Foreign Language Interpreter Certification

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As globalization continues to bring the world closer together, there are still linguistic boundaries that separate cultures. These boundaries can be overcome with the help of skilled translators. Now one of the fastest growing career paths available, translating foreign languages for business and government purposes pays well and can involve travel to exotic destinations. The best way to acquire this job is through education followed by certification as a translator of a foreign language.


Translators were usually lone scholars that simply had the language skills to serve as interpreters in certain situations. Eventually, groups of translators formed associations in various countries and by the middle of the 20th century, these associations united. The International Federation of Translators was established in 1953 in Paris by Pierre-Francois Caille. In 1959, the American Translators Association was formed, and it has become the largest foreign language interpreters association in the United States.


The American Translators Association is responsible for the initial and continuing certification of English translators in the United States, which ensures they all have the same high level of competency required to be a proficient translator. This uniformity of standards makes it easier for employers to be sure about the skills of a translator they are hiring and it gives potential employees a guide to being a better translator.


Interpreters of foreign languages might work for large corporations that do business overseas or they may be employed by governments in diplomatic affairs. Translating large documents is required for both business and government jobs in this field, but the hardest work is translating spoken words between two or more people in a fluid and unnoticeable manner. The most skilled translators seem like they are not in the middle of the conversation. Any job in translation can often involve frequent long-distance travel, but a lot of interpreting is done by phone.

Types of Certification

There are various forms of certifications that are unique to the kind of translating services that are provided. The American Translators Association (ATA) provides certification combining 24 different languages with English. The International Federation of Translators has member associations from each country that can provide translation certification between any two languages on the planet. U.S. federal courts have their own certifications for Spanish or more unusual languages such as Navajo and Creole. In addition, there are specific certifications for medical translating. The cost of these certifications can run from $300 for the ATA certification to over $1,000 for a medical translator certification.

Expert Insight

The U.S. State Department deals with a massive amount of translation needs. This diplomatic arm of the U.S. government has three levels of interpreting certifications. The first level is consecutive interpreting for escort work, which involves slower translation after the speaker is finished. The second level of certification is for simultaneous interpreting for seminars or courts, which involves rapid translation while the speaker is talking. The third level of certification is for conference level interpreting utilized during important high-level international conferences, which requires the most skill and accuracy.