What's in a name?
by Steven Marzuola
Translator vs. Interpreter?
The general public and news media often use the terms
“translator” and “interpreter”
interchangeably. But in the profession, in academia, and in some cases
the law, there is a distinction.
- A translator works with written documents.
- An interpreter handles spoken languages.
Many people can do both. But the skills are different.
Certification, qualification, licensing:
what's the difference?
In the United States, it's complicated.
Many countries have laws or regulations that covers licensing
or certification of translators. There is no such authority in the United States.
- The capitalized letters CT or Certified Translator are a
registered trademark for members of the
Translators Association who have passed a certification exam.
The ATA only administers the examination program, and does not
provide training. Translators may join ATA and take the exam
whenever they believe they have sufficient education or work experience.
- For the lowercase usage, there are no such restrictions. Several
private and organizations and institutions, both commercial and
nonprofit, issue “certificates of translation”
to interpreters who have attended courses and/or passed an exam.
These institutions include recognized colleges and universities
as well as privately owned companies and organizations.
- Many government institutions and companies in the US specify
a “certified translation”, for example, of degrees and diplomas,
police reports, birth certificates, etc. This usually means a
translation accompanied by a certificate which includes the name
of the translator and a statement that they are qualified to
perform the translation. The
ATA website gives more detail.
- A certificate of translation may also be notarized. A
notary's signature only means that the notary confirmed the
identity of the translator, not the quality or accuracy of the
- In many cases, a certificate of translation can be as simple as
one. However, other government agencies have other more
specific requirements. For example, these from the
Social Security Administration or the the state
To my knowledge, the only fields that are regulated by government
are court interpreters.
Healthcare or medical interpreters
- Interpreters who work with doctors and hospitals to provide
healthcare to patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) are
frequently certified by one of two national organizations.
Interpreters who obtain these credentials may use the trademarks
- Other educational institutions around the country issue certificates, that indicate satisfactory completion of coursework and/or exams.
Interpreters and translators also provide services to:
- businesses, dealing with customers or employees;
- local governments and schools, communicating with students,
parents, or local residents;
- specialized technical, scientific, academic or other settings.
Generally there are no regulatory or educational requirements
to perform those assignments. Translators and interpreters
working in these fields often become informally qualified by way
of their specialized education and work experience.
October 18, 2019
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