How to Become a Professional Interpreter or Translator

If you are bilingual and wish to become a professional interpreter or translator, there are several steps you must take. The following includes information from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Click here for the full report.)

Education

A bachelor’s degree is typically needed to become an interpreter or translator along with proficiency in at least two languages, one of which is usually English.

High school students interested in becoming an interpreter or translator should take a broad range of courses that focus on foreign languages and English writing and comprehension.

Beyond high school, people interested in becoming interpreters or translators have numerous educational options. Those in college typically choose a specific language as their major, such as Spanish or French. Although many jobs require a bachelor’s degree, majoring in a language is not always necessary.

Through community organizations, students interested in sign language interpreting may take introductory classes in American Sign Language (ASL) and seek out volunteer opportunities to work with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Training

Spoken-language interpreters and translators working in the community as court or medical interpreters or translators need to complete job-specific training programs or certificates. Medical interpreters, for example, typically must complete an accredited 40-hour medical interpreter training program (such as CMIT).

Continuing education is a requirement for most state court and medical interpreting certification programs. It is offered by professional interpreter and translator associations such as the International Medical Interpreters AssociationAmerican Translators Association and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters on a regular basis.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

There is currently no universal certification required of interpreters and translators beyond passing the required court interpreting exams offered by most states. However, workers can take a variety of tests that show proficiency. For example, the American Translators Association provides certification for translators in many language combinations. The federal courts offer court interpreter certification for Spanish language interpreters.

For more information on how to become a certified medical interpreter, state certified court interpreter or a licensed sign language interpreter in the state of Kentucky, please go to our Resources page.

Should healthcare interpreters in the U.S. be concerned?

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) decided to not renew the accreditation of their Spanish language interpreter certification program by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) effective January 1, 2018.

Read the NBCMI’s official response to the concerns raised by their decision and hear what others have to say about what it all means.

What are your thoughts?