How I Became an ATA Certified English to Spanish Translator
Updated: Jul 23
A widely recognized measure of competence for translators throughout America, the ATA certification is one of the industry's most respected credentials for translators.
Taking the ATA certification exam had been on my bucket list for quite some time. When I relocated to the U.S., I wanted the ATA certification as an additional credential that would benefit my expertise and career.
However, life doesn't ever stop or slow down, and the ATA exam always fell out of my list of priorities.
I hold a degree in translation and interpretation from a prestigious university located in my country of origin, Peru.
When I was serious about taking the exam, I was years into my career as a professional Spanish translator and had transitioned through various roles in the industry.
I had experience being an in-house Spanish translator for various translation agencies.
Eventually, I worked my way to up to senior translation positions. I gained a lot of experience being a senior Spanish language translator and copywriter for some of the largest companies in America.
While working as a translation manager for a particular wellness company, I was in charge of website localization for several languages. These languages included traditional Chinese, Canadian French and a few others in between.
But I was running my very own, professional translation company in Phoenix AZ, the same year that I finally decided that I would take the ATA exam.
My company offered language translation services for states all across the nation, including New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California.
In my role as a business owner, the type of translation work I performed transformed because of my varying workload. I stopped translating lengthy documents and instead, was one of the editors for our translation language services.
Clients’ deadline are always very tight but we enjoy helping our clients communicate accurately and affectively with their audience.
It feels rewarding to build long lasting business relationships with our clients who trust our work.
Being a business owner may have put me out of practice to take such a challenging exam like the ATA.
The ATA certification exam has a passing rate of less than twenty percent for most language combinations, some pairs have even lower passing rates.
Did I really need the ATA certification, given my existing credentials and experience? No. For my own good, I still wanted to obtain the certification.
In addition to having a BA or Masters degree in translation, the ATA certification is a requirement to work for my company. Therefore, I felt I had to lead by example.
Throughout my career, I met some very talented colleagues who failed the exam in their preferred language combination, more than once! My colleagues exceeded the credentials that were needed to pass the ATA and were sworn translators in their country of origin.
Even with these impressive backgrounds, they still did not manage to pass the demanding exam.
I thought the ATA test was a challenge, and I like the idea of overcoming a challenge. And that was what ultimately pushed me to finally take it.
Also, I wanted to be humble about my language proficiency skills and put myself to the test, one last time.
Acknowledging all of this motivated me to pass the ATA exam, on the very first attempt.
Here are the decisions and steps that I took in order to become an ATA Certified English to Spanish Translator:
In January, I decided that I would take the ATA exam during the following October.
I decided not to take the ATA practice test because I didn't want to get discouraged if I failed it.
I refrained from listening to my other colleagues' stories about why or how they failed the test. I didn't want to hear that receiving the ATA certification was unnecessary, because it felt important to me and my career.
I studied ATA’s website and got familiar with their grading system and exam instructions. I also read through the exam's frequently asked questions. The ATA exam doesn't require a certain grade to pass, as it is only a pass or fail exam.
The exam consists of three, 225 to 275 word passages, and two of the three passages must be translated. You have to pick two out of three subject matters for translation. The subject matters are 1) General 2) Medical/Technical/Scientific or 3) Legal/Commercial/Financial . I decided I would translate the general text and the legal/commercial/financial passages.
Half of my Sundays were devoted to reading and learning about the economy, international business matters and current affairs. I typically found the best reads in prominent newspapers and magazines, such as the Economist and Forbes. I also read the same news and topics in native Spanish newspapers to compare my understandings.
If the accurate translations did not come to mind while reading through the content above, I would research further. I built a habit of using a monolingual dictionary to understand the meaning of any challenging phrases and sentences that I ran into. This practice helped me build a glossary of terms that were more difficult for me to remember and grasp.
At work, I refrained from being an editor and decided to take on the daily activities of a translator again. I began to translate more creative copies, and commercial, financial and legal documents.
Every week, I would pick and translate one passage from my Sunday readings with no spell check help. While doing this, I followed the ATA exam conditions and timed myself to give me practice for the real exam.
I paid for that same weekly passage to be reviewed by an experienced, English to Spanish ATA certified translator, each week.
I compared, questioned and debated the translator's edits to my own translation. I wanted to make sure that there were real errors, and no preferential word choices.
I reread and studied the Spanish rules on punctuation, grammar, syntax, and so on, regarding the errors found by my editor.
I bookmarked the most relevant online dictionaries and resources to my browsing favorites on my laptop. I also organized the glossaries that I used for various projects over the years and then printed them for the exam.
A part of my meditation practice, I visualized myself on the day of the exam, in a state of peace. I envisioned that I was at ease, doing what I do best, and translating those passages accurately.
In all my years of experience, the day of the exam sitting was one that I would never forget.
I was patiently waiting outside this big room with my heavy carry-on that was full of dictionaries and other resources. In case of a power outage or emergency, I had to be prepared, so I overpacked and hoped for the best.
I focused on what was important in that moment and… there I was, finally certified!
Kathy Paredes is an English to Spanish ATA-certified translator. She specializes in the following fields: Business, Finance, Insurance and Health Care. Additionally, Kathy has solid translation experience in Education, Immigration, Marketing and Market Research. She is also an expert at Transcreation and Linguistic Brand Analysis.