Unlike most European and Latin American countries, licensure or certification for translators does not exist within the United States, neither at the federal nor the state level. In the case of interpreters, a program does exist to certify individuals so that they may work within the federal court system; however, interpreters in other fields are not subject to this certification process. Although there’s no official certification program for U.S. translators, they may seek accreditation through professional organizations such as the American Translators Association (ATA), which rigorously test translators before granting them a “seal of approval.” Without a formal certification scheme—and thus a lack of assurances regarding a translator’s competence—many agencies have developed their own certification procedures to vet potential translators.
In other parts of the world, only certified translators may translate certain types of documents, such as legal or medical texts, for example. However, in the United States, translators are not required to be certified or licensed in order to provide a certified translation. Any translators willing to take an oath before a notary public, attesting to the accuracy of the translation and their qualifications to translate to and from a specific language pair, can offer clients certified translations.
Unfortunately, the absence of certification for language professionals in the U.S. means that nearly anyone, regardless of experience, education or aptitude, can pose as a translator. In addition, many translators refer to themselves as “certified” in an attempt to increase their marketability. Given that there’s no licensure or certification program in the United States, it’s wise to question the qualifications of those claiming to be certified translators (i.e. who certified them?). It’s important to note that there are many highly qualified, experienced translators who are neither accredited nor certified by a particular institution.
What can translation buyers do given the lack of translator credentialing programs in the U.S.?
- Inquire as to whether the translator is accredited by a professional organization for translators.
- Thoroughly check the translator’s references.
- Work with a translation agency that has taken the time to put together a trusted team of qualified translators.