What it Takes to be a Professional Translator or Interpreter
I was talking to a friend the other day and I mentioned that I am having a hard time finding a German to English translator. She said, “What about so-and-so? She took German in high school, she could do it.” This is not the first time I have heard this from others. In reality, a professional translator or interpreter is fluent in a second language and has several years of experience and education in that language, not just a few classes or limited experience in the language.
In addition to being fluent in a second language, professional interpreters and translators are specialists in their native language. For example, I have a master’s degree in translation (Spanish to English) and had to take at least one course in editing for translation. In this course, I had to study the Chicago Manual of Style in-depth, and I have to apply its concepts in my everyday writing. This is in addition to the twenty-some years of education where my English writing was critiqued by every teacher I have ever had.
Most translators and interpreters are certified. The American Translator’s Association (ATA) has a certification exam for several language pairs. This exam only has a 20% pass rate, so it is very thorough. Interpreter certification can be done through the Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) exam and state court certification procedures, among others. Being a translator or interpreter is a profession that is worked towards, not something that someone “falls into.”