Everything you need to know about the different types of interpreter and translator certifications, and when you need them.
As our world grows smaller and more interconnected, our need for experienced and accurate interpreters and translators continues to rise. Interpreter certifications and translator certifications stand alone as the only verifiable method of ensuring quality translation.
Communicating accurate medical information to patients, generating legally admissible documents for court, ensuring accessibility of government documents – interpreters and translators are in high demand.
But when you’re looking for your next interpreter or translator, it’s essential to know if they’re certified and whether they’re certified for your industry.
Before we dive into the most highly-regarded nationwide certifications, it’s important to note that each state has its own set of regulations and required certifications. Additionally, translator certifications test different skills than interpreter certifications, as translation typically deals with translation of written documents, and interpretation with oral communication. This means that specific states may require supplemental certifications, or may not require the below certifications at all.
Why Do Translator Certifications Matter?
Certification ensures a level of quality in all interpreters and translators who receive accreditation. So while non-certified interpreters and translators can certainly provide efficient and accurate translation and interpretation, certification adds an extra level of reliability in the quality of your interpreter or translator.
When Do You Need a Certified Interpreter or Translator?
Different industries across different states vary in terms of interpreter and translator certification requirements. Even within these industries, various departments and services might not require certification.
Generally speaking, certification in the following industries isn’t necessary for informational exchanges like billing, customer service call centers, and short-form communication between employees and team members.
Medical settings often choose certified interpreters for helping patients communicate during check-ups, assisting with exams, and relaying critical post-op or pharmaceutical-related instructions. While not legally required, choosing certified medical interpreters allows medical services to ensure a high standard of quality, in addition to providing certified interpretation in medical malpractice or legal situations.
Legal services require certification, especially when seeking to reproduce translations and interpretations in court. Both civil and criminal legal proceedings may demand certified translators and interpreters.
Certain government entities also require certification. From claiming public benefits to getting your driver’s license at the DMV to applying for a visa – these industries require a high degree of specificity and accuracy. For this reason, they often use certified interpreters and translators.
What are the Different Interpreter and Translator Certifications?
First, it should be noted that interpreters and translators are not interchangeable. Where translators convert written text from one language to another, interpreters communicate from one language to another in real-time.
Because they require independent skill sets, interpreters and translators also require different certifications.
The most well known accrediting bodies are:
Nationwide Translator Certifications
American Translators Association (ATA)
- Certifies: Translators nationwide and around the world
- Members: <2,000 members (20% pass rate)
The ATA certifies translators through a 3-hour test. Consisting of three sections, translators must translate two passages of about 225 to 275 words. In addition to translation, each section also includes Translation Instructions (TI) that help mirror real-world requirements. This can include specification of audience, text source, translation purpose, and medium.
Translators are tested and certified in one language pair and direction. You can see the ATA’s complete list of language certifications here.
Medical Interpretation Certifications
The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI)
- Certifies: Interpreters working in medical settings, nationwide
- Title: Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI)
Regarded as one of the most thorough certifying agencies for medical interpreters, the NBCMI uses a third-party organization (PSI) to validate their certification exams. Prior to testing, the NBCMI verifies each candidate meets prerequisite standards through rigorous oral and written exams.
The written exam covers:
- Medical Knowledge (61% of exam)
- Code of Ethics (15%)
- Interpreter’s Role, Cultural Awareness, and Regulations (24%)
The oral exam covers:
- Medical Terminology (35%)
- Mastery of Linguistic Knowledge (30%)
- Consecutive Interpreting and Sight Translation (25%)
- Cultural Awareness (10%)
Currently, the NBCMI offers full certification in six languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, and Spanish.
Upon passing their exam, interpreters receive the credentials of Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI), which can be used in many states across the U.S. CMI Certification lasts five years. To maintain their credentials, CMI’s must take 30 hours of continuing education units, focusing on medical knowledge courses and medical interpreting. For more about The NBCMI, read here.
Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI)
- Certifies: Interpreters working in medical settings, nationwide
- Title: Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI)
As the only nationally accredited interpreter-certifying agency, CCHI is the second of the two nationally recognized agencies for certifying medical interpreters. As the only accredited agency, the CCHI exam is a computer-based test with 100 multiple choice questions on the basics of medical interpreting.
The CoreCHI exam covers:
- Professional Responsibility and Interpreter Ethics (22% of the exam)
- Manage the Interpreting Encounter (22%)
- Healthcare Terminology (22%)
- U. S. Healthcare System (15%)
- Cultural Responsiveness (19%)
The CHI exam covers:
- Interpret Consecutively (75%)
- Interpret Simultaneously (14%)
- Sight Translate (9%)
- Translate Healthcare Documents (2%)
Currently, the CCHI offers two paths to national certification: The Certified Healthcare Interpreter Certification (available for Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic Interpreters) and the Core Certified Healthcare Interpreter Certification (for all other languages.)
CHI certifications are valid for four years, during which time they must earn 32 hours of continuing education credits. Four of those hours must be in a performance-based setting that tests and improves an interpreter’s consecutive, simultaneous, and sight translation. For a complete list of details on the CCHI Exam, read here.
Legal Interpreter Certifications
With legal interpretation, the certifications become a bit murky. The credentialing of state court interpreters is done on a state-by-state basis, although a certification from California often allows you to provide certified interpretation in other states as well.
Want to see your state’s required certifications for legal interpreting? Read here.
ASL Interpreter Certifications
Register of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)
- Certifies: Interpreters who work with the deaf and hard of hearing
- Title: Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI)
RID plays a critical role in the nationwide setting of standards and quality assurance of interpreters. Although not required by all, some states require RID certification if interpreting with a member of the deaf community.
Those who receive the CDI credentials are deaf or hard of hearing and are trained extensively in interpreting. They’re also expected to have a keen understanding of deafness, Deaf culture, and the Deaf community.
Although Certified Deaf Interpreters are expected to have native or near-native fluency in ASL, they also receive specialized training to use and interpret props, gestures, drawings, mime, and other methods of communication.
In order to maintain their certification, interpreters must earn eight continuing education units every four years. To learn more about RID Certification, read here.
Certifications are key to ensuring quality of industry standards and when selecting your interpreters and translators. Certified interpreters are highly vetted, trained, and industry-prepared so they can deliver the most accurate interpretation services possible.
Sifting through the state-to-state regulations and finding the right interpreter or translator can cause major migraines.
Skip the headache and give us a call.
With over 5,000 interpreters in our network, we offer top-of-the-line, bespoke interpretation and translation services in over 200 unique languages and dialects. And we’re happy to draft the perfect certified interpreter-translator team to facilitate all your project needs.