To Become Accredited or Not To Become Accredited, That is the Question…

The second in our series of posts for new translators…


Challenge 2: Whether to gain professional accreditation or not

At some point in their career, be it earlier or later, every translator becomes aware of the different professional organisations and bodies that carry clout in the industry. These tend to be national, rather than international, for example the Insitute of Translators and Interpreters in the UK (http://www.iti.org.uk/) and the American Translators’ Association in the United States (https://www.atanet.org/). The one notable exception is probably the global Proz forum (www.proz.com/pro-tag/info/), which accredits translators as a ‘Certified Pro’. Being accredited by any of these organisations undoubtedly has benefits. But is it an essential component for success in the industry?

With an increasing number of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in translation becoming available across the globe, not to mention the rise in non-formal education (webinars on industry-specific topics, for instance) it can be all too easy to get lost in the translation qualification and certification quagmire. Here’s TransTeach’s advice for translators just starting out and those who’ve reached a juncture in their career where they’re considering accreditation with one of the industry’s professional associations.

Identify your priorities

If it’s practical aspects of the industry that you want to learn more about (anything from actually practising your translation skills to trying out subtitling, interpreting, translation technologies or improving your sales and marketing skills), academic or non-formal education is probably the best way forward. Professional associations aren’t really geared up to provide lots of content-rich training in this respect. That said, they do often provide information about and a another conduit to such training.

Equally, if you’ve recently completed academic or professional studies and want to focus on honing your translation skills and marketing yourself, then getting yourself an online presence and some work experience is probably a better use of your time in the immediate future. The accreditation process for many professional bodies can be lengthy and unless your studies have exempt you from some of the criteria (i.e. a module or an exam) can detract from gaining valuable work experience in the industry.

Professional bodies are, however, a good option if you want to have your existing skills accredited, increase your network of industry contacts and gain the benefits associated with accreditation.

NOTE: ‘Membership’ is not the same as ‘accreditation’. Membership of professional associations can often be obtained without accreditation. The advantages and disadvantage of membership of professional associations (reduced price subscription to industry-related publications, conferences and even professional indemnity insurance, to name but a few) warrants a whole separate post in its own right. This one deals only with accreditation.

Do a cost/benefit analysis

Accreditation costs vary from country to country and there are often different categories available to choose from. The ITI, for example, offers 3 different levels of individual accreditation (Associate, Qualified Member and Fellow) to suit different stages of your career. Only by researching the cost (which is usually annual) and the different benefits offered can you work out whether or not accreditation of a given type is going to be right for you. To illustrate what can be involved in the application procedure, the criteria required and the kind of benefits that are on offer, the following comprehensive overview of the ITI Qualified Member status is worth a look: http://www.iti.org.uk/become-a-member/membership-categories/368-qualified-member-miti.

There may be more advantages to a particular accreditation than you first realise and these can undoubtedly sway any decision. They certainly have for the thousands of translators who are already accredited!

Our own personal experience is that whilst the benefit list may appear long, the benefits that you regularly utilise can be somewhat more limited. So, ask yourself which of them you really believe you will use. There is the argument that only through trial and error can you ever really tell what you will gain from accreditation. Our aim in this post is simply to ensure that you make an informed decision before deciding to commit to gaining it.

Consider the fields you work in or want to work in

For some areas of translation (legal, scientific, medical and technical in particular) accreditation from a particular association can undoubtedly provide evidence of your credibility to other colleagues in the industry as well as clients. Inclusion in professional body directories can add to your credentials. In fields where technical knowledge is essential because the accuracy of a translation really can be the difference between life and death (or at least being sued or not), then accreditation can often be another very beneficial string to your bow. In the fields of law, science and medicine accreditation is often compulsory for practising professionals. It is therefore no surprise that they look for similar attributes in translators within their field.

Talk to translation colleagues about their experiences

Everyone will have their own stories to tell. Some may be huge advocates of becoming accredited by professional associations; others may not have found the experience to be very beneficial and may never actually have gained any of their work as a direct result of their accredited status. The more people you speak to, the more balanced a view you will obtain about the realities of accreditation. Forewarned is forearmed and all that…

Do what’s right for you

Never, ever, ever, do anything because you feel you must. Here at TransTeach we’ve always been a bit ‘outside of the box’ in our thinking and only ever opted not to become accredited by Proz.com, rather than a particular national body. Our reasons? Proz.com is internationally recognised and therefore our clients all over the world can identify with it. We were also able to gain accreditation by using samples of our actual work (no exam involved) and this method was, for us, preferable. Ironically, we’ve always loved exams and performed well in them but we’ve never felt this was necessarily the fairest way of achieving accreditation. It looks as though things may well be changing in this respect in the future, something which we would welcome.

At TransTeach, we also believe there are manifold ways of gaining credibility and an industry-specific network. We’ve therefore tended to network organically, with individuals, institutions and companies that we really want to collaborate with in the fields that we are proficient in (subtitling, localisation, creative media, travel, education, economic development) and indeed in those that we want to work more in. There really is no substitute for enthusiasm and initiative.

Through client testimonials, social media and even word of mouth, we’ve found that we’re constantly able to develop and grown our business. The wealth of information on the Internet today has probably made this kind of business model even easier to adopt than when we started out.

For any new translators wishing to take a similar route, we’d thoroughly recommend becoming a part of some of the more social/community-based online forums. One of our favourites is the Standing Out group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/standingoutgroup) and the Standing Out Exchange group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/standingoutexchange/). Whilst still relatively new – they’ve been around for a couple of years – they offer a really positive, supportive environment with a huge amount of advice, and even offers of work, from translators all over the world and with all levels of experience, from the very novice right through to the seasoned pro. They also show that when it comes to accreditation there is a complete mix, with some translators having everything going and some having none. There simply isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ formula and discovering that alone can be reassuring.

To conclude this post then, we would suggest not worrying too much about accreditation until you have regular work and some kind of client base, unless, as mentioned, one of your existing courses of study or qualifications happens to exempt you from some components of the application process. Later on, when money and work flow are less of any issue, you can revisit the topic of accreditation and decide whether you see it as advantageous in moving forward with your translation career.

It’s probably worth noting, as a final point, that we see just as many colleagues not renewing their accreditation each year as we see gaining it. Take from that what you will. Just make sure that any decision you arrive at when it comes to translation accreditation is based on thorough research and made with your own professional objectives in mind.

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