Four Myths about ATA’s Certification Exam

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

ATA’s certification exam was instituted in 1973. Its purpose is “to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and identify translators who demonstrate professional level translation skills.”1 Every year, a large number of professional translators and aspiring translators take the exam in one of the 27 language combinations currently available.

Considering that ATA certification is one of the industry’s most respected and recognized credentials, there are many benefits for those who hold it.

Client Recognition: ATA certification is a voluntary credential; as such, it reflects an individual’s strong commitment to the profession and its ethical practice—a distinction that can open doors to new business and higher compensation. While ATA certification does not guarantee you work, it does help.

CT Designation: An ATA-certified translator may use the letters “CT” as a designation of certification status. It is, in a sense, a “seal of approval” from your colleagues that says you are competent to do the job.2

Directory Listing: Users of ATA’s Directory of Translators and Interpreters can limit their search results to those members who are ATA-certified—a definite edge in standing out from the competition.

Voting Rights: ATA voting rights are conferred automatically on translators who pass the certification exam. Voting members have the opportunity to participate in the election of Board members.

To earn ATA certification, a translator must pass a challenging three-hour exam. The exam assesses the language skills of a professional translator: comprehension of the source-language text, translation techniques, and writing in the target language. Precisely because of the high standards of the exam, there is also a low percentage of people who pass (under 20% overall). Understandably, many people who fail feel disappointed and wonder why, especially if they have many years of experience. Here are four myths that have developed regarding the difficulty level of ATA’s exam.

  1. ATA’s exam is graded on a whim.

Translation, by its very nature, is somewhat subjective (there is more than one way of expressing something correctly). ATA has worked long and hard to make the grading process as objective as possible. ATA has developed two tools that are applied to all exams for a neutral, consistent assessment of errors. One is the Flowchart for Error Point Decisions, which helps graders answer the question of whether there is a “mechanical” error or a “transfer” error.3 A mechanical error is one that affects the way the target language is written, and can be identified without viewing the source text. A transfer error affects the meaning and it is found by comparing the target to the source.

Once the grader determines the type of error, she or he then needs to consult the Framework for Standardized Error Marking.4 This tool defines the error categories and points the grader in the right direction. Once the grader finds the category, she or he goes back to the flowchart to determine how many points to allocate to the error.

All graders in each language combination must follow these two tools closely. As an additional safeguard against subjective evaluation, there are always two graders for each exam. If for some reason the initial two graders cannot agree on a grade, the exam is sent to a third grader for final determination.

  1. Grading is artificially skewed to keep the number of certified professionals low.

This practice would be dishonest. Graders work very closely in pairs in order to determine an accurate assessment. Many people are surprised when they receive a “Fail” grade and cannot understand why, especially if they have been working as translators for many years. But there are people in the field who have not received formal translation training, and perhaps this is the first time they have been evaluated by a professional translator.

Translation is an activity that people from other educational backgrounds can start at any time without necessarily going to school for that purpose. For example, you cannot decide suddenly that, starting tomorrow, you will be a lawyer. Being a lawyer requires years of formal training. But many people who speak two or more languages believe, often mistakenly, that this alone qualifies them to be professional translators, so they apply for ATA certification. Many of them fail and are disappointed. Being a good professional translator also requires years of training, practice, and experience. This is what ATA’s certification exam measures. In other words, you take the exam to prove what your years of experience have taught you, not to get a piece of paper to start your career.

  1. The practice tests intentionally do not reflect the difficulty of the real exam.

That simply is not true. All practice tests are real exams that were used in previous years. For security purposes, the exams are changed every calendar year. So, as graders retire exams, they begin using old exams as practice tests. Also, the same methodology and tools mentioned above are used to grade practice tests. The people who grade practice tests are the same graders of the real exam.

  1. Exam passages have hidden tricks. The passages selected go through rigorous scrutiny by graders, not to insert tricks, but to identify proper and realistic challenges that translators face in real life. They are selected by graders and approved by the Passage Selection Task Force. Part of the process of measuring someone’s ability to translate is to find out if the translator can transfer words and expressions in the context of the topic accurately. For example, the so-called “false friends” or Anglicisms in a language other than English are usually a good way to identify a good (or a bad) translator. The seasoned professional will not write the first word that comes to mind in the target language because it resembles the source, but will think in his or her target language in order to find the right equivalent.

There are challenges in the exam, not tricks, and that is why it is highly recommended that people take the practice test first. The practice test is a lot cheaper, will be graded by the same graders, and will be returned to the examinee corrected so that he or she can determine readiness for the real thing.5

There is nothing easy about the certification exam, but the sense of accomplishment earned is something you will value throughout your career. At present, certification is offered in the following language combinations:

  • Into English from: Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.
  • From English into: Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Ukrainian. You can find much more information about the certification exam from ATA’s website: http://www.atanet.org/ certification.

