Updated Jun. 2012
"Certification" is the means through which professional translators demonstrate their language mastery and writing skills. The certification process varies from one organization to another, but most certification exams require that the translator take a series of tests in a variety of linguistic domains to prove his or her professional competency.
There are several organizations in North America that certify linguists. Below we list the most prestigious certifying organizations:
American Translators Association (ATA)
ATA Accreditation is awarded after a candidate passes an open-book examination in English and one of 14 languages. Accreditation offers objective evidence to both translator and client that the translator possesses professional competence in a specific language combination.
The ATA awards certification to translators who successfully pass a rigorous examination in their language pair. ATA certification offers objective evidence to both translator and client that the translator has demonstrated professional competence in a specific language pair.
For more information, visit the ATA's website: www.atanet.org
National Center for State Courts
The National Center for State Courts created a Consortium for Language Access in the Courts. They test in 14 languages and maintain a database of tested interpreters.
To pass the test, interpreters must possess mastery of two languages at the level of an educated native speaker. The sections of the test demonstrate the ability of the translator to have the ability to interpret in the simultaneous (at the same time as the speaker), consecutive (immediately after the speaker), and sight (immediate translation of a document) translation modes, and the ability to convey messages accurately, completely, and promptly.
For more information, visit: www.ncsc.org
Federal Court Interpreter Certification
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC) administers Spanish/English certification examinations to bilingual candidates across the nation. The AOUSC maintains a roster of federal interpreters who have successfully completed written language proficiency and oral interpreting skills examinations in English and Spanish.
For more information, visit: www.uscourts.gov
Judicial Council of California, Court Interpreters Program
California offers a Court Certification exam in the following languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The exams are the same as those used by the NCSC Consortium for Language Access in the Courts.
Applicants are cautioned that court interpreters must possess a level of expertise in both languages that far exceeds what is required for everyday, informal bilingual conversation.
For more information, visit: www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/courtinterpreters/
Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia (STIBC), Canada
To become a Certified Member of STIBC, translators must pass a written examination. The exam consists of two texts to be translated into the candidate's target language. The exam is administered and adjudicated by the Canadian Translators and Interpreters Council (CTIC). Those who pass the exam receive STIBC and national certification recognized throughout the Canadian provinces.
For more information, visit: www.stibc.org/
United Nations Interpreters and Translators
U.N. interpreters must have a thorough knowledge of at least three of the organization's official languages (Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese). This linguistic knowledge must span political, economic, legal, and literary topics. A U.N. interpreter must also have a degree from a university and 200 days of experience as a conference interpreter.
Candidates for U.N. interpreters are required to pass an exam that tests their professional skill and proficiency in orally translating from one language to another at U.N. meetings.
For more information, visit: www.un.org
Washington State Court Interpreter Certification
Washington offers state certification examinations in 11 languages. Candidates must pass the state certification exam, which consists of a written component and an oral component. They are tested first on their knowledge of vocabulary, ethics, and court terminology on the written portion of the exam. Those who pass the written component are eligible to take the oral component, which tests their skills in simultaneous and consecutive interpretation and sight translation.
For more information, visit: www.courts.wa.gov/programs_orgs/pos_interpret/