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Language Interpreter Certification

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Language interpreters bridge the communication gap for foreign-language speakers or those who rely on sign language. They use their translation skills to help people conduct business in other countries and communicate with health care professionals, social service agencies and officials in the courts and legal system. Some health care facilities and government agencies require interpreters to hold professional certification, a trend the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters expects to continue.

Interpreters translate the spoken rather than written word, serving as a go-between during conversations. They can read and write the language they specialize in and may use these skills during their work as interpreters but primarily focus on helping people speak to one another. Most certification organizations mandate both a written and oral exam and sometimes require that candidates submit proof of language training and proficiency. If you hold certification in one area, such as court interpreting, you can often use this to meet some of the requirements for other areas, such as medical interpreting.

Medical and Social Services

Hospitals, social service agencies and other medical-related or assistance groups often prefer interpreters with training and certification in this highly specialized area. Certification tests for medical interpreters, for example, cover not just language skills but also medical terminology. The NBCMI offers certification in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and Russian and requires candidates to pass both an oral and written exam. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services offers certification for social service and medical interpreters and for licensed mental health professionals. The department offers certification in Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Cambodian and Laotian and also requires written and oral exams.


Some federal agencies provide certification for interpreters interested in working within the judiciary or other governmental or legal settings. You can obtain certification as a Spanish language interpreter for the court system through the federal court interpreter certification examination, which includes a two-part written exam and an oral exam. Even if you hold state certification, you must pass the FCICE to work in the federal system. You can also receive certification through the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the U.S. Department of State.

Sign Language

Agencies and organizations ranging from hospitals to courts to schools need sign language interpreters, who can obtain certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. The organization offers several certification levels and specialties, including credentials for interpreters working within the legal system and those who work with students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It also offers national certification. Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree and must pass a written exam and a performance exam.