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Is ATA certification worth it? (2016 edition)
Thread poster: Michael Marcoux

Michael Marcoux  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:18
Russian to English
+ ...
Feb 25, 2016

Hey all,

Sorry for posting a new thread on the topic when there appears to be an existing one below - but given that it's from 2007 I wanted to reopen the topic for a fresh discussion.

I've been working for 3 years as a full-time translator - but it went from part time to full time because I allowed myself to become overly reliant on one client. Over the past year, this client has been steadily scaling back their operations, leaving me high and dry. And if there's one thing I'm realizing now, it's that reaching out to new agencies is a lot harder than I once thought.

That being said, I was looking into ATA certification as a way to stand out in the RU>EN market and convince agencies to take a chance on me. I already passed the practice test (on my first try, woohoo!) but wanted to reflect on whether the benefits outweigh the costs before I go signing up for something that will cost me membership fees and continuing education credits each year.

That being said, I'd like to hear from others: has ATA certification had a positive impact on your ability to get clients' attention, and also do you view it as a valuable bargaining chip in rate negotiations?

Thanks!


 

Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:18
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Yes, certainly Feb 25, 2016

I am a certified member of ATA (I obtained my EN>ITA certification about twenty years ago).

Every year I get several inquires (and obtain some new clients) thanks to my certification. And I can measure directly the advantage of being an ATA certified: a partner of mine - same education background, substantially the same experience, same language pair, also an ATA member (but not certified) never seems to receive the same inquiries from people looking for translators in the ATA site.

You mileage (different language pair) might vary, but I definitely recommend getting certified.


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:18
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes Feb 25, 2016

It has made a difference for me as a Spanish-to-English translator. I would even say that it has been essential for me to have ATA certification, given that it is my only formal translation credential.

In a language pair absolutely glutted with people touting services (some highly qualified, many with dubious skills, and some clearly unqualified) ATA-certification is a way of standing out, especially in the absence of a Ph.D. in Translation Studies or Spanish Literature, or some other formal credential. I imagine that things are not all that different for those working in the English/Russian combination.

I would further say that in most cases (there are exceptions) it really is pretty lame for someone to claim multiple years of ATA membership but not to have ATA certification, if the person in question is working in one or more language pairs in which the organization offers certification.


 

Juliette Harris Dumont  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:18
English to French
I was asking myself the same question Feb 25, 2016

Hello there,

I am an Engl>French freelance translator. I have been working full-time for 5 years now but for only 1 big client and some way smaller ones. So the day I lose this big client, for any kind of reasons, I will find myself in a deep hole...

I was thinking about getting certified this year, I am just waiting for a Los Angeles session to be organized. There is something I don't quite understand though. I will have 3 passages to translate (275 words or so each), the first will be general, the second science and the third legal, am I correct? I am not specialized in the medical and legal fields, are those 2 mandatory?

Best Regards,
Juliette


 

LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:18
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Worth it Feb 26, 2016

Juliette Harris Dumont wrote:
I was thinking about getting certified this year, I am just waiting for a Los Angeles session to be organized. There is something I don't quite understand though. I will have 3 passages to translate (275 words or so each), the first will be general, the second science and the third legal, am I correct? I am not specialized in the medical and legal fields, are those 2 mandatory?



The general passage is mandatory, along with one of the two specialized passages. You select which of the two specialized passages you wish to translate.

To the original question: definitely worthwhile, both as a confidence booster and to stand out from the crowed, especially without formal translation qualifications.


 

Lois Feuerle  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:18
Is ATA certification worth it? (2016 edition) Feb 26, 2016

Yes, for me it has absolutely been worth it.

I work in a different language pair (German > English) than the other answers so far, but I too can say that it has definitely been worth it. I get many inquiries where the person or entity making the inquiry explicitly states that the reason they have contacted me specifically is because I am certified.

I also made the transition from working almost exclusively for one client to a more diverse client base after my dream client reorganized, a transition that was certainly eased by my listing as a certified translator in the ATA translation services directory.


