Translation Certification in the Pacific Northwest

What is a translator? The T&I Descriptions endorsed by 11 professional associations answer this question.

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 rate Under 20% for most language pairs, higher for others.
See ATA Certification Pass Rates 2003-2013, 2004-2014, and Statistical Trends
for details.
Texts to translate Choose 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 text 250 to 300 200 each
Total source word count 500 to 600 600
Time alloted 3 hours 2 hours
References May 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.
Where Proctored at ATA conference and by chapters and affiliates. Administered by Washington State government (Department of Social and Health Services), in Washington State.
Language pairs English into 15 languages.
14 languages into English.
English into Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Prerequisites ATA membership @$190/yr 18 years old
High school diploma
Cost $525. See A Guide to the ATA Certification Program $50
Accreditation requirements 1 hour of ethics during the first year of certification Free Translator Orientation Webinar 2:13 hrs
Free Ethics Webinar 2:50 hrs
Renewal 20 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 link Certification Exam Overview Schedule a Test
Examination guidelines Error categories Professional Language Certification Examination Manual
Find a translator ATA Online Directories Find 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. See a comparison of translation pass rates published on October 16, 2017. 

When evaluating other certifications, the following information, which should be available without having to submit a name and email address, can be useful.

  • Contact information for certified professionals
  • Grading standards
  • Pass rate for each language pair
  • Standards for establishing the difficulty of the exam
  • Sample exam, availability of graded practice test for a price.
  • Who they are accountable to: Professional association, Institute of Credentialing Excellence accreditation process, public records request (for government certifications)
  • Certification renewal requirements: Continuing education, fees
  • Code of ethics, and the consequences for non-compliance
  • Basis for evaluating the credibility of the organization and the exam. Both matter.

To learn about translation certification training, please email me at [email protected]