Becoming a certified interpreter?


Is anyone working toward becoming a certified translator English <-> Japanese? I’m curious about the process in America if anyone has already done the research. I’m thinking about making that a goal of mine along with the jlpt exams.

In particular, what are the requirements to translate for a business vs tours?


When you say tours, what are you thinking of? I can’t really think of something that would be a tour… enterprise… that wouldn’t be a business.

Unless you are talking about interpretation, which is actually a completely separate thing from translation.


I’m thinking about 2 different things. The first would be translating for businesses that work or negotiate between USA and Japan. The second would be guiding tours in USA for Japanese tourists.

Edit: What’s interpretation?


Interpretation is when you translate what someone is saying as they say it. Generally speaking, translation as a job just refers to written material.

Giving guided tours in Japanese would be something separate, since you’re not translating anything, I guess.


It’s not something that I have heavily researched yet, but it is something that I am generally moving towards as well. For the part, beyond my reading ability, I am really far away from being able to translate anything that is good enough quality and fast enough to be professional. I’m a little lucky that I have a couple years left in school still, so right now I am just doing my own little translation projects that don’t get published anywhere, trying to find a method and develop some sort of ability that is of professional quality and fast enough to be marketable.

Anyways, as I understand it, there are three modes of translations. Translation, which is working with the actual source files and converting them into the target language. Next, there is localization, that is semi-inclusive of translation, but more general. This deals with translations, getting contracts, making sure the product works, etc. Finally, there is interpretation, that pays the best out of the the three. Interpretation is live translations, usually of spoken conversation, and pays usually the best.

As for qualifications, someone else will have to chime in. There is the JLPT, and you can also join some of the various associations that specialize in translation. Otherwise, the other big thing that I can think of is having some sort of portfolio to show your employers. This could either take the form of past works, or you can enter into a competition and try to win an award.

Anyways, here is a couple links if you want to do some reading, otherwise, someone who knows better can chime in, hope this helps.
Tofugu’s article
The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice
American Translators Association


Having JLPT is better than nothing, but I feel like it’s in a weird place of not really helping that much with this. To get a translation job you’ll need a portfolio, a certification through some organization or exam, or a degree in translation, regardless of having JLPT.


The JLPT is mostly used in this case to tell a potential employer that you can certifiably say you know a thing. If two people have good portfolios, it may be used as a tie breaker.

EDIT: Technically, you don’t even need a certification if you have experience or a portfolio, but it does help, and it can mean getting paid a little more, same with the JLPT.


I’m definitely thinking “interpreter” more than “translator” then.

Anyone have any experience following through with the interpreter path or now anything about it? Is it also portfolio-based? If so, