Although certification is not a requirement in the United States, it does have many benefits. It’s a great way to stand out from other translators and shows how committed you are to your profession. Certification can also open career doors for you and makes you more trustworthy in the eyes of potential clients.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to become a certified translator in the United States and answer some of the most frequently asked questions for those seeking certification. But let’s start with the basics, what even is a certified translator?

  1. What is a certified translator in the US?
  2. Certified translator FAQs
    1. What is required to become a certified translator?
    2. Can I be a certified translator without a bachelor’s degree?
    3. Is it hard to become a certified translator?
  3. How to become a certified translator? — The ATA exam
    1. Is my language available?
    2. How much does the ATA exam cost?
    3. What does the exam entail?
    4. What resources should I bring?
  4. How do I study for the ATA certification?
    1. ATA resources
    2. Other useful tips
  5. How can I get an online translation certification?
  6. Final thoughts

What it means to be a certified translator varies from country to country, which can create some confusion. We should also note that certified translation and certified translators are not at all related. In the United States at least, you don’t have to be a certified translator to issue a certified translation. You can learn more about certified translation here.

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In broad terms, a certified translator is one who has proven the quality of their work in some way. In the United States, translators earn their certification when satisfactorily tested by the government or a professional institution. The main institution providing translator certification is the American Translators Association (ATA).

We now have a full understanding of the concept. But before we get into how to become a certified translator, let’s take a look at some of the questions that often come up on this topic.

There are no educational or professional requirements to sit the ATA certification exam. However, you do need to be an American Translators Association member and the exam requires certain training and preparation if you wish to pass.

Take a look at this page to become a member.

We’ll cover all you need to know about the exam in the relevant section below.

Yes, you most definitely can. There are no degree requirements for the ATA certification so you can take that exam even if you don’t have one. However, given how challenging the exam is, you should have extensive knowledge of both languages and a bachelor’s degree in translation studies or other qualifications won’t hurt.

The current pass rate for the American Translators Association exam is less than 20% so we can certainly say it is not easy to become certified as a translator. You will need to be extremely committed and take a lot of time to prepare if you want to be one of the lucky few. But don’t worry, there are plenty of resources available, including ATA exam prep workshops and even a webinar series.

We’re finally at the core of the issue. Getting an ATA certification is challenging but definitely worth the effort. The association is not only well-known in the United States, but also internationally, and being ATA-certified can be very beneficial for your career. There are even some companies and agencies that only hire ATA-certified translators.

Before we go over the exam in more detail, you should note that you are only able to take the exam in the same language combination once a year. You can take different language combinations in the same year, but if you fail your exam, you will have to wait until the following year to resit it.

The first thing to do is check whether the American Translators Association supports your language pair. Unfortunately, the exam is available in a limited number of languages and always from or into English.

Exams are available from English into Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian.

When it comes to translation into English, the languages available are Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian.

If you are not a member of the ATA already, you will need to become one for at least four weeks before sitting the exam, as well as take a pledge of ethics. ATA membership is currently $164 for students and $374 for associates (or $187 with a military discount) per year.

The exam registration fee is $525 for both the in-person and online versions.

Of course, if you want to undergo paid training for the exam, costs will increase. However, once you pass the exam, the certification remains valid indefinitely as long as you remain a member of the ATA and work on your continued education.

The translation certification exam takes a total of three hours and consists of three passages of between 225 and 275 words each. You will need to translate two of these passages; the first passage is compulsory and you can choose between the last two.

The texts are university-level and include terminology challenges, but are not too specialized. The exam also provides context for the translation, such as its purpose and audience.

Once the exam is graded, you will only be notified if you passed or failed it. No feedback is provided.

You can take a look at the exam schedule and details here.

You are allowed to use any printed resources you like during the exam (or digital ones stored on your computer), while online resources are restricted. You can see a full list of the permitted online resources here.

When it comes to what you are required to bring or have with you, you will need a laptop for the in-person exam and whatever computer you prefer for the online one.

For the online exam, you will also need to have a front-facing webcam and a microphone. Other requirements for this exam include a reliable internet connection and the latest version of Google Chrome or Firefox.

Meanwhile, smartphones and tablets are generally not allowed, except as a second camera for the online version of the exam. You can’t use CAT tools or more than one screen either.

We know what the exam entails and what you need to sit it. It’s now time to take a look at tips on how to study for it. Let’s start with the resources the American Translators Association offers.

  • The ATA provides you with a practice test so you can prepare and know what you are dealing with. It costs $80 for members and includes feedback from the grader. You’ll receive this 6 to 8 weeks after you submit it.
  • A great idea is to go to your peers for help. The association has put together a collection of articles from translators that have taken the translation certification exam in the past. It’s called The ATA Chronicles and you can find it here.
  • You can also take a look at this article by Emily Moorlach which has some great advice.
  • The ATA also offers a free webinar with tips to prepare for the exam. You can sign up here.
  • The association has a calendar with its various events, including those related to exam preparation. These include webinars series, workshops, and virtual conferences.
  • If you want to understand how the exam is graded, you can do so here.
  • If you have any other questions, you can send them to the ATA through this form.

Here are some other ways in which you can prepare for your ATA certification exam.

  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t sign up right away for the exam that is scheduled for next month. Assess your skills with a practice test or some articles and make sure you have enough time to prepare.
  • Join a study group. Studying with peers can be beneficial not only when it comes to improving your skills but also to keep each other motivated.
  • Translate a variety of articles from different publications for practice.
  • Work on your typing speed. The faster you type, the more time you’ll have to work on and review your translation.
  • Brush up on spelling, grammar and punctuation rules.
  • Practice with a timer. This will help you get ready for the exam.

As we’ve mentioned, the American Translator Association exam has an online version. So if you are not in a country or state where the exam is available in-person or the dates available don’t work with your schedule, you can still take it.

You can find more information about the online exam here.

Becoming certified as a translator is certainly not easy, but can be quite rewarding, both personally and professionally.

We hope this article has answered your questions on how to become a certified translator and wish you the best of luck when you sit your exam.

Updated January 9, 2023 in Translators