Notes

  1. ATA Certification Overview
  2. ATA-Certified Translator Seal
  3. Flowchart for Error Point Decisions
  4. Framework for Standardized Error Marking
  5. Practice Test Information

Author bio

Mercedes De la Rosa-Sherman is an ATA-certified English>Spanish translator and a member of ATA’s Certification Committee. Contact: delarosasherman@gmail.com.

Validating Translation Skills – The Oregon Example

As many states and entities seek to define standards for the translation and interpreting profession, the State of Oregon serves as a great example of a robust set of standards. In order to prepare to meet these standards, many take translation courses. Such courses can serve as proof to clients who require proof of having taken translation training or as an opportunity to practice taking an exam and verifying their skills.

How does the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) verify translation skills?

According to the 2019 translation Price Agreement issued by the Department of Administrative Services, these are the top ways to demonstrate translation skills:

Top preference:

Next:

  • Washington State DSHS Document Translator Certification
  • Score of at least 10 on the ALTA Translation Assessment
  • Certification for translation services in Canada
  • ILR 2+ on the Interagency Language Roundtable Exam
  • Four-year academic degree in translation from a US or international university
  • Certificate of completion from a formal translation training program of 40 to 99 hours

See the complete list of credentials accepted by the State of Oregon.

In the cases of languages for which the American Translators Association does not offer a certification, preference is given to those who can demonstrate verifiable translation competency or interpreting competency (as defined in the document linked above through, among other things, exams, fluency tests, degrees in another language), language proficiency, paid translation experience, active membership in a professional language organization, academic higher education degree from an institution of higher education, diploma of completion in secondary education, or diploma of completion in primary education.We believe that the State of Oregon may have taken this approach for the following reasons:

Why does DAS offer so many choices?

  • Not all language combinations are tested by ATA.
  • The government has a responsibility to be vendor neutral and accept more than one way to verify skills.
  • The government is also accepting interpreting credentials, since it is assumed for interpreters to be highly literate in both their working languages. Interpreters often supplement their interpreting income by doing translation.

Image source: Pixabay

Preparing a Translation for Submission to the United States Government

Written by Helen Eby in collaboration with Jamie Hartz

Many documents that are submitted to U.S. Government agencies must be submitted along with a statement indicating that the translator is skilled to perform their task. This can be called a translator’s statement, statement of accuracy, certification, translator’s declaration, etc. I’ll call it a “translator’s statement” here as I dive into the requirements that you are most likely to see when preparing documents like this. I’ll also offer some tips on how to best ensure that your translation will make the client’s process easier and not harder – for instance, don’t forget to sign the statement!

First of all, keep in mind that “certifying” a translation (by creating and signing a translator’s statement) is different from being certified (by ATA or any other entity), having a certificate, or having any other validating credentials. See more about the difference between a certificate and certification at this post on The Savvy Newcomer from April 2017: https://atasavvynewcomer.org/2017/04/04/translation-certificate-vs-certification/.

If a client requests that the translator be “certified” in order to “certify” the translation, you should also bear in mind that multiple entities can offer certifications and you will need to look into what certification is required and what language pairs that certification is available in. For example, ATA certification is widely accepted in the United States, but the credential is only offered for the language pairs listed here: https://www.atanet.org/certification/aboutcert_overview.php. In other words, Somali into English is not a language pair in which you can receive ATA certification, so keep this in mind if your language pair is not highly common in the U.S. and clients are asking for you to provide proof of certification – you may not be able to! However, in most cases you can still “certify” the translation by providing the written and signed translator’s statement.

A few elements are required by nearly all entities requesting translator’s statements, whereas some are based on preference of the individual agency or client.

Generally accepted and required:
Translator’s name and signature
Certification that the translator is competent to translate the language in question
Certification that the translation is complete and accurate

Sometimes required:
Date
Translator contact information
Notarization

N.B.: Notarization may involve charging the client for my time going to the notary’s office and back, waiting there, and paying the notary. In addition, some notaries are not willing to work with documents in foreign languages. I charge the official certified court interpreting rate for my time when running this errand, for the sake of objectivity.

I like to use the following template as a translator’s statement. (I’ve inserted nonsense text here in place of the information you will need to fill out on your own.) This template is a combination of the two sample templates I’ve included at the bottom of this article by NCSC and USCIS, respectively, and it contains all the information I have found necessary in a translator’s statement. In other words, this template is comprehensive enough to be accepted by USCIS, state courts, and the State Department (and hypothetically the IRS, whose requirements at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/iw7.pdf do not specify what constitutes a “certified translation”). I try to include this statement as a footer on the document in question so that it does not get separated from the translation itself.

