Maybe You Don’t Need That Degree and Certification

What if you don’t need a fancy degree and certification to be an excellent translator or interpreter? It strikes those of us in the language professionals community as shocking – even heretical. It goes against what we’ve been taught.

Without a degree or certification, you’re no different from any other bilingual person, right? But maybe that’s not always the case.

Our very own Jenae Spry of Success by Rx believes that such credentials are only one aspect to consider when evaluating a translation and interpretation (T&I) professional.

“I look at degrees and certifications, but I think it’s being given far too much weight in our industry,” Spry says. “There’s a lot more that goes into making a good translator or interpreter than a certification or a degree.”

Spry knows what she’s talking about. She hires T&I professionals for her company, Rx Translations, Inc., and sees the products they deliver.

In her experience working with different translators and interpreters, those without degrees and certifications can be “amazing practitioners.”

The opposite holds true, too. In some cases, those with impressive credentials have delivered less-than-stellar products that required major work.

Spry also knows the hard work and dedication that go into having these coveted degrees and certifications. After all, she has a Master’s degree in Translation and a certification from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey – something many translators would love to have on their resumes.

While she recognizes the value of her education and certification, she also knows that these types of credentials are relatively new to the profession. There is a long history of regulated industries like medicine and the law requiring strict qualifications from their practitioners. This isn’t the case for the T&I world, where such credentials are relatively new.

Because of that, Spry says, “There are still tons of people with any number of years of experience, including those with 10, 15, 20+ years out there” who do great work and don’t have any degree or certification. “I work with several.”

Her feeling on the matter? “The focus should be on what the person can do,” she says.

That being said, you do want to be sure to check the federal and state requirements for the field that interests you. There are, in fact, some locations and types of work that require you to have specific credentials.

So how can you be sure you have what it takes to be a good translator? Spry has a couple ideas.

One is mentorship. Spry says, “If you’d rather not spend lots of money on formal training or certification, find someone who is already successfully working in your desired field and offer to work under them (for a reduced rate or even free) in exchange for learning and checking your skills.” Finding a mentor to guide you is helpful because you don’t have to navigate the T&I world on your own. Spry says that your mentor could provide feedback on your translations and offer suggestions for improvement. As Spry explains, “Once the person validates your skills and you see that your work doesn’t require deep edits, it might be time to strike out on your own.”

Hiring an advanced translator you trust is another strategy she suggests for newcomers to the industry. This is similar to mentorship in that you have an advanced translator review your work – except in this scenario you pay for their expertise. Spry explains that once you land the client, you hire an advanced translator to review your work before submitting it to the client. Spry reminds everyone to “be prepared to pay top dollar to the reviewer and let the reviewer know in advance that it will be more than just standard proofreading so that they can quote the job properly and schedule their time properly.” Partnered with an advanced translator, you can be more assured you are delivering a quality product.

With all this in mind, how do you know if you should get certified? It’s up to you and your situation. According to Spry, “Many people find that certification is great for boosting their own confidence, for example if they are switching from another career and would like the validation.” But Spry cautions, “It’s not a guarantee of work.” Of course, there aren’t many things in life that are guaranteed.

So what’s your verdict? Degree or no degree? Certification or no certification? Whatever you decide, make sure your skills are top notch.

Melissa Kamenjarin

Author: Melissa Kamenjarin

Melissa is a Success by Rx copywriter and Spanish/English translator, writer, editor and proofreader specializing in educational materials, health insurance, non-profits, and published fiction and non-fiction books, blogs and websites. Melissa is the Secretary and blog writer for ATISDA (Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area). An American Translators Association (ATA) member, she is also the Copy Editor for the ATA Medical Division’s publication, Caduceus.

Posted in Business.


  1. The bottom line is: if a translator does not provide excellent quality work in this profession, they will not last very long. However, from a client’s perspective, if they do not have experience with a translator and the translator does not have a strong, positive, professional presence, longevity in the profession, and possessing degrees or certifications in translation can provide the client with a measure of security, even if they have no idea what is involved with obtaining these credentials nor how good the translator’s work really is. On the other hand, having other degrees such as a Medical Degree, MBA, Phd or Law Degree, etc., demonstrates that a translator has the intelligence and fortitude to complete graduate-level professional education, and let’s the client know you are “no slouch.” For clients in search of high-quality translations, recommendations/referrals are a great place to start. Additionally, stringent vetting of potential translators can involve a little extra effort and time up front, but can result in long-term, reliable relationships in the long run.

  2. In my opinion and from my experience, only agencies care about years of experience, degrees and certificates. My clients have never asked for a resumé, recommendations/referrals, certificates or anything of the like. I dont’t think they even care about the professional associations we belong to. All these things are just for us as professionals.

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