New to the profession?

I am bilingual, how do I know if I have the necessary skills to become an interpreter?

Interpreters need to have a high familiarity with specialized terminology. If you are a legal interpreter, this can range from things like street slang to the boilerplate language of the court. If you are a healthcare interpreter, you might encounter culturally specific terms as well as the complex terms for medical procedures and conditions. If you are a conference interpreter, the topics will often change from one event to the next. If you have not taken advanced level courses in either of your language pair, it is recommendable that you test your proficiency using an oral proficiency assessment that is rated on a standard scale. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is a great resource for proficiency testing in English and many other languages.


What is the difference between translation and interpretation?

Interpretation is the verbal conveyance of a message from one person to another person who does not speak the same language. Essentially, interpreters act as a conduit for verbal communication.

Translation is when written information, such as a book, is converted into another language.

While these may seem interchangeable, both translation and interpretation are complex tasks that require specialized training. NCI offers workshops in both translation and interpretation.


I want to work as an interpreter. How do I get started?

The first step is identifying the certification requirements for your area and interests, and then pursuing certification! Certification is achieved through testing, not training. The certification process generally includes a written examination as well as an interpreting performance exam.  Training is important, even vital, but it is not the same as certification.  The language used can be confusing. Often, training programs provide a “certificate” indicating satisfactory completion of the program.  These certificates are valuable credentials, but they are not the same as certification!  Certification indicates that you have demonstrated the requisite level of interpreting proficiency for the job.  Many professions follow this same model.  For example, lawyers are trained in school but need to pass their bar exams to become qualified to practice law in a specific jurisdiction.


“I’m interested in legal/court interpreting.  How do I pursue it?”

Most states require courtroom interpreters to be certified for languages in which there is an exam, or professionally qualified for other languages.  As of November 2016, there were exams available in these twenty languages.  Some general information about state interpreter certification is available through the National Center for State Courts.  For more specific information, Google “[your state] court interpreter program” to learn more about your state’s specific requirements, or find your state on this interactive map.

Federal Courts require interpreters to be certified, professionally qualified, or language skilled.  Federal Court interpreter certification is currently available only for Spanish/English interpreters.  To learn more about Federal court certification, visit the United States Courts website.

Here are some additional resources for aspiring and working court interpreters.


“I’m interested in medical/healthcare interpreting.  How do I pursue it?”

Certification for healthcare interpreters is required by some organizations, but there is not yet a national requirement. Even if certification is not expressly required, obtaining a professional credential can increase your chances of getting the job you want.  There are two primary national organizations that provide medical/healthcare interpreter certification testing, which can be found here:  www.healthcareinterpretercertification.org and www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org

Here are some additional resources for aspiring and working medical/healthcare interpreters.


“I’m interested in translating.  How do I pursue it?”

The American Translator Association provides certification tests for translators in the following language pairs (as of March 2017):

  • into English from Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Ukrainian.
  • from English into Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Ukrainian.

More information about ATA certification is available here:  www.atanet.org/certification/index.php


Is a college degree required?

There is no requirement to have a college degree to sit for most certification exams. Many professional interpreters do not possess a degree, or have a degree in an unrelated field. However, academic programs (associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate programs) in translation and interpretation are becoming more widely available across the country.