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Why Get Certified?

Belonging to a professional association is part of being a professional. Benefits may include:

  • Having a profile in an online directory;

  • Networking and continuing education opportunities; and

  • Access to resources, such as discounts, publications, and tools.

At present, I’m affiliated* with the following associations:

  • American Translators Association (ATA)

  • Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters (MATI)

  • Chicago Area Translators and Interpreters Association (CHICATA)**

As a member of these associations, I get to have professional profiles in directories. That has proven helpful as it increases your chances of being found by potential clients. I get to attend events and establish new connections. That is always advisable if you want to remain relevant and thrive.

Today, I want to address a topic that’s frequently asked in translation forums and groups. The following words represent my opinion as an individual professional:

Do you have to get certified as a translator?

Unless you’ve already been working for years, the short answer is yes. If you’re looking to make professional translation your full-time job, it may help you.

Some translators feel they don’t need to get certified. Clients and project managers regularly relying on them is the validation they need. After all, if you know what you’re doing and you’re doing it well, you may not need to sit an exam to prove yourself. What’s more, passing or failing a single test should never equal to either being good or bad at something.

It can be argued that some organizations might be taking advantage of certification programs. Getting certified costs money, and it can’t guarantee that you get jobs. Here’s one tip to always bear in mind before you decide to pursue certification:

If a company asks you to complete a certification program to get work through them, run away.

To avoid similar scams, always keep in mind that one should never pay to work.

Some certification programs, such as the American Translators Association, offer many benefits. The ATA membership pays for itself since it allows you to access:

  • people

  • ideas

  • education

  • marketing tools

  • business intelligence

  • cost-effective, best practices results

The ATA certification is currently the only widely recognized measure of competence in translation in the U.S. It’s meant to reflect a strong commitment to the profession and its ethical practice. The ATA certification has a lot of benefits and exclusive perks as well. For instance, only ATA-certified translators are entitled to use the CT designation.

Getting certified may be your best bet if you’re seeking to establish yourself as a full-time professional translator. I’m originally from Europe, where a college degree (a.k.a. the theory) may usually be enough to get you to work in your field. In America, it’s common to pass an exam (the practice) after you complete your education.

Based on my experience, getting the ATA certification was an excellent investment. It has already paid for itself. Although the exam has an overall pass rate below 20%, I didn’t find it that difficult. My tip for success is to be alert to avoid common translation pitfalls. I always recommend reading the exam overview and tips before taking it.

Some people choose to take a practice test before the ATA certification exam. That is a way to see what the test will be like, but it also allows you to know if you’re prepared to pass it. Had I realized this, I’d have spent a total of $480 instead of $600. I took the exam a second time after failing the first time. Had I paid $80 for a practice test before sitting the exam ($300 in 2016 and 2017), I’d have likely passed at the first opportunity.

CHECK: Becoming ATA-certified

Until I earned the ATA certification, translation had either been a part-time job, or one of several tasks in my salaried positions. Even when I owned and managed my brand BPM Traducciones, my full-time job at the time kept me too busy. Once I was ready to commit 100% to my career as a language professional, I moved to the U.S. and put in the work to make it happen.

After getting the ATA certification, freelance work opportunities began to increase. I could now choose from various projects. I achieved my goal of becoming a full-time freelancer to earn a living.

What I love the most is that you need to complete continuing education points to retain the certification. There are many opportunities (e.g., courses and seminars) to learn something new online or in person.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What’s your experience? I’d like to hear from you in the comments below!

* As of May of 2020, I'm also a member of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET), the Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), the Spanish Editors Association (SEA), and the Utah Translators and Interpreters Association (UTIA).

** In January of 2020, I ceased to be a member of this organization.


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