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How do I get an Interpreter Certificate?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are three steps required to get an interpreter certificate: complete a training program, interpretation experience, and the certification examination. An interpreter is used to bridge a communication gap between different languages and is required to be fluent in written and oral communication in at least two languages.

People who want to get a certificate have usually been working as an interpreter for several years and would like to qualify for employment opportunities with courts, government agencies, professional organizations, and other firms. In the US, interpreter certificates are managed and issued by three different organizations: individual state-managed programs, the administrative office of the United States court, or the consortium for state court interpreter certification.

The first step toward getting a certificate is to complete an accredited training program. Most people assume that fluency in multiple languages is sufficient, but this is not the case. Certified interpreters must be trained on protocol, official terminology, translation techniques and other details. Every language has multiple dialects, slang, and local variations based on geographic regions.

An interpreter training program is typically three to six months in length, and is focused on passing the certification examination. This program includes courses in verbatim translation, medical and legal terminology, and confidentiality. All programs have a practical component, where candidates practice their skills, incorporating lessons learned.

The experience requirement for an interpreter certificate varies by association. The expectation is based not on a specific amount of time using a language, but the depth and breadth of exposure to both that language and English. Interpreters must be well read across a range of subjects, have a large vocabulary in both languages, and be familiar with both the formal and common language grammar rules.

The examination is three to four hours in length and is a combination of written and oral questions. Many associations offer preparation courses and seminars to help students prepare for these exams. The exams to become a court appointed interpreter are notoriously difficult, with more than 85% of candidates failing for languages other than Spanish.

Upon successful completion of the exam, candidates can look for employment opportunities as official interpreters, set up their own interpreting consulting firm, or work for one employer providing interpretation services. This type of certification is often required to obtain these types of positions. An interpreter performs a very valuable service, and certification programs are designed to ensure a specific level of skill in both languages.

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Discussion Comments
By anon283853 — On Aug 06, 2012

Will my certification still be eligible if I moved to a different state?

By AnollCalt — On May 04, 2012

No doubt interpretation is a good career option.

I work in the field of event interpretation, although I do not have the certificate, but now after reading this article, I will definitely go with it. This will help me in my appraisals also!

By cupcake15 — On Jun 11, 2011

@GreenWeaver - I agree it is a really rewarding career because you are constantly helping others. I always thought that it would be great to get a deaf interpreter certification. I know that sign language interpreter certification is available at a lot of community colleges, but my local community college only offers interpreter certification programs for Spanish and French translations.

It is a thirty credit program and they offer job placement assistance as well. I wish they offered sign language interpretation because I would love to work in that field. They say that sign language is the third most common language in the United States so I don’t know why this training is more widely available.

By GreenWeaver — On Jun 08, 2011

@Letshearit - That really sounds like a good idea. I always thought it would be great to get a Spanish interpreter certification because I am fluent in Spanish and always enjoy helping other people.

For example, in the supermarket the other day a lady was having a terrible time trying to talk to the grocery clerk about a question that she had and because she only spoke Spanish she could not communicate with the clerk.

I was able to help her and she was so grateful and it made me feel great. I know that working in a more formal setting would be a lot harder but there are a lot of great jobs available for people with Spanish interpreter certification. I am going to look into interpreter certification programs here in Miami to see how hard it is to break into this field.

By drtroubles — On Jun 08, 2011

If you are looking to become an interpreter and want to try it out without getting certified first, there are many online sites that offer to pay on a per project basis. Often this can be a good way to get experience when you are first starting out.

For people who need an interpreter for a single job, whether for a business or for a personal project, using an online site can be an affordable and an easy option.

The good thing about online interpreting work is that you can usually do it from home. Telecommuting can free up your time and allow you to earn a steady income.

If you don’t want to go with an established online business, starting up your own can be a good idea.

By letshearit — On Jun 08, 2011

If you are talented with languages becoming an interpreter may be a great job for you, even with the amount of time it takes to get certified. Knowing the nuances of a language is vital to making sure accurate translations are in place.

The pay for interpreters varies widely, and depending on the languages known, education and certification, they can earn from $20 USD to $150 USD an hour doing freelance work.

Salaried jobs are subject to a great deal of competition, and positions like a court interpreter pay very well, but are difficult to get. They do not hire frequently, so often freelancing on the side is important.

If possible, securing a job with an international company that deals with a region that uses the language of your expertise frequently is a great way to get a secure job that pays well.

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