Why Isn’t ATA Certification Offered in My Language?

ATA currently offers certification in 30 language pairs, but there’s always room for more as long as certain criteria are met. As a member-driven organization, ATA provides support for establishing certification in new language pairs, but the work required to reach this milestone must be done by members who work in those very languages. What follows is an overview of the process for establishing a new pair. (See the link in the Notes section at the end of this column for the formal procedure.)

Demand: Obviously, ATA cannot offer certification in all the thousands of languages used around the world today. Which languages make the cut depends largely on the extent of grassroots interest in certification. This is reflected first and foremost in the willingness of one or more persons to seize the initiative and complete the steps necessary for approval as a new certifiable pair. But in addition to this core group of committed volunteers, it’s also necessary to document broader interest. This is done in the form of a petition signed by 50 individuals interested in sitting for the exam once it’s offered, of which at least 25 must be ATA members. A few other rules apply as well. The reason for these hurdles is to ensure that interest in the exam among translators working in that pair is sufficient to justify administrative efforts, and that certification doesn’t become available only to disappear soon thereafter due to a lack of interest.

Team-Building: Once sufficient interest has been documented, a workgroup of three or more qualified individuals must come together to take the next steps, under the guidance of a liaison from ATA’s Certification Committee. The workgroup should include a few who are willing to serve as initial graders once testing begins—and who will thus forfeit the opportunity to earn the credential themselves until replacements can be recruited from among the pool of successful candidates. At this stage it’s vital that the team members get a feel for each other’s relative strengths and weaknesses. (This includes getting to know each other’s personality, since graders will end up working very closely together in a variety of situations.) During this period team members can also attend grader training, which is held twice a year, and use online grader resources.

Training and Passage Selection: Once a team has coalesced, they must spend time studying ATA’s grading standards and procedures in depth, so as to ensure that their work will be consistent with the rest of the program. Meanwhile, they can begin looking for suitable texts in their source language and submitting them for preliminary review. The team liaison will be of great assistance here, especially in filtering out completely unsuitable prospective texts and explaining why they don’t hit the mark. Passage selection is a key process on the path to approval. Given the major role passage selection plays even for established language pairs, it’s essential that a strong foundation be laid for this during the startup phase. Following any preliminary vetting by the liaison, workgroups must complete paperwork for each passage to be approved by the Passage Selection Task Force, which includes articulating a variety of challenges presented by the passage.

Grading Standards: Last but by no means least, members of startup workgroups must develop both language- and passage-specific guidelines before testing can begin. For language-specific guidelines, graders specify approaches to common translation issues in the respective pair. For passage-specific guidelines, they record decisions about specific errors encountered in individual passages. In a sense, this vital activity pulls together everything done so far. Developing guidelines represents the last leg in passage selection, promotes teamwork through the exchange of opinions about error severity in particular, and presents a further opportunity for training and the inculcation of program standards.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Assuming this is a part-time endeavor for all concerned, the entire process can easily take two years or longer, though that depends largely on the level of commitment. In the recent past, several initiatives have failed due to the inability to document sufficient demand, and others have foundered owing to a lack of leadership or teamwork. Still, it can be done! Since 2004, eight new language pairs have come on board: Croatian, Ukrainian, and Swedish in both directions, as well as Chinese>English and English>Arabic. These last two examples are the latest successes, having been approved for testing to begin in 2018. Both were long-standing efforts that experienced many ups and downs as well as personnel changes over the years. Ultimately, it was the dedication and hard work of a handful of people in each case that turned the tide. Kudos to all who were involved!

Do you have what it takes to help establish certification testing in a new pair? Check out the full procedure for establishing a new language combination on ATA’s website,1 or contact me (david@stephensontranslations.com) or Caron Mason, ATA’s Certification Program manager (caron@atanet.org) for further details.

Attention Farsi Translators! A workgroup has been organized to establish ATA certification for translators of Farsi. Anyone interested in pursuing ATA certification in Farsi—as a workgroup participant or future candidate—should contact info@farsilanguagecenter.com.

  1. Procedure for Establishing a New Language Combination, http://bit.ly/cert-new-language.

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: david@stephensontranslations.com.

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