Translation Certificate vs. Certification

By Helen Eby and Daniela Guanipa

“I have a certificate, therefore I’m certified.” Wrong!

So, you completed a certificate in translation from institution XYZ, you were given a nice diploma of completion, and surely, you are now a happily “certified” translator, who can go on and certify translations, list yourself as a certified translator in professional databases, and so on, correct? Well… Not so fast.

While a certificate in translation or interpreting will demonstrate you are seriously interested in the profession and taking all the right steps to learn everything you can about this new endeavor, it does not attest to your mastery of skills at a professional level in the T&I field.

Having a diploma from a certificate program indicates you have completed a program of study on a specific subject. You might have studied translation or interpreting at large, or a more specific field, such as medical translation or legal interpreting. Most of these programs are open to both newcomers and experienced professionals. When you list your certificate, you may want to specify what kind of certificate it is, such as:

  • NYU Certificate in Translation from language Y to language Z (you may want to state the number of courses taken and your GPA)
  • 60-hour Medical Interpreting Training approved by the Oregon Health Authority by XXX provider.

On the other hand, a certification is a competency-based assessment designed to evaluate mastery of certain skills. This assessment is usually done by means of a proctored examination. For example, ATA certification evaluates mastery of translation skills in specific language pairs; court interpreting certification evaluates mastery of sight translation, consecutive interpreting and simultaneous interpreting at specific speeds for specific durations at a certain performance benchmark. Certification also usually requires that you stay current with the profession by means of continuing education and continued practice in the field. These principles are acknowledged as Standards 19 to 21 of the Standards for the Accreditation for Certification Programs, issued by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

When you are certified, you should be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Are you a certified translator? Interpreter? Or both?
  • What did your certification process entail?
  • Which certifying authority or organization granted the certification?
  • In which language(s) or language combination(s) are you certified?
  • Are there any limitations to your certification?
  • How much experience do you have interpreting/translating?
  • Are you required to maintain your certification with experience or continuing education?

These questions come from a resource prepared by the Federal government which clearly defines what being a certified interpreter or translator entails. We recommend that you distribute this resource broadly!

You can certify a translation whether you are certified or you have a certificate. Just make sure you state your qualifications accurately in your translator’s statement. The following is the recommended statement from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), in its publication titled Guide to Translation of Legal Matters, page 12:

“I, ______________, certified by the (state name) Administrative Office of the Courts for Spanish-English court interpreting and accredited by the American Translators Association for Spanish to English translation, do hereby declare that the attached birth certificate, identified with serial number ___________, is a true and correct translation of the Spanish original.”

The Institute for Credentialing Excellence has a great chart that compares Certificates with Certification.

Misrepresentation of credentials is a serious issue from the point of view of the ATA Code of Ethics, canon 3:

“…to represent our qualifications, capabilities, and responsibilities honestly and to work always within them”

Certified professionals are bound by a code of ethics. This is not so with non-certified professionals. However, misrepresentation of credentials earns you mistrust with your clients and colleagues. Here are some examples of resume padding and their potential consequences. In writing this article we discovered that resume padding has become a fairly common practice and here are some alarming statistics about it. Your clients and colleagues will not be pleased if they discover you have overstated your qualifications. Misrepresentation of credentials is also a deceptive advertising practice; the Better Business Bureau Code of Advertising is a good guide to learn more about this topic. It’s important to be mindful of the fact that your ATA profile is the only resume many of your clients see.

Professional certifications are publicly verifiable in most cases, so your clients and colleagues could double-check any certifications you list. If they have expired because you have not maintained them, it is best to keep your profiles and email signatures updated.

In this post, we have made reference to United States sources. However, the principles of certification expiration and the difference between certification, certificate, etc., apply in other countries as well.When stating your credentials, it is best to identify the certifying body and the country in which you obtained your qualification, as well as the expiration date, to avoid confusion.

Remember: Your ATA profile, your LinkedIn profile and your Facebook page are your public resumes. Your reputation for reliability is based on these public profiles. Make sure they represent you accurately! In a world where resume padding is so prevalent, people double-check your public profiles as a matter of due diligence.

Image credit: Pixabay

5 thoughts on “Translation Certificate vs. Certification

  1. Who other than ATA can provide a certification? I ask because as a former 6 year member of ATA I got disappointed with their internal politics, negative publicity and increasing membership fees, and unless I join again I cannot take the certification test. It’s convenient to write this article when the only organization that I know of provides this certification. Sales pitch?

    • Hi,
      Definitely not a sales pitch! This article defines the differences between certificates and certification, and does nothing to encourage one or the other. Keep in mind also that it addresses both translator and interpreter certifications in the U.S. Yes, it happens that ATA certification is likely the most commonly-known translator certification in the U.S., but ATA doesn’t even offer certification for interpreters. See some links below for info on other certification options for T&I:
      http://blog.gauchatranslations.com/translation-certification-in-the-pacific-northwest/
      http://www.ata-divisions.org/ID/interpreting-certification-in-the-united-states-a-comparison-updated/
      Hope this responds to some of your concerns.
      Jamie

      • I can’t help feeling that the article promotes ATA; why wouldn’t it since it’s an ATA blog. I found the information very valuable and understood its intent. I just wish we had more options which is what I was asking through my comment. Thank you for providing some alternatives.

        Did you know that Gauchas Translations only provides certifications for the NW region, primarily Washington State? Oh…and you have to be a member of ATA to take the tests. Just saying.

  2. Hi, @annieux. You might be interested in this blog post on two other well-known exams that provide merit for translation skills: https://signsandsymptomsoftranslation.com/2013/06/11/diptrans-miti/. However, both are based in the UK. The original blog post was intended to give a picture of certification in the US, and I’m not aware of any other widely recognized national translation certifications in the US aside from the ATA. (If anyone else is, please share!)

    Of course, there are also regional certifications, like that of the Washington DSHS (described in the Gaucha Translations blog post linked to above, but note that the exam is not offered by Gaucha Translations). Other exams do exist, like ALTA’s Translation Assessment (https://www.altalang.com/language-testing/translation/), but I have never heard of a professional translator taking this exam as evidence of his or her skills.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: #Translation Certificate vs. Certification — The Savvy Newcomer. #xl8 #t9n | International Language Services - Isabelle F. Brucher - Translation office specializing in Law, Finance and Marketing since 2004

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