’ll also be able to work for more high-profile clients. Since law and medicine are specialized fields, many of the translation jobs in these fields require relevant certification.

Male student taking notes in preparation for translator certification test.

Preparation is key ahead of any translation exam.

Getting a Professional ATA Certification 

The ATA is well-respected both in the United States and around the world. Many of the leading organizations that need translators have ATA certification requirements, so passing this test will be of significant benefit. This certificate is coveted because it is difficult to obtain. As many as 80 percent of those who take the test fail.

The three-hour test features a series of questions designed to measure your language and comprehension skills. You will be required to translate multiple passages dealing with non-fiction, technical, legal, medical, or, in some cases, business topics. Then, your work will be evaluated by multiple graders. To pass, you’ll need the equivalent of a Level 3 on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale.

It’s highly recommended that you take the ATA practice test so you know what to expect. Since you can only try for the certification once per year, you need to make sure you’re prepared. The practice test will give you an idea of if you’re ready for the real thing.

To get ATA-certified, you’ll need to:

  • Make sure your languages are supported by the program
  • Be a member of the Association for at least four weeks before taking the test and take the pledge of ethics
  • Pay the fees for the certification
  • Take the certification exam

NAJIT Certification Course

If you want to work in the state or federal court system, you’ll need to have a NAJIT certification. Unlike the ATA, NAJIT doesn’t offer an exam. Instead, you’ll need to complete a course through a state or federal court. Each jurisdiction has its own system, but you won’t be eligible for formal work in the judicial system without this qualification.

A contract which will need to be translated by someone with a recognized translation license.

Only certified translators can work on certain legal documents.

CMI Certification Requirements

There are lots of opportunities out there for medical translators, but you’ll need to be qualified. The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) requires at least:

  • Proof of Proficiency in English
  • 3 credit hours of medical interpreting coursework or completion of an approved medical interpreter training course of at least 40 hours
  • Proof of second language fluency such as a degree from a non-English-speaking college

Take the First Step in Becoming a Certified Translator

Language translation and interpretation are exciting, rewarding careers. If you want to make the most of what this field has to offer, you need to be clear on how to become a certified interpreter and how to become an official translator. While there are many programs out there, only a few are widely recognized in professional and academic circles. Take the certified translator test that best matches your goals.