Element Purpose
I, Jane Brown, Translator’s name
certified by the American Translators Association for Klingon to English translation, Certification to support competency statement to follow; other credentials listed by the NCSC include court certification and graduation from a translation program. List all that apply.

Yes, I know ATA does not certify from Klingon to English!

hereby certify that I am competent to translate the attached Statement of competency
[marriage certificate], identified with serial number __________________, from Klingon to English and have translated it fully and accurately. Description of document and its markings
I have translated it on February 43, 2059. Date of translation (completion or delivery)
I can be reached at 123 SW Hot Dog Street, Town, State, Zip Code or by email at zipityzip@something.com. Address and email contact information for backup.
[Signature] I usually sign across the full translator’s statement, which is included as a footer on the document. I sign in blue ink (handwritten, not a digital signature) so it contrasts and it is clear that this is an original. In Oregon, where I live, legal signatures must be in blue ink or at least ink that is not black.

Full text of my translator’s statement (go ahead and copy it! I even created an autocorrect setting in Word so that if I type “certrans” it automatically converts the text to the following paragraph):

“I, Jane Brown, certified by the American Translators Association for Klingon to English translation, hereby certify that I am competent to translate the attached marriage certificate, identified with serial number __________________, from Klingon to English and have translated it fully and accurately. I have translated it on February 43, 2059. I can be reached at 123 SW Hot Dog Street, Town, State, Zip Code or by email at zipityzip@something.com.

[Signature]”

Resources:

  1. National Center for State Courts recommended template (from 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.”

  1. USCIS recommended template (as stated in form N-400’s application instructions):

“I [typed name], certify that I am fluent (conversant) in the English and ________ languages, and that the above/attached document is an accurate translation of the document attached entitled ______________________________.
Signature _________________________________
Date
Typed Name
Address”.

  1. Instructions document for the following forms (you will need to click the link to “Instructions for Form ___” once you click on the hyperlink below:

Annual Certification of a Regional Center (https://www.uscis.gov/i-924a)
Application to Register Permanent Residence (https://www.uscis.gov/i-485)
Application for Naturalization (https://www.uscis.gov/n-400)

  1. USCIS requirements (https://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/154965.htm)
  2. USCIS form filing tips (https://www.uscis.gov/forms-filing-tips)
  3. IRS Form W-7 instructions (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/iw7.pdf)
  4. National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Guide to Translation of Legal Matters

What are your thoughts, readers? Have you been asked to create a translator’s statement before, and if so, how did you go about it?

Image credit: Pixabay

Summary of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission, incl. the image

The fifth edition of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey serves as a practical tool, revealing general trends in the translation and interpreting industry.

The recently released fifth edition of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey is an invaluable benchmarking tool for nearly everyone in or affiliated with the translation and interpreting industry. The study allows an individual or company to easily compare their compensation levels to their peers. Translators and interpreters are able to review rates across languages, specialties, and location. Companies involved in translation and interpreting are able to refer to this report when determining their competitiveness with respect to compensation. Students considering careers in the translation and interpreting industry can use this tool to steer their specific career decisions and to gain insight about potential compensation. In addition, the study serves as a practical tool for a broader audience—individuals and businesses in the market for translation and interpreting services.

The survey was compiled, tabulated, and prepared for ATA by Industry Insights, Inc., a professional research and consulting firm that provides management and marketing services to dealer organizations, individual membership organizations, and professional trade associations and their members. The company specializes in compensation and benefits studies, industry operating surveys, member needs studies, educational programs, and customized research activities.

Survey Design

Responses were received from translation and interpreting professionals worldwide. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents reside in the U.S., 15% in Europe, 6% in South America, 4% in Canada, and the remaining 6% in other locations.

Upon receipt, all data were checked both manually and by a custom software editing procedure. Strict confidence of survey responses was maintained throughout the course of the project.

The seven employment classifications analyzed in this report include:

  • Full-time independent contractors
  • Part-time independent contractors
  • Full-time in-house private sector personnel
  • Part-time in-house private sector personnel
  • Company owners
  • Educators
  • Government employees

For detailed analysis, responses were broken down by age, gender, years in translation and/or interpreting, education level, ATA membership, geographic region, and certification and interpreter certification/credential. This comprehensive data allows users to compare their own income, hourly rates, and rates per word to individuals in similar situations.

Some Key Findings

Respondent Demographics: Survey respondents had varying backgrounds and experience. As shown in Figure 1, more than two-thirds were female and nearly one-third were ATA-certified. More than 60% held a master’s degree or higher, and more than two-thirds had over 10 years of employment in translation and interpreting. The typical (median) respondent was 50 years old.