 

Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:18
Member (2015)
German to English
Specialized but not too specialized Feb 26, 2016

Juliette Harris Dumont wrote:

There is something I don't quite understand though. I will have 3 passages to translate (275 words or so each), the first will be general, the second science and the third legal, am I correct? I am not specialized in the medical and legal fields, are those 2 mandatory?



This is what ATA includes in its description of the test:
Passage A is required. Candidates must choose either Passage B or Passage C (but not both).

Passage A must be translated. It is a general text that expresses a view, sets forth an argument or presents a new idea. Examples: a newspaper editorial, an essay, a non-fiction book.

Passage B may be technical, scientific or medical in content. It may be written by an expert, but not for other experts in that field. Examples: a patient education brochure, operating or installation instructions, an encyclopedia article.

Passage C may be financial, business or legal in the broadest sense. It may be written by an expert, but not for other experts in that field. Examples: a contract or lease, a financial report, a government regulation.

Each type of examination passage is chosen in such a way as to avoid highly specialized terminology challenges requiring research. There are indeed terminology challenges, but they can be met with a good general dictionary and a general specialty dictionary (medical, technical, legal, financial).


However, now that ATA has begun launching trial balloons of testing on your own laptop with internet access, I'm curious to know if they'll be making some changes to this.


 

Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:18
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
It depends... Feb 26, 2016

There is another recent thread on this:
http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/296576-ata_and_iti_test.html

The disadvantages are 1) it's quite expensive, 2) very low pass rate, 3) you have to go to a place where the test is given, when it is given, which may or may not be convenient for you. It is also given at the annual ATA conferences.

One of the top DE>EN translators at ATA, the go-to guy for a leading commercial translation field, failed the test a couple of times and decided it wasn't worth it. He said certification makes no difference -- he is overwhelmed with work. Obviously each field and language pair is different.


 

Juliette Harris Dumont  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:18
English to French
Thank you for your answer Kristina & Rudolf Feb 26, 2016

Kristina Cosumano wrote:

Juliette Harris Dumont wrote:

There is something I don't quite understand though. I will have 3 passages to translate (275 words or so each), the first will be general, the second science and the third legal, am I correct? I am not specialized in the medical and legal fields, are those 2 mandatory?



This is what ATA includes in its description of the test:
Passage A is required. Candidates must choose either Passage B or Passage C (but not both).

Passage A must be translated. It is a general text that expresses a view, sets forth an argument or presents a new idea. Examples: a newspaper editorial, an essay, a non-fiction book.

Passage B may be technical, scientific or medical in content. It may be written by an expert, but not for other experts in that field. Examples: a patient education brochure, operating or installation instructions, an encyclopedia article.

Passage C may be financial, business or legal in the broadest sense. It may be written by an expert, but not for other experts in that field. Examples: a contract or lease, a financial report, a government regulation.

Each type of examination passage is chosen in such a way as to avoid highly specialized terminology challenges requiring research. There are indeed terminology challenges, but they can be met with a good general dictionary and a general specialty dictionary (medical, technical, legal, financial).


However, now that ATA has begun launching trial balloons of testing on your own laptop with internet access, I'm curious to know if they'll be making some changes to this.


 

The Misha
Local time: 14:18
Russian to English
+ ...
Don't waste your time Feb 26, 2016

I was about to begin by saying that it's funny how so far no one actually working in your pair had bothered to opine on this matter - but then I scrolled down and saw Susan (well, hello, Susan) who everyone knows is just about the only person who keeps that little Slavic flame at the ATA aflutter. Well, all right, there are a few mighty others too without whom the ATA could simply kiss its Russian business dosvidanya. Not too many of them though, and most of them are older folks (older than I, that is, although I am no spring chicken either) who are members primarily because they had been members forever and need an excuse to get out of the house every once in a while and get drunk together:)

Seriously, no one really gives a damn in your pair, which is also mine. Most work these days, as I am sure you know, comes from the Motherland, with whether it's you or someone else who gets it depending on a delicate balance between three things:

1) Who you know in this industry, which, surprisingly, outside of the morass called the Russian domestic market, appears to be quite small;
2) Your areas of specialization. I am mostly doing legal, and the Russians (especially the rich ones) are MUCHO litigious. Technical stuff, not so much anymore;
3) You being able to produce native-quality copy and them being able to afford paying you a living rate, what with today's exchange rate and all.

