Certificate vs. Certification for Interpreters: What’s the Difference? part 1

quality-control-1257235_640This week’s blog will be the first part of a four-part series. We’ll be looking at the difference between interpreter certification versus interpreter training (that often leads to a certificate).

Part 1 will clarify the difference between what it means to be a certified interpreter as compared to having obtained a certificate of training. Part 2 will detail all of the currently available certifications for interpreters, at both the state and federal levels, for ASL (American Sign Language) and for spoken language interpreters. Part 3 will cover training requirements related to these certifications and how to find quality training for yourself locally. We’ll look at quality training for interpreters and translators, and look at courses specifically created for interpreters who work in healthcare and the courts.  Part 4 will review quality trainings available online.

Being bilingual does not automatically indicate or equal the ability to interpret. Just as the needed skill sets for interpreting as compared to translating are remarkably different, a similar case can be made for bilingualism not being a sufficient guarantee of competency for one to work as an interpreter. This is particularly true for Heritage speakers.

Increasingly, more and more hospitals are moving to a policy of only allowing certified interpreters, even if booked through an agency, on-site. All 50 states individually require all interpreters to be certified or registered as a court interpreter with the AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts).

It is important for interpreters to understand which certifications provide valid credentials so they may choose intelligently among the options that are available to them.

So, let’s understand what it meant when someone says they are “certified.” Many people conflate the meaning of ‘certified’ with having a ‘certificate.’

A certificate of completion, or a certificate of attendance, is not the same thing, nor is it equal to being nationally or state certified. Being certified means your proficiency has been assessed impartially by a third party. It is official recognition by the certifying body that you possess certain qualifications and meet certain standards. A certificate, on the other hand, attests to attendance and successful completion of a course of study or targeted training. Certificates are issued by the same entity that offered the training, rather than an impartial third party who developed and administered the proficiency tests.

There are many national certifications available to spoken language and ASL interpreters, for specific practice areas such as court, conference and healthcare, but there aren’t nearly as many certifying bodies.

Here below are the acronyms you should be looking for as you research interpreter trainings, as these organizations are the only certifying national bodies for interpreters. ASL interpreters do not have a medical sub-specialty credential yet that is offered by their national certifying body.

The official certifying bodies for each sub-specialty are as follows:

For ASL:

For spoken language interpreters in courts:

  • AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts), each state has their own AOC

For spoken language interpreters in healthcare:

For spoken language interpreters in conferences:

For Translators:

Becoming certified offers many advantages in terms of employability, rates paid, as well as your own professional development. All certifications require continuing education units to stay viable, and these CEs need to be completed within specified time-frames. This ensures that all certified individuals keep their skills sharp and up to date to deliver the best language access services to clients.

You should visit the site for the organization that administers the certification tests for your area of specialization. They will spell out what is required to obtain, as well as what is required to maintain, your certification.

Just because you are certified in one sub-specialty, does not mean you can skip the certification process for a different sub-specialty. Someone who is court-certified is not sufficiently trained in medical terminology and medical ethics/standards of practice/HIPAA to do the job in a healthcare setting, even though they may possess excellent language skills in English and the target language, and excellent conversion skills for either consecutive or simultaneous interpretation. They would still lack subject matter expertise, bilingual medical terminology and knowledge of process for clinics and hospitals. The same holds true for a healthcare interpreter attempting to interpret for a court session. Acting outside your area of specialization could put your client or patient at risk, or compromise the case should it even go to appeal.

Part 2 of this blog will detail all the available certifications by practice area, so you can decide for yourself which one would be the best fit for you.

Eliana Lobo, 

Special for IEO

Posted in Uncategorized.