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, which 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, such as the one on LinkedIn named Professional Translators and Interpreters (ProZ.com). 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 steadily for years, the short answer is yes, especially if you’re looking to make professional translation your full-time job.
Some translators feel that they don’t need to get certified because of clients and project managers regularly relying on them. That serves as 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 companies or organizations might be taking advantage of certification programs. You most likely have to pay for getting certified, and that can’t even guarantee you jobs. Nonetheless, here’s one tip to always bear in mind before you decide to pursue certification: if a company approaches you and 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.
READ: Online Scams
When it comes to certification programs offered by professional organizations, such as the American Translators Association (ATA), it’s always wise to look at the bigger picture and consider the benefits. The ATA membership pays for itself since it allows you to access: people, ideas, education, marketing, business intelligence, and cost-effective best practices results.
Additionally, there’s the ATA certification. That is currently the only widely recognized measure of competence in translation in the United States, which is where I’ve been based since 2016. The ATA certification is meant to reflect a strong commitment to the profession and its ethical practice. It has a lot of benefits and exclusive perks as well. For instance, only ATA-certified translators are entitled to use the CT designation (certified translator) and the corresponding seal.
Whether you’re a beginner or you already have experience, I believe that certification 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 if you want to establish yourself as a professional.
Based on my experience, getting the ATA certification was an excellent investment. It has already paid for itself. Although the exam is known to have 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—which costs $300, I’d have probably passed at the first opportunity.
CHECK: Becoming ATA-certified
Up until I earned the ATA certification, translation had either been a part-time job, or one of the several tasks in my salaried positions. Even when I owned and managed my translation brand BPM Traducciones, my full-time job at the time kept me too busy. Once I realized I wanted to commit entirely 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 100% freelance to earn a living.
The one thing that I probably love the most about being certified by the ATA is that you need to complete continuing education points to retain the certification. That means that you have multiple opportunities for learning something new by attending events and meeting new people, which are always desirable choices.
What are your thoughts on this subject? What’s your experience? I’d like to hear from you in the comments below!
*As of January of 2020, I'm not a member anymore since I moved out of the Midwest in 2019.