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Getting licensed as an interpreter?
July 2, 2014 5:23 PM   Subscribe

I would like to become a spoken language interpreter for Chinese, Japanese, Spanish (to English). My mom is an interpreter and said that Pacific Interpreters does licensing that is valid nationwide. Are there other companies that do licensing nationwide?

I'd like to explore my options for national licensing in interpretation. I don't even know how the licensing is regulated, but my mom seems to think that there is some national licensing that is done through pacific interpreters (.com) who else does the same thing?
What are the pros/cons of other companies? Which would be cheapest? Would I have to pay several times since it's several differnet languages? If it matters I plan to do interpretation in Columbus Ohio, and hopefully eventually set up an interpreters cooperative like this one in Wisconsin.
posted by crawltopslow to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
In the United States one does not need a license to practice as an interpreter. There are fields that may require certification at the state level--court interpretation, medical, social services, schools; you would need to look up the requirements to get included on the interpretation service providers' list for those various types of agencies. There is a national-level certification for medical interpreters, but it requires, among other things, that you have been working professionally as a medical interpreter for at least a year before receiving certification.
For court interpretation, there is a a mish-mash of state-level certifications for state courts, usually with reciprocity agreements for interpreters certified in other states. I would assume you would have to be tested in every language combination.

One also does not need a license or certification to practice as an interpreter for private clients (such as businesses), although it may help to lend legitimacy to your resume if you pursue a certification program from a private company or through a university program in interpretation. I don't have any recommendations for private training/testing company.
posted by drlith at 7:24 PM on July 2


I've never heard of licensing, either, and that company sounds like a low-paying call center. State certification would be a good thing to pursue, and if your state's certification in a particular language isn't considered particularly rigorous, you may want to be certified elsewhere. This is if you are ambitious and want to make a lot of money as an interpreter, doing things like depositions, corporate meetings, higher education stuff, etc.

Also, since I can't imagine that you're a native speaker of all three languages, are you really qualified for all three? Interpretation is tough especially in situations where you're required to learn a lot of jargon. I work with a lot of high-quality Mandarin interpreters in CA (who charge between $1-2k/day) and have never ever come across a non-native speaker.
posted by acidic at 9:12 PM on July 2


Also, since I can't imagine that you're a native speaker of all three languages, are you really qualified for all three? Interpretation is tough especially in situations where you're required to learn a lot of jargon. I work with a lot of high-quality Mandarin interpreters in CA (who charge between $1-2k/day) and have never ever come across a non-native speaker.

The OP is a native speaker of ENGLISH. Interpreting involves interaction between TWO languages, and the interpreter is almost always a native speaker of one.

Sorry, but as a Mandarin interpreter (and native speaker of English) I am so tired of people saying this! As an interpreter my language skills in English are just as important as my language skills in Mandarin! I have an advantage as a native speaker in English just as a native Mandarin speaker has an advantage with Mandarin.

Off my soapbox now....

OP: being a native speaker of English can be an advantage in many situations; don't let people who are not interpreters discourage you.

I work as an interpreter and I have heard that there is no across the board, nationwide liscensing, and as long as your skills are good you can get jobs interpreting (where there is a need). You might want to look into medical interpreting- look up agencies directly and apply directly to them. This is what I did, and I now do medical interpreting on a regular basis. You learn a lot on the job! I also found another job through Craig's List.

I also did "Bridging the Gap", a national medical interpreting training that cost around $500. I found it useful.

I am just starting out as an interpreter, but feel free to message me!
posted by bearette at 9:59 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


never ever come across a non-native speaker.

you haven't come across a non-native speaker of Mandarin interpreter because there are fewer native speakers of English who study Mandarin than Mandarin speakers who study English. That's the only reason.
posted by bearette at 10:00 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


As an interpreter my language skills in English are just as important as my language skills in Mandarin! I have an advantage as a native speaker in English just as a native Mandarin speaker has an advantage with Mandarin.

It's certainly possible to have lived in China/Taiwan long enough to have a somewhat equivalent skill level as a native Mandarin speaker who has been living in the US for a couple of decades (or grew up speaking both). I'm just questioning whether it's possible to have achieved that with three different languages. I can tell you that in California, Mandarin interpreting is incredibly competitive (there are only 60 court-certified interpreters statewide) and frequently involves very high-stakes issues (such as the smartphone patent wars) where perfection is expected. But I'm sure the market is less saturated in Ohio so it may be less cutthroat.

Either way if you haven't done a ton of interpreting before (especially if you are trying to learn simultaneous, or if you're not yet really adept at note-taking) it might be wise to focus on one language to start.
posted by acidic at 12:46 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Defining what a 'native speaker' is is not clear-cut. Having truly native language skills in two languages is rare. I have met many people who grew up speaking both Chinese and English- while their accent is usually good in Chinese and they speak fluently, they often have a limited vocabulary of words used around the home. Because someone is Asian or of Chinese ancestry, it does not mean they are a 'native' speaker. For Chinese language, living in china or studying it for several years usually does not make one speak like a native. It's different than European languages for a native English speaker.



Court interpreting is difficult, yes, but that is only one kind of interpreting. It is also in demand in many places. Hospitals and social and educational programs need people too, and these types are not simultaneous assignments. (And neither is court interpreting ) and again

It's not true that interpreting is so competitive that there are no jobs- interpreters are needed in the medical interpreting field and if you look at the bureau of labor statistics, it's a growing field.


In my interpreting course, everyone was a native speaker of one language and a non- native speaker of a another.

I also want to add that it is a myth that language skills alone are enough, or the most important part of interpreting . A lot of it is learning the jargon for the type of interpreting you do, and having a skill set of neon able to change things from one language to another clearly and succinctly. You can be not perfect at a language, but very good at those things and therefore, a good interpreter.
posted by bearette at 5:19 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Drlith is right. There is no national interpreter's licensing organization in the USA. Apart from some special cases, you don't need a certificate.

The American Translators Association is a completely voluntary body that does offer a certification exam for translators, but not for interpreters, as far as I can tell.

I also agree that Pacific Interpreters sounds like a scam. There are some scammy school/agency/certifying body combo-platter organizations in Japan, so this isn't very surprising.

FWIW, I've been a translator (not interpreter) for 25 years, and the question of whether I'm certified—I'm not—has almost never come up.
posted by adamrice at 1:03 PM on July 3


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