How to become a certified translator? Professionals in the field are quite aware of the benefits such a certification can bring them. On the other hand, there is a bit of confusion among potential clients. That confusion can arise from the fact that a certified translator cannot necessarily come up with a certified translation. This is a completely different process that only confirms the accuracy of any given translation.

Of course, a certified translator can also be in a position to produce a certified translation, but that is a fact that needs to be confirmed before any translation task takes place. But what would be the benefits of becoming a certified translator, and what does being a certified translator exactly mean?

Certified translators get a formal confirmation that they have a proven ability (and experience) to precisely and accurately translate from one language to another. As explains, 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.

In many countries, translators get their certifications through governmental institutions.

In the U.S. though, there is no governmental institution that regulates translator certification. There are three manners by which a translator to get a certification in the U.S.:

  • Getting Certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) for written translations;
  • Getting Certified by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) – for court and legal translations;
  • Getting Certified by the National Board of Certified Medical Interpreters (CMI) – for medical interpretation.

All of the translators seeking certification in the U.S. apply for the ATA certification, with those wanting to be certified for the two above specific fields apply with NAJIT and CMI.

How to become a certified translator – general qualifications

Of course, the first and foremost qualification a prospective certified translator needs is thorough, detailed knowledge of her/his native language and one or more translation target languages. The level of knowledge of this second language or languages should be as close to that of the native language as possible.

As (above) notes, typically, a bachelor’s degree in languages, linguistics, or a specific area of study aid an essential requirement. Additional translation courses are not necessarily a requirement, but they certainly come in handy. This is particularly true if a potentially certified translator wants to work in a specialized field, say transcript translations. As one specialized translation organization notes, universities like UC San Diego offer 100% online courses that provide certificates in translation & interpretation. There are many of these such courses, but keep in mind that unless the name of the University is well renowned, your certificate may not help your career dramatically.

Work experience to become a certified translator can vary. If you need a U.S. certification through ATA, you will need to have at least 5 years of proven experience.

ATA offers certification in 24 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, German, Japanese and Spanish. Translators must have the 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 a business contract. Test-takers are graded on their grammar and word choice, as well as the overall quality of their translation (

ATA translator certification

As one translation agency points out, getting the ATA certification “is a rather complicated procedure where 3 tests are involved and a proven record of at least 5 years of previous experience as a translator is required. What you get is the ATA certification as a translator, your own member id, and a listing on their website, which is well worth the effort in the long run.”

It is worth noting here that translators that intend to work for United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to provide translation for people looking to immigrate to the US do not need a certification.

What would be the benefits for translators getting an ATA certification? According to the above source, “less than 20% of the translators taking the test pass it and become ATA certified and therefore the certification will look great into your portfolio, opening new possibilities for you and enhancing your career.”

To make the translators meet their requirements, ATA offers certification training for translators and is entirely credible for working as a translator in the United States. It is also a valid certification to have if you are working with international clients. The certification gives you validity for translating between English and one language of your choice and vice versa (above).

Still, ATA has requirements that translators have to fulfill to qualify for a certification exam:

  • ATA MEMBERSHIP – The translators naturally become a member when they pass the certification tests.
  • ACTFL PROFICIENCY TEST – You need to pass the language proficiency exam of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages for the language that you need the certification in.

how to become certified translator

ATA translator certification – continued

There is one more requirement:

  • ACCREDITATION ELIGIBILITY – Certification from Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs, or, bachelor’s degree in translation and Interpretation from an institution that is approved by the ATA Education and Pedagogy Committee, or bachelor’s degree and two years of proven work experience as a translator; or five years of proven work experience as a translator (above).

As for the ATA certification exam, it covers “source language comprehension, translation techniques and writing in the target language. The grading will focus on grammar, vocabulary, quality of the translation and accurate translation of the content.” You will have to pay $525 to apply for the exam.

ATA provides sample tests on their website that translators can take. The test will be based on three passages. The first passage is non-fiction; it could an essay of some kind. The second part will be a technical translation; it will be scientific, technical, or medical. The third passage will be either financial, business-related, or legal content. You have to choose any of the two last passages, while the first passage is mandatory (above).

After a translator successfully passes the test she/he is accredited and “n is cleared for a specific enhancement in the career.” They get an ATA certified seal and their credentials are also listed in the ATA directory of translation services. The ATA seal includes their certification number.

It costs around two hundred to three hundred dollars to pass the test. The test has to be frequently taken around every year or two years to keep your certification alive. But the truth is; if you have passed the test once, you do not need to pass it again. “Just passing the test once makes you an adequately vetted and robust translator.”

How to become a certified translator – benefits, and salaries

So what does this certification mean for translators? First of all, translators are then in a position to charge much higher rates. Why?

“ Being certified once will increase your value in the eyes of potential clients. Your existing certification will also help you in providing quality translation to all of your clients.”

According to Salary Expert, a certified translator (Ctr), the average certified translator (ctr) gross salary in the United States is $60,257 or an equivalent hourly rate of $29. In addition, they earn an average bonus of $1,410. Salary estimates based on salary survey data collected directly from employers and anonymous employees in the United States. An entry-level certified translator (ctr) (1-3 years of experience) earns an average salary of $43,769. On the other end, a senior level certified translator (ctr) (8+ years of experience) earns an average salary of $73,990.

What about the certifications for specialized translators (NAJIT and CMI, mentioned above)? As the (above) explains, each of these organizations has its requirements.

Translators who want to “work in a courtroom, on legal cases, or with law enforcement, must receive some form of certification. The courts and law enforcement must provide translators -and this has led to the state and federal systems, each developing their own system for certifying translators.” National Center for State Courts (NCSC) provides details on each state’s language access program, as well as points of contact and testing schedules.

As far as those translators who want to specialize in medical translations National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) requires:

  • 3 credit hours of medical interpreting coursework, or completion from an approved medical interpreter training course of at least 40 hours.
  • Proof of Proficiency in English -typically a High school diploma, or a passing TOEFL, ECPE, or an equivalent.
  • Proof of Second Language fluency. This can be a degree from a college or 24+ semester college credit hours or earn advanced mid-level in the ACTFL Oral Exams.
  • Pass the written and oral exams with a score of 75% or more.

Final remarks

There is one question that is often on the mind when you discuss the subject of how to become a certified translator. That is, what do five years of proven experience mean?

The answer is as follows. You need to be either a proper employee in an office as a translator for three years. Or, work as a freelancer. Being an employee is much more preferable. This is irrefutable proof that you were adequately translating for all of that time.

A freelance Translator Showing proof of experience as a freelance translator is harder. You will need to show numerous monetary transactions as a freelancer. Also, many recommendation letters from clients who used your services as a freelance translator. Working through an agency like BunnyStudio will make that process much easier.

So there are tangible answers to the question of how to become a certified translator. It is just a matter of taking all the necessary steps towards that goal.