ATA doesn't factor into any of this, even considering the Russians' everlasting love for all kinds of official-looking paper with little foreign letters on it (Or at least it used to be this way, I wouldn't know much about now).

Bottom line: save yourself the trouble and schmooze. And then schmooze again. And always have a plan B in mind too. Me, I have flattered myself for years with visions of becoming a long-haul trucker or living off the land in Alaska. Oh, those delusions of grandeur...


 

Michael Marcoux  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:18
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the input, Susan Feb 26, 2016

Susan Welsh wrote:

There is another recent thread on this:
http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/296576-ata_and_iti_test.html

The disadvantages are 1) it's quite expensive, 2) very low pass rate, 3) you have to go to a place where the test is given, when it is given, which may or may not be convenient for you. It is also given at the annual ATA conferences.

One of the top DE>EN translators at ATA, the go-to guy for a leading commercial translation field, failed the test a couple of times and decided it wasn't worth it. He said certification makes no difference -- he is overwhelmed with work. Obviously each field and language pair is different.





Thanks for the link, Susan. Definitely worth the read. Fortunately I have the expenses covered and a free place to stay for one of the upcoming tests - the stars really seem to be aligning for me. I'm surprised about the low pass rate - considering that you have to have a T&I degree to sit the exam or 2-5 years experience in the field, depending on your level of education. Maybe I got a really easy practice test - one of my friends told me the "general" section of his SP>EN exam covered the technical aspects of wine making and mash production, but I haven't heard too many stories like that.


 

Michael Marcoux  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:18
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
This is exactly what I wanted to hear Feb 26, 2016

Riccardo Schiaffino wrote:

I am a certified member of ATA (I obtained my EN>ITA certification about twenty years ago).

Every year I get several inquires (and obtain some new clients) thanks to my certification. And I can measure directly the advantage of being an ATA certified: a partner of mine - same education background, substantially the same experience, same language pair, also an ATA member (but not certified) never seems to receive the same inquiries from people looking for translators in the ATA site.

You mileage (different language pair) might vary, but I definitely recommend getting certified.


Fantastic! Quantifiable results are the best! Are these clients mostly looking for long-term partners, or are they just scouring the ATA database looking for someone to take on isolated projects?


 

Michael Marcoux  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:18
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yep Feb 26, 2016

Robert Forstag wrote:

It has made a difference for me as a Spanish-to-English translator. I would even say that it has been essential for me to have ATA certification, given that it is my only formal translation credential.

In a language pair Moderately glutted with people touting services (some highly qualified, many with dubious skills, and some clearly unqualified) ATA-certification is a way of standing out, especially in the absence of a Ph.D. in Translation Studies or Spanish Literature, or some other formal credential. I imagine that things are not all that different for those working in the English/Russian combination.

I would further say that in most cases (there are exceptions) it really is pretty lame for someone to claim multiple years of ATA membership but not to have ATA certification, if the person in question is working in one or more language pairs in which the organization offers certification.


I hear ya. Things were bad, but they've gotten abysmal lately. If you can write a grammatically correct sentence in English, you're already ahead of 50% of your RU>EN competition.

Thanks so much for the input!


 

Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:18
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
They begin by "just looking", but they may become regulars Feb 26, 2016

Michael Marcoux wrote:

Are these clients mostly looking for long-term partners, or are they just scouring the ATA database looking for someone to take on isolated projects?


Usually they are people or companies looking for a one-off project to begin with, but many of them (not all) afterwards became regular clients.

[Edited at 2016-02-26 22:47 GMT]


 

LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:18
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
On requirements Feb 27, 2016

Michael Marcoux wrote:

I'm surprised about the low pass rate - considering that you have to have a T&I degree to sit the exam or 2-5 years experience in the field, depending on your level of education. Maybe I got a really easy practice test - one of my friends told me the "general" section of his SP>EN exam covered the technical aspects of wine making and mash production, but I haven't heard too many stories like that.



The requirements were tightened up recently. For example, previously any advanced degree would qualify, regardless of the subject of the degree or T&I experience.


 
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