Is ATA Certification Necessary for Translators?

There is a wide variety of linguist tests and certifications available throughout the globe, none more popular than the American Translator’s Association (ATA) certification program. The ATA’s certification is intended to ensure that each translator who passes it meets certain translation standards.

Each member who successfully completes the exam is placed in the ATA database and listed as certified. To legally perform translations in the United States, it is not required that a linguist passes this exam, but linguists often wonder whether or not this certification is necessary. In my opinion, the ATA certification is a valuable certification to possess but is in no way necessary to be a successful translator.

From the view of a Project Manager, an ATA certification is certainly never a bad sign. In general, I have been very happy with the quality of the translators I have worked with throughout the years who have obtained this certification. In fact, I would say that I have been happier on average with the translations provided by ATA translators over non-ATA translators. However, ATA certification is certainly NOT a guarantee that the linguist is skilled enough to complete a specific translation assignment. I have certainly received assignments back from ATA certified linguists that required a great deal of editing or even rework. Therefore, even though I usually feel confident in assigning work to ATA certified linguists who I have not previously worked with, I am still cautious in the same way I would be with any new linguist. ATA certification is not a guarantee of flawless work, but it does indicate that I will likely be happy with the work.

As a linguist, the certification may be a kickstarter for someone in the early parts of their career. Having your name is the ATA database of translators and interpreters is very valuable, and several translation agencies ONLY look in this database for new linguists. For more experienced translators with steady work, the ATA translation can still bring in new assignments, but it may not be as beneficial as it would be for new linguists. Essentially, there is always value to in acquiring an ATA certification but rarely is it essential for a linguist to possess it for a career in translation.

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