Translator Qualifications

Everything in business, government, and the non-profit sphere depends on clear communication. Nothing happens without it, and any number of difficulties can result when your messages are unclear. Yet many organizations pay far less attention to document translation than they pay to their English writing, resulting in poor communication with citizens or customers who are less than proficient in the English language. Not every bilingual can be an interpreter, and not every person who can write in a language can be a writer.

If excellent translations are in your organization’s interest, the question arises, what is the best way to ensure you’ve chosen the right translation provider? In the U.S., the translation industry is not regulated and it can be difficult to determine who is well qualified to translate. One way to evaluate language companies is to ask them what their minimum requirements for translators are. Let’s review some common qualifications.

ATA Certification
One organization that has been highly regarded and accepted as an authority in determining translator qualifications is the American Translators Association (ATA). To be certified by the ATA, a translator must pass a three hour proctored certification exam. The ATA describes the certification as “a mid-career credential for experienced, professional translators or interpreters.” In other words, if a translator is ATA certified, they have not only proven their skill, but likely have years of experience in the field.

Bachelor’s Degree in Language Studies
Many translators have taken a four year course of university study to become fully proficient in their language of choice. These programs tend to be quite rigorous. Most of these students choose additional study or internship opportunities that involve translation or interpretation, giving them valuable extra experience before they enter the translator workforce.

Master’s Degree in Translation Studies
This type of degree is designed to prepare bilingual individuals with strong skills for a career in translation and interpretation. Students at this level learn additional technical and professional skills (including translation software use and project management) in order to become highly effective and accurate translators.

Sworn Translator
Being a sworn translator means different things in different parts of the world. Many countries require an advanced degree in translation studies before becoming a Sworn Translator. In some countries, skilled translators can be sworn to an oath regarding the accuracy of their translations.

Professional Experience
Many translators have been working in the field for many years, their skills are well proven and they are able to adapt to a wide range of translation needs.

Specialized Area of Expertise
Some translators have additional expertise (and additional certifications) in providing translation for the legal, medical, or other specialized fields.

Some language companies will require that a translator have a certain minimum number of these qualifications. For example, here at SWITS we require that translators have at least three of these qualifications and standard knowledge of CAT tools.

Make sure that whatever requirements a potential provider has in place, they add up to strong underlying skills, the ability to make the translation process smooth and accurate, and will help you communicate clearly with your customers, clients, constituents and employees.