Translation Certification in the Pacific Northwest

In the Pacific Northwest, and specifically in Washington State, two translation certification programs are relevant.

The American Translators Association is a professional association that certifies members who are translators.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has a Language Testing and Certification Unit that has been certifying translators since 1996. This certification program is regulated by WAC 388-03.

These certifications meet the requirements of the Federal government on this page.

The following table compares these programs.

ATA and WA DSHS Translation certifications

Pass rateUnder 20% for most language pairs, higher for others.
See ATA Certification Pass Rates 2003-2013, 2004-2014, and Statistical Trends
for details.
Texts to translateChoose two texts out of three general texts.Choose three texts out of four technical texts in the areas of social, legal, and medical services.
Length of text250 to 300200 each
Total source word count500 to 600600
Time alloted3 hours2 hours
ReferencesMay bring paper dictionaries. Limited access to Internet resources. Dictionaries may not be shared with other test takers.May bring paper dictionaries. Dictionaries may be shared with other test takers.
WhereProctored at ATA conference and by chapters and affiliates.Administered by Washington State government (Department of Social and Health Services), in Washington State.
Language pairsEnglish into 15 languages.
14 languages into English.
English into Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
PrerequisitesATA membership @$190/yr18 years old
High school diploma
Accreditation requirements1 hour of ethics during the first year of certificationFree Translator Orientation Webinar 2:13 hrs
Free Ethics Webinar 2:50 hrs
Renewal20 CE credits over 3 years
ATA membership @$190/yr.
Free, 20 DSHS/LTC approved continuing education credits every 4 years of which 1 of approved ethics per calendar year.
Registration linkCertification Exam Overview
Schedule a Test
Examination guidelines Error categories
Professional Language Certification Examination Manual
Find a translatorATA Online DirectoriesFind Fully or Provisionally Certified/Authorized Interpreters and Translators
The information in this table was verified as of November 30, 2016 based on conversations with representatives of both organizations and web searches on pertinent sites. The information on both sites is subject to change without notice.

4 thoughts on “Translation Certification in the Pacific Northwest

  1. Antonio G. Trejo

    Dear Eby:

    Many thanks for your comparison of both Programs. However, I insist that once you got your certification you are on your own and you will survive/perish depending on the quality of your work and tha service you provide to your patients/customers and biomedical staff. Its a natural selection process, regardless of the Program you got certified. ATA and DSHS are granting you a license to work with, that’s all.
    All other attributes of an outstanding interpreter/translator are up to you.

    1. heleneby Post author

      Antonio, That is a great point! However, these programs do establish a baseline and verify that one day, at a certain point in time, the translator was able to verify that he or she had the skills to do the job. Both of these programs require that the translator stay in touch with the profession. The same could be said about any other certification, as a matter of fact. There are good and bad doctors, plumbers, electricians… but those who are board certified, or licensed, whichever may apply to their profession, have proved that they have met the minimum requirements to do the job well by certain established standards. That is worth supporting.

  2. Yilda Amparo Ruiz Monroy

    Thanks a lot for this very-easy-to-understand comparison. Even though I am not in the Washington area, I find that the items you list are very useful for future comparisons.

    In the second paragraph, I guess you mean ‘translators who are members’.

    Am I wrong?

    1. heleneby Post author

      You could read it both ways. ATA only certifies translators, and ATA only certifies its own members. Taking the certification exam is a benefit of membership. So ATA certifies members who are also translators. Not all ATA members are translators. That is why I wrote it the way I did, because I thought the prerequisite membership was important. There is talk about certifying non-members, but the bylaws state that this is a benefit of membership for certain categories of ATA membership. Check section 3 of the ATA bylaws for more information.

      By the way, this is not something that only happens in ATA. There are other professional associations that also only certify their own members.

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