A Quick Guide to Translator and Interpreter Education

“education” by Sean MacEntee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Poet Amanda Gorman and her poem “The Hill We Climb” certainly made an impact during the presidential inauguration ceremony in January, but it also made headlines around the world for another reason: The media and experts widely discussed the question of who should translate such works of historical and political significance! The general debate on who should translate is not new, the media’s heightened awareness on the person of the translator in terms of diversity and inclusion vs. translation skills and experience alone, however, is!

It is part of the nature of translation that someone who is likely quite different from the author pulls the text over into a new language and new culture. However, who should take on such a task? What can be established as true is that the general population expects translators to be highly qualified and educated. To quote Lanna Castellano (‘Get Rich – But Slow’, 1988, p. 133), “Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be in your prime.”

The landscape of T&I education often resembles the most ambitious intertwined Texas highway overpasses…

Castellano makes a great point; translators and interpreters need knowledge and experience to do their work, but where do they get it from? There has been an uptick in translation and interpreting (T&I) programs in recent years, and the landscape of T&I education often resembles the most ambitious intertwined Texas highway overpasses. Figuring out where to go to get a sound educational foundation can be a challenge. A good starting point to T&I education is to have a general personal and professional goal in mind. There are no two translators/interpreters who have the same background, interest, and education. Often, subject-matter expertise and language pairs, as well as time and money are deciding factors when choosing a translation education path.

Orientation Workshops, Introductory Programs for Court Interpreters

In Texas, one of the requirements to becoming a licensed court interpreter is the completion of an at-the-minimum 6-hour orientation course approved by the Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC). Public or private educational institutions offer these orientation courses, and what they teach are basic skills needed in court, such as sight translation and consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. Also taught on a basic level are professional responsibilities, ethics, and court policies; in short, it is an introduction to what is required to pursue a court interpreter license and work as a court interpreter in the state of Texas. A list of approved orientation courses may be found on the JBCC website.

Certificate Programs

The next step up from the orientation workshops and introductory programs are certificate programs offered by colleges, universities, and public and private organizations. In the US, these certificate programs are usually taught in English and can support various specializations, such as healthcare or legal interpreting, or other fields of professional practice. Many programs can support students who translate from or into English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German or Russianthe more commonly translated languages.

The requirements and prerequisites to be admitted to certificate programs can vary. Some colleges and universities only require a high school diploma and proof of proficiency in another language. Others insist on a few semesters of foreign-language study and a certain number of completed credit hours in other fields. Certificate programs either aim to prepare students to take certification exams, such as legal or medical interpreting, or they are offered as an addition to other undergraduate and graduate programs (usually in liberal arts & humanities departments) to prepare students for a variety of professional settings where they could come into contact with tasks related to translation or interpreting.

Some certificate programs are also available as continuing education courses in a community college setting. The curriculum of these certificate programs can vary depending on the specialization or the focus of the program as well as the availability and background of the instructors. The length of certificate programs can also vary and so does the outcome; on one end, there are no earned credits with some continuing education programs or certificate programs offered by private organizations, and on the other end, university-based certificate programs can earn you up to 40 credits.

Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Programs

It gets wild on the undergraduate and graduate levels. There are endless degree options to choose from to prepare students for a career in translation and interpreting. Generally, these programs are associated with liberal arts & humanities departments. Languages and translation play a major role in the classics, in literature and philosophy, in the social sciences, especially in linguistics, in communications, and in medicine and law! It is no surprise that translation and interpreting programs usually consist of theoretical and practical classes but also include linguistic, technical, ethical, and philosophical components. Lecturers teaching at translation and interpreting programs may be professors of the practice or adjunct professors and instructors coming from other departments to support students with various language pairs and interests. Students may also take classes at other departments to fulfill graduation requirements. Many T&I degree programs are built in a way to allow for an emphasis or a concentration, and students can choose their area of interest or field of research. There are many ways and lenses to look at translation and interpreting; they all fall under the umbrella term translation studies, an academic discipline that is still relatively new and heavily borrows from other disciplines.

The Expert Who Turns into a Translator

Another group of translators and interpreters who do not have a specific background in any discipline typically associated with T&I education are expert-turned translators and interpreters. These translators and interpreters may have decided on a career change due to personal and professional circumstances, opportunity, or simply by choice. They are experts in a certain field and possess the necessary language skills to be successful.

T&I Continuing Education

Continuing one’s education is a requirement for certified translators and interpreters and advisable for anyone who wants to stay competitive or who is simply just curious about translation and interpreting topics. Continuing education for translators and interpreters comes in many forms. Some training is often provided for free by larger agencies or language service providers if translators and interpreters have to fulfill specific requirements, for example, when they need to work with company-owned internal computer-assisted translation programs (CAT tools) or when there are particular things that end clients require (e.g. HIPAA adherence). Professional associations offer webinars and workshops; there are podcasts and recorded lectures on the internet, and of course, many books are available in bookstores and online.

While there are no minimum requirements to get started as a translator or community interpreter in the United States, the typical entry-level education is at least a bachelor’s degree and close to native-level proficiency in the working languages.

The following are some courses and programs offered in Austin:

(let us know if we forgot one!)

Austin Community College Continuing Education, certificate program, https://continue.austincc.edu/translation

Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT), court interpreter orientation course: https://tajit.org/

Texas Municipal Courts Education Center (TMCEC) pre-certification training https://www.tmcec.com/about/

Center for Professional Education (CPE) at the University of Texas at Austin, certificate programs, https://professionaled.utexas.edu/interpretation-translation

The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/

St. Edward’s University, degree programs/professional programs https://www.stedwards.edu/

There are also programs available at other University of Texas campuses, for example at the Center for Translation Studies in Dallas or at the College of Liberal and Fine Arts in San Antonio. The ATA also maintains a list with T&I programs, but it is not complete: https://www.atanet.org/career-education/student-resources/translation-interpreting-courses/