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How to Become a DSHS-Certified Interpreter in Washington State

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Interpreters who work for the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington state are required to pass bilingual fluency tests and become certified before serving DSHS clients. To qualify for the exam, applicants must be at least 18 years old, but they are not required to have any formal education or experience. As of 2014, certification was available in Spanish, Russian, Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean and Laotian.

Registration Process

Current DSHS employees must be approved for language testing by a supervisor before providing interpretation services to DSHS clients. Outside applicants must register for and pass the language exam before they are hired. The exam is also available to those who are seeking certification but not applying for work with DSHS. These candidates must obtain, complete and submit exam applications to their local testing office. Accepted applicants receive confirmation letters and pretest packages in the mail.

Writing Component

All language exams begin with a section that tests their written translation skills. Some exams, including the social services test, require applicants to pass the writing test before moving on to the oral exam. The writing test evaluates reading comprehension, translation ability and vocabulary questions, but the content depends on the specialty. For example, medical interpreters are quizzed on professional ethics, medical terminology, and clinical or medical procedures. Most tests also include an essay question, where samples are judged on organization, readability and thoroughness.

Oral Assessments

The oral exam is made up of three sections -- consecutive interpretation, simultaneous interpretation and sight translation. Interpretations usually relate to recorded conversations and sight translations require reading aloud. All oral exams are evaluated for fluency, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Specific levels of certification may have other requirements. For example, social workers who pass the sight translation and consecutive interpretation sections are granted level 1 certification status, while those who pass all segments earn level 2 status. Those certified at higher levels are eligible for a greater number of assignments.

Certification Maintenance

Each department determines the passing score on exams, as well as any additional requirements. Court interpreters, for example, must score at least 80 percent on the written exam and 70 percent on the oral exam. Interpreters also must submit to background checks. Certified interpreters must complete continuing education activities to maintain their certification status, but requirements depend on the specialty. For example, Washington Courts reports that certified court interpreters must complete 16 hours of DSHS-approved continuing education activities every two years.


Based in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Megan Torrance left her position as the general manager for five Subway restaurants to focus on her passion for writing. Torrance specializes in creating content for career-oriented, motivated individuals and small business owners. Her work has been published on such sites as Chron, GlobalPost and eHow.

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