Summary-Fig-1

Income Varied by Employment Classification: As shown in Figure 2, translation and interpreting company owners reported the highest gross income at $55,630, which is slightly ahead of full-time private sector employees ($55,547) and full-time independent contractors ($52,323). The lowest income was reported by educators and part-time independent contractors: $17,344 and $17,746, respectively.

Certification and Credentials Matter: On average, ATA-certified translators earned 21% higher compensation than those who were not certified. Similarly, on average, certified and credentialed interpreters earned 27% higher compensation than those who were not certified or credentialed.

Trends: Nearly half of the respondents reported that their 2014 gross compensation from translation and interpreting increased compared to 2013. Nearly one-third reported no change in income, while 23% reported a decline.

Education and Experience: Thirty percent reported having a degree in translation, while 12% reported having a degree in interpreting. Half reported having a non-degree certificate in translation or interpreting. Other credentials reported include state court interpreter certification (8%) and the U.S. State Department exam (6%).

Translation Volume: Translators’ target output per day was reported at 2,855 words. On average, they translated approximately 380,000 words per year in 2014.

Translation Income: Responding translators reported three-quarters of their income was derived from translating, while 15% was earned by editing/proofreading.

Translation Services: A little more than 14% of translators reported offering editing/proofreading services, while more than 76% reported offering translation services. Only 1% of translators reported offering post-editing machine translation services.

Interpreting Income: Responding interpreters reported the bulk of their income was derived from the following settings: judiciary (27%), medicine/life sciences (22%), and business and conference (12% each).

Interpreting Services: The interpreting services offered most frequently were consecutive (96%), simultaneous (74%), sight (44%), and phone (42%).

Compensation: Thirty-two language combinations were surveyed. Translation rates were reported per word and hourly. Hourly rates were reported for editing/proofreading services. Hourly rates were reported for interpreting services.

Summary-Fig2
Summary-Fig3
Ordering Information

ATA’s 58-page Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition presents the survey results in much greater detail than is possible in this summary article. The complete report includes translation and interpreting hourly rates and rates per word for a wide range of language combinations. It’s important to remember that the statistics published by ATA should be regarded as guidelines rather than absolute standards. ATA intends the survey to reveal general trends in the industry, not exact amounts.

The full report is available to ATA members for free by logging into the Members Only area of ATA’s website. Non-members may purchase the complete report for $95. Please order from ATA’s Publications page or write ATA to order your copy: ATA, 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 590, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-683-6100; fax 703-683-6122, e-mail: ata@atanet.org.


Shawn E. Six is a principal at Industry Insights, Inc. His position includes marketing, design, and implementation of the company’s research efforts, with a focus on compensation and benefits studies for a wide variety of industries. He has conducted more than 200 studies during his 20+ years at Industry Insights, and the results of these projects have been cited in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and countless association journals. He has an MS in marketing from Westminster College and a master’s degree in predictive analytics from Northwestern University.

Computerized ATA Certification Exam Option Now Available at Select Sittings

 Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission (incl. the image)

ATA is now offering a computerized option for taking the certification exam at select sittings. Candidates will now be able to take the exam on their own laptops.

Candidates:

  • May use most resources stored on their laptops, including dictionaries and glossaries.
  • May use non-interactive Internet resources, such as online dictionaries and other reference material.
  • May not use CAT tools or translation memories.
  • May not use e-mail, chat rooms, forums, or MT tools such as Google Translate.

This is to ensure that the work is the translator’s own and that the carefully vetted exam passages are not shared.

How Does the Computerized Exam Work?

Candidates input their translations using WordPad (or TextEdit for Mac) onto an ATA-supplied USB drive, with grammar and spell check utilities disabled.

Signed Statement Required

Candidates who opt for the computerized format must sign a statement acknowledging that certain activities are prohibited during the sitting (e.g., use of e-mail and chat, copying the exam passages) and that they understand the consequences of noncompliance.

Candidates who violate the rules applicable to computerized sittings are likely to face restrictions on future certification eligibility and could face ATA ethics violation proceedings.

Information about the statement candidates will sign and the consequences of rules violations is available from ATA’s Certification Program manager.

For a description of the exam format, please see the certification exam overview.

Handwritten Exam Available

Candidates can also choose to handwrite their exam. All candidates may continue to bring and use any print resources they wish.

Exam Schedule

Sittings continue to be scheduled primarily through ATA chapters and affiliates as well as through other local groups.

Groups and individuals interested in hosting a sitting should contact ATA’s Certification Program manager to inquire about the physical and technical requirements needed to host a computerized sitting.

Several computerized sittings will take place in 2017, including at ATA’s 58th Annual Conference. See the schedule of upcoming sittings for the status of future examination sittings.