Opening Up the Exam to Nonmembers

UPDATE: The change to exam requirements discussed in this article was not approved. At this time, ATA membership is still required to take the exam.


As of January 1, 2020, ATA membership will no longer be required to earn and retain ATA translator certification. Why is this happening and what does it mean for those who are already ATA-certified—and for the Association?

Linking certification to membership has always been a mixed bag. On the one hand, certification has been perceived as a valuable membership perk, a way of standing out from the crowd that creates a strong incentive for joining and remaining a member of ATA. On the other hand, experts recognize that professional credentials linked to membership in a specific organization enjoy less prestige among key stakeholders and the general public. Enhancing the standing of ATA certification is the main reason behind the Board’s decision to make it available to nonmembers as of January 2020.

For people who currently have the ATA-certified translator (CT) designation, little will change. They will still be required to earn and periodically submit continuing education (CE) points. They will still be prominently identified as certified in ATA’s online Directory of Translators and Interpreters. And they will still have access to the official seal confirming their credential. One thing that will change is that they will not have to remain a member to retain the CT designation.

Nonmembers who gain certification beginning in 2020 will also be able to use the CT designation and seal, and they will also have to earn CE points. However, they will not be listed in ATA’s Directory of Translators and Interpreters, nor will they enjoy the many other benefits of membership. In addition, the exam registration fee for nonmembers will be significantly higher than for members.

Eliminating the membership requirement could result in a net loss of members, as some newly certified individuals remain nonmembers and some current members decide not to renew. The ultimate impact of this is impossible to predict, but actions are being taken to minimize the financial impact. For example, ATA’s Membership Committee will be redoubling its membership retention efforts, and plans are in place to target newly certified nonmembers with an information campaign designed to bring them into the fold. Bold action entails risks, but the Board and the Certification Committee believe that the advantages of this change outweigh the potential drawbacks.

Coming on the heels of recent improvements to the Certification Program—such as exam computerization, passage realignment, and the filling of key gaps in language offerings—this next phase in ATA’s certification journey promises to take the Association’s flagship credential to new heights for the benefit of its members and ATA as a whole.

David Stephenson is the chair of ATA’s Certification Committee. An ATA-certified German>English, Dutch>English, and Croatian>English translator, he has been an independent translator for over 30 years, specializing in civil litigation and creative nonfiction. Contact:

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