Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve answered some of the most common questions about translation and interpretation. Just click on a question below to be taken to the answer. If you don't find the answer you are looking for here, or to make any suggestions or additions to these pages, please see our Resources page, or and we’ll be happy to help you out.
I need an interpreter/translator, where can I find one?
Please click Find a Language Professional above, and search for the language combination you need. This will provide you with a list of all interpreters/translators within the parameters you have specified. Then contact each person individually and request further information and a price quote.
If HITA’s individual members do not have the language combination you need, please check with one of our Corporate members. Most are translation companies, who maintain databases of skilled translators and interpreters. Or, visit any of the following:
For licensed court interpreters,
- Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT): www.tajit.org
- National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT): www.najit.org
- Judicial Branch Certication Commission (JDCC): www.txcourts.gov/jbcc/licensed-court-interpreters.aspx
For interpreters and translators:
- American Translators Association (ATA): www.atanet.org
We also recommend these ATA publications:
Translation: Getting it Right. A guide to buying translation
Interpreting: Getting it Right. A guide to buying interpreting services
What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?
An interpreter works with the spoken word between two languages, meaning he/she must know both languages almost equally well. An interpreter must have good public speaking skills.
Interpreters perform either consecutive or simultaneous interpreting.
- A consecutive interpreter listens to a few sentences at a time, then speaks to the listeners as the speaker pauses.
- A simultaneous or conference interpreter works with equipment that enables the speaker to continue without stoppping. The interpreter usually stands or sits inside an isolated room or cabinet. The interpreter’s voice can be sent to the public address system, or transmitted to radio receivers available to audience members.
A translator works with the written word between two languages, and usually works into his/her dominant language only, rather than into the second non-dominant language.
(There are exceptions. See the section titled, “Native Stylus vs. Native Style” here.)
A translator must understand both the terminology and nuances of the source language, and must also have good writing skills in their own dominant language.
To be effective, today’s translators must also know how to use a computer, including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs and computer-assisted translation tools, such as Trados, Déjà Vu, SDL, etc. They must know how to find new terminology on the Internet. The above skills are also useful for interpreters, but not as mandatory.
What is a “certified translation”?
In the United States, a certified translation is a translation attached to a written statement, signed before a notary, that (a) the document is a true and accurate translation of the original, and that (b) the person making this statement is qualified to make this certification. It is most often required by government agencies when presenting documents as class transcripts, birth and marriage certificates, adoption papers, written testimony, etc. that were not originally written in English.
In most cases, the person does not have to state any qualifications and there is no legal definition of “qualified”. However, some jurisdictions have more stringent requirements. For example, for visa applications, the statement cannot be made by the applicant or a relative.
This statement or certificate is separate and not related to any translator certification program. For example, the American Translator’s Association, offers voluntary “certification” to its members who pass a certification examination. But a translator does not require such certification to provide a “certified” translation.
Documents that must be presented for legal purposes in other countries may have to be legalized, authenticated, or some other term, as well as being translated. Most of these requirements are covered by the Hague Convention, which defines a document called an apostille. In the U.S., this document is issued by the Department of State of each individual state. In other cases, the document and/or translation may need to be stamped and registered at a consulate in the United States before it is sent abroad. Our recommendation is to deal with an agency with experience with this kind of document.
Can we get a computer program to do our translations?
Yes and no. Despite decades of ambitions of computer scientists, and rapid advances in computer technology, machine translation is not yet suitable for “Fully Automatic High Quality Translation”.
Machine translation is most frequently used today to quickly provide the “gist” of documents in other languages. Even a low-quality translation can be useful, such as for simple instructions, or to determine whether a document is relevant and to refine a search. In certain cases, when the style and terminology in the source documents are strongly restricted, MT can be used to provide first drafts for human translators.
Environment Canada, the Canadian weather agency, uses the TAUM-METEO system to translate weather information between French and English. It works well, mainly because only a limited number of clearly defined terms are used in weather forecasts.
Translators can use other computerized tools. Computer assisted translation (CAT) systems combine the language and conceptual skills of a human being, with the data storage, retrieval and processing capabilities of a computer. CAT includes dictionary lookup, indexers, concordancers, terminology management, and text alignment tools. Some of the most successful tools are translation memory (TM) programs.
However, a CAT program does not translate automatically. In the same way, a word processing program doesn’t write, and a drafting program such as AutoCAD doesn’t draw. Each one can increase the quality and productivity of a knowledgeable professional.
What are the differences between using an agency and an individual translator or interpreter?
HITA includes both individual and agency members. An individual provider can offer shortened lines of communication, to more quickly resolve questions about terminology or job scheduling requirements. This option may be especially suitable for clients with needs in a particular language or specialty. Using the same individual can help maintain consistency in style and terminology. Working directly with a client not only makes us familiar with the client’s special requirements, but helps us keep up to date with industry needs.
On the other hand, an experienced translation agency can better suit the needs of some clients. A well-established agency maintains a database of qualified professionals. This helps them prequalify the skills of individual providers; to match those abilities to the client’s needs; to assemble a team to perform the work to meet short deadlines or if no one individual has the required expertise; to provide alternates when an individual is ill or otherwise not available; and to find professionals with unusual specialties and infrequently-used languages.
They are often equipped to offer “one-stop” shopping and advice for complex projects that involve project management, multiple target languages, copywriting, independent editing and proofreading, desktop publishing, and printing. Many can arrange for “apostilles” for documents that must legalized for official use in other countries. Some have experience arranging events such as conferences, and offer not only onsite interpreting and translation services, but can arrange meeting rooms, rental of audiovisual equipment, and other facilities. Finally, an agency may function as the official hiring entity which isolates the client from employment or tax issues.
What questions should I ask a translation provider?
- Will I be charged by the page, per line, or per word?
- Are there any additional costs such as ‘rush’ charges or extra charges for non-European languages and technical subjects?
- Will the translator be translating into his or her own language?
- What method of checking is used?
- Does the translation provider use computer systems that are compatible to yours?
- What other communications equipment is available?
- Are other services such as typesetting, interpreting, voice-overs and copy writing available?
- Does the translation company carry professional indemnity insurance?
What questions might be asked by a translation provider?
- What is the format of the source document? Is there an electronic file available in a commonly used format? Charges may be higher for paper originals, faxes, photocopies, handwritten text, desktop publishing files, or other source materials.
- Does your company have a glossary of preferred terminology?
- How should graphics be handled? Options range from simple two-column glossaries, to full reproduction of the image including all text.
What languages are offered by HITA members?
As of December 9, 2014, there are at least 40 languages represented by HITA members (counting several forms of Chinese, French, and Portuguese): Arabic, Baluchi, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Chinese (spoken: Cantonese, Mandarin; written: Simplified, Traditional), Croatian, Dutch, English, Farsi, French (including French-Canadian), German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Latvian, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sindhi, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
Current and potential members:
How do I know that my membership has expired?
The HITA system sends a renewal notice by email, one month before the expiration date. The notice includes a link that will take you to the web site, where you can pay via PayPal. If we don’t receive payment before the expiration date, the system will send a second reminder on that date. The second reminder is a text-only message, to reduce the chances of being mistaken for "spam" by your email system.
Where can I find my membership renewal date?
You can see the renewal date by logging into the website. Your renewal date is shown in the orange box on the right side of the screen.
When does my HITA membership expire?
Your HITA membership expires one year from your first payment date. If you pay your renewal dues before the expiration date, the system adds one year to that date. If your membership lapses without being renewed, you can still log in and view or update your profile information. However, your profile will not be visible to site visitors until we received your renewal payment. When we receive your payment, the membership is renewed by adding one year to the expiration date, and your profile will be visible once again.
How can I renew my HITA membership / pay my membership dues?
There are three different ways:
1. At the HITA website
- Visit the HITA web site and enter the Member Zone. If you do not see this selection in the menu bar at the top of the screen, then your computer is already logged in. Please verify that you are logged in using your own name. If not, please logout and then login again with your own information.
- If you don’t remember your password, please contact the HITA web editor , and we’ll send you a new one. Or tell any of the board members (click the About link).
- After you login, if your membership has expired (or one month before expiration), you will see a notice and a PayPal logo at the right side of the screen. Click on the link and follow the directions to make a payment using PayPal or a credit card.
Use this option if you can’t remember your HITA password, or if your membership has not yet expired and you wish to pay in advance.
- Go to the PayPal site
- Click on Send Money, and follow the directions. HITA’s email address for payments is:
- Annual dues are $35 for Individual members, $100 for Corporate members, and $75 for Institutional members.
- There is a box to add a message to the recipient. Please use it to tell us your name. Otherwise, we might not recognize who you are from your email address alone.
This button does the same thing, but for individual memberships only:
3. By checkSend your check for the amount of the rewewal to HITA’s mailing address. This address is displayed at the bottom of every page at the web site.
How much are the membership dues?Annual dues are $35 for Individual members, $100 for Corporate members, and $75 for Institutional members.
I forgot my password. How can I enter the website?
Your password is encrypted and we cannot retrieve it, but a new one can be generated when needed. To have a new password sent to your current email address, visit this page. Or, contact the HITA Web Editor or Treasurer.
Why does HITA use PayPal? Can I use another method of payment?
First, many translators already use PayPal. Our website is designed so that it can automatically extend a member’s expiration date after a payment is made. This reduces the time that we have to spend online, as well as trips to the bank and the post office.
PayPal is also secure. There are complaints about PayPal, and they’re easy to find (simply search onlne for “Paypal” and “complaints”). Judge for yourself. However, no current or former directors of HITA have ever reported any problem with this service.
Still, we understand that not every member is comfortable with online money transfers. You can send payments by check, to the address given at the bottom of this page. Or, you can deliver it to one of the directors in person.
What is the relationship between HITA and ATA?
HITA is an affiliate of the American Translators Association (ATA). HITA is not an ATA chapter: HITA and ATA do not share membership dues, and HITA’s organization and activities are not subject to ATA guidelines.
However, HITA shares ATA’s primary goals and objectives; to advance the translating and interpreting professions and to foster the professional development of individual providers. HITA and ATA have worked together to offer seminars and training courses in Houston. We encourage HITA members to learn more about the educational opportunities and other programs and benefits offered by the ATA.
From prospective translators and interpreters:
What is a court interpreter?
A court interpreter is a person who interprets to and from English and another language in a court proceeding. Court interpreting services may be needed for a criminal defendant, a witness, a party in a lawsuit, or another person involved in a court proceeding who speaks or understands little or no English. Court interpreters are also sometimes responsible for translating written documents, often of a legal nature, from English into a foreign language or from a foreign language into English.
The interpreter’s role is to render a complete and accurate interpretation (oral) or translation (written), without altering, omitting, or adding anything to what is stated or written, and without additional explanations. In essence, the interpreter serves as a bridge between whomever is speaking—judge, attorney, witness, etc.—and the non-English speaking person, so that the non-English speaking person hears in his own language everything that is being said in English. If a non-English speaking person testifies in court, it is also the interpreter’s job to interpret everything that person says into English so that everyone in the courtroom can hear it in English.
“Interpret” in this context does not mean explain or simplify. It means providing an equivalent meaning in the target language as the one stated in the source language. It is not the interpreter’s job to explain or simplify anything that is being said by participants in the courtroom proceedings. Nor can the interpreter give advice to or otherwise counsel the non-English speaker in court.
What kinds of skills does it take to be a court interpreter?
Being bilingual is not sufficient. The level of expertise required for court interpreting is much greater than that required for everyday bilingual conversation. In addition to having a thorough command of English and the other language, a court interpreter must be able to deal with the specialized language of judges and attorneys, as well as with the street slang of witnesses and the technical jargon of law enforcement officers, expert witnesses, and others. A court interpreter must be able to interpret accurately for individuals with a high level of education and a large vocabulary, as well as for persons with very limited language skills, without changing the language register of the speaker. The interpreter must also possess excellent mental skills, including the accurate conversion of the concept in the source language into the corresponding concept in the target language, and vice versa, often with only a split second to choose the equivalent words and phrases.
In addition, it’s very helpful for a court interpreter to have good public speaking and interpersonal skills. If the court testimony to be interpreted is shocking or traumatic, the interpreter must be able to perform the interpreting function without reacting or becoming emotionally involved. The interpreter must understand the interpreter’s role; that is, the interpreter cannot express personal opinions or be an advocate for one side or the other in a court case. The interpreter must be able to work well under pressure and react quickly to solve complex linguistic and ethical problems as they arise. A good court interpreter must continually strive to upgrade his/her skills by reading from a wide variety of sources, researching new terms and concepts, and improving interpreting techniques.
A court interpreter must be able to do the consecutive and simultaneous modes of interpretation, as well as on-sight translation.
Where can I get certified as an interpreter or translator?
The American Translators Association (ATA) has the only U.S. certification program of translators, offered exclusively to its members. There is a limited number of language pairs that can be certified at this time; more are added as tests are developed and graders trained. Please contact the ATA for both membership and other information.
The ATA has also prepared this article on the history and future of translator and interpreter certification programs in the USA.
For Court Interpreters
Court interpreters are certified at the Federal and State levels.
The Federal Court Interpreter Certification Program certifies court interpreters in Spanish only. Federal court certification is also accepted in most state courts, including Texas.
Court proceedings in Texas are required to have licensed interpreters under certain circumstances. Texas Court Interpreters are licensed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, TDLR. In addition to a written and an oral examination, interpreters must complete 8 hours of continuing education each year.
Texas is a member of the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification, organized by the National Center for State Courts. The Consortium has developed examinations for Arabic, Cantonese, Haitian-Creole, Hmong, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, Polish, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese. There is reciprocity between the 36 member states in the Consortium.
In addition to the Consortium, TDLR accepts the written and oral examinations performed by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, NAJIT, which are offered only in Spanish.
For Medical and Community Interpreters
The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), The California Healthcare Interpreting Association (CHIA),
the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), and the American Translators Association (ATA)
have been working together since December 2008 to create a nationwide coalition that will work toward
development of a national certification for health care interpreters. In June 2008, The National Coalition
on Health Care Interpreter Certification released the
report of its Inaugural Meeting held on May 29-30, 2008
in Chicago. A press release
announcing the convening of the meeting and the resultant
commitment to develop a single national certification in medical
interpreting was distributed on June 13, 2008. Besides this effort, there are no
other form of national certification for interpreters working in healthcare or community services. Although
some states have attempted to start programs, there is still much debate over how such a program would be
administered and what the implications would be. For an overview of this issue, please see:
- The California Endowment:
- Certification of Health Care Interpreters in the United States
- Diversity Rx
- Pitfalls and Peaks Along the Road to Certifying Medical Interpreters
- National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems
- Certification and Quality Assurance in Language Services
Washington has a program currently in effect. Programs are being studied in the following states (click on the state name for details, where available): California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas.
Do translators and interpreters have to follow a Code of Ethics?
- The responsibilities of court interpreters in Texas are established by state law, including the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. In general, court interpreters cannot provide any service other than interpreting from one language to another.
- Members of the American Translators Association must observe the Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices.
- Interpreters for the deaf follow the guidelines of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID)
Where can I study to become an interpreter or translator?HITA maintains a Professional Development page, listing training and educational events. It is focused on the needs of translators with ATA certification and Texas licensed court interpreters. Courses ahve been offered in Houston by these HITA members: Berkana Language Center, MasterWord Services, and Rolando Rodriguez.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Registration, or TDLR maintains a list of Continuing Education Providers for Licensed Court Interpreters. Note: not all of these providers are currently offering courses.
The ATA presents a list of ATA Institutional members, mostly colleges and universities, that offer training to translators and interpreters. The ATA web site also has information about careers and internships in the language industry.
The Monterey Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, California, offers graduate programs in translation and intepretation, language and educational linguistics, international policy studies, and other programs.
The University of Charleston, South Carolina, offers a Masters program in court interpreting.
The National Center for Interpretation at the University of Arizona offers periodic courses in court and medical interpreting and translation.
For individual practice audio tapes and transcripts for consecutive and simultaneous interpretation (court and medical), see the materials offered in Spanish and some other languages by ACEBO of Spreckles, California.
What should I charge for my translation or interpretation work?
Like in any business in a free market, what you charge is negotiated between you and your client. Just for your information, in the U.S. translations are usually charged by the number of words in the target language or in the source language; in some European languages, such as German, translations are frequently charged by the number of lines in the target language. Translations are almost never charged by the page. Interpretation work is usually charged by the hour; or by the day, if the job is for a whole day or is located out of town.
When estimating your cost for a translation are:
- Language (due to supply and demand, some languages can demand higher rates than others).
- Difficulty of the text (how much research time will be involved, do you have the appropriate dictionaries, who will edit/proofread your translation, how much information and help will the client provide).
- Turn-around time of job (how long is the text, is there a rush deadline, do you have to stay up all night to finish it, do you have sufficient time to do it correctly).
- Is this for a translation company or a direct client (obviously, a translation company will pay you less than a direct client, as they have to bear all the costs of marketing, translating, editing, desk-top publishing, collecting payment, etc., etc.).
- Hardware/software (do you have the equipment necessary for the job, do you know how to use it, what is the client/translation company requiring in terms of the format of the finished product).
- Skill/experience (how well do you know the subject, is this your specialty or not, is this your 1st job or your 500th, what special skills do you bring to this job?)
When estimating your cost for an interpreting assignment:
- Is the job for consecutive or simultaneous interpreting (do you know how to interpret simultaneously, do you have equipment for simultaneous interpretation, will you charge the client for providing this equipment, who is going to partner you, will the client get a second interpreter or will you?)
- Is the job for a business meeting, a court case or a medical case (do you have the appropriate certifications or proof of ability and qualifications?)
- Are you properly familiar with the subject matter that the client needs (how much material will the client provide so you can study, how much research will you have to do on your own?)
- Is the job in town or out of town (is the client paying for your travel expenses and travel time, is a long trip worth it to you in terms of family members or pets/plants that must be looked after while you are gone?)
- Where is the job taking place (some places around the country/world are more expensive than others, can you combine this job with a holiday, do you really want to go to that city/country, is it safe for you to travel there?)
- Will all of your travel expenses be paid for by the client (airfare, hotel, meals, mileage, parking, ground transportation, travel time), as well as your daily/hourly fee?
Be aware that in some states, professional fees are higher than in others, depending on the markets there; i.e., rural areas typically pay less than urban areas. If you are interpreting for the courts, the state or federal court usually has an assigned amount it will pay for interpreting and/or mileage and you will have to accept those terms or reject the job. Each time you accept an interpreting job be sure and ask who is to be invoiced and when you can expect payment, so you don’t find that you have just “volunteered” because there is no budget to pay an interpreter. Remember, you are doing this as a business!
How can I join HITA?
Simply click on the link at the top of the page, Apply for Membership. If the link is missing, it means that some one is already logged in as a member, and you must first click on Logout.