Translator's Guide

How to Become a Certified Interpreter?

In the language industry the trust between the client and a language professional is of the greatest importance. It is because the client most likely does not know the language and so needs to totally rely on the translator or interpreter. In the case of translators, it is easier because their job can be double-checked. But for interpreters it is absolutely necessary for clients to be sure that they hire a professional. What can really help an interpreter to prove the high level of their professional skills is certification because it is the acknowledgment from the experts in the field. But when choosing to become certified, there are some important factors for an interpreter to consider.

Choose Your Language Pair

The very first thing to do is to decide on the language pair you want to work with to be certified. It may happen that if you translate between Japanese and French, there will be no institution in the US that can provide the certification for this language pair (and there probably will be no need to search for the options abroad). It can also be the case that the certification programs available will not include any kind of formal training but rather focus on the theory of interpretation. While nothing is possible without a strong theoretical base, the lack of practice will anyway make it a waste of time, and so, such options are not much worth attention. Thus, the main thing at this point is to determine whether your pair can be certified in the US and whether the program will include practical exercises. Most likely, one will be able to find such for a language pair of English with one of the most popular languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, or Russian. Alternatively, it is also possible to get certified in English and Sign language. 

Choose Your Specialization

After deciding on the language pair, the next step is to choose one’s specialization in interpreting. There are many options here and so the best way to come up with a decision is to determine the field you are interested in the most and the one in which you have the most field knowledge. If you are interested in or are pretty familiar with healthcare, biology, and the like, a good choice would be to become a medical interpreter. Those who are knowledgeable or enthusiastic about trade and finances would most likely benefit from working in the business field. Legal interpreting is the right option for professionals who would like to work in courts or generally in the judicial system. In this sector it is possible to be certified either at the state or the federal level. For each of the mentioned fields, it is possible to find a suitable certification program.

However, getting a certificate in a narrow field would be beneficial not for every interpreter. If you would like to assist with communication in private meetings, conferences, educational environments, while traveling or pursue an interpreting career at the United Nations, the most suitable option for you is being a general interpreter. In this case, you need to take a general certification program that will cover all the basic topics without a special focus on some fields. What is also good about it is that if you decide to switch to some narrow field it will take you less time and effort.

Possible Certification Programs

Legal Field

  • San Francisco State University Spanish/English Interpretation
    This California-based university offers a certification program for legal interpreting. After the successful completion of it, one will be able to work in courts and other legal instances or take the California Court Bilingual Interpreter Exam & the Consortium Exam. Until recently, the institution did not have courses online, but hopefully now one can finish it remotely. The program is rather pricey as one needs to complete 6 mandatory courses that cost US$ 597 each and two optional ones that are free of charge.

Medical Field

  • San Francisco State University Spanish/English Interpretation
    Apart from legal interpreting this university also has an online course in medical interpreting that is aimed at preparing one for the NBCMI Medical Interpreter Certificate Exam. The course is free but in order to complete it, one needs to finish three more courses that cost US$ 597 all of which need to be completed within 12-20 months.
  • Cornerstone College – Healthcare Interpreter Certificate Program
    It is another university in California that offers certification of interpreters in the medical field. Apart from the English-Spanish language pair they also offer training in Tagalog (Filipino). The certification program includes a total of 120 hours and also required 80 hours of an externship. There are different options for modes of learning including online and hybrid (both online and on-site training), and in-class.
  • The University of Georgia Spanish/English Interpreter Certificate Program
    This is one more certification program for medical interpreters. It is available in both in-class and online format. The course is month-long and for those who wish to attend classes but are currently employed or occupied on weekdays, it has a rather convenient schedule because the classes are held on Saturdays. In total the program includes 40 hours of training. The course fee is US$ 989 including all educational materials.
  • Reedley College Health Care Interpreter Credit Certification Program
    Reedley College in California offers a certification program for medical interprets in English-Spanish language pair. Its program consists of 3 consecutive college courses and in total includes from 288 to 300 academic hours. The classes are held on campus two times a week and practical training is conducted in the local hospitals. The only drawback of this certification program is that it offers no online learning format. However, it is extremely valuable for its comprehensive practical training in a real medical setting.

Sign Language

  • Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
    It is one of the best options for sign language interpreters as this membership organization offers a wide range of Sign language certification programs. One can choose from a National Interpreter Certification, Provisional Deaf Interpreter Credential, or a Certified Deaf Interpreter.
  • Northern Essex Community College

This program is available for those who already have an Associate degree or higher. Unfortunately, they do not have an online program. The classes are held two times a week during the daytime. At a minimum it includes 53 credits. The entire certification program lasts for about 1,5-2 years.

It is apparent that most of the certification programs offered are concerned with the medical field. This is because it has recently observed a surge in development and became extremely popular. If none of the medical interpretation programs listed are suitable for you, it is also possible to find some more at Training Notices from the International Medical Interpreters Association. If your language pair is not likely certified in the US, one of the best and the most comprehensible resources to find certification programs abroad is BeTranslated.com’s List of Translation and Interpretation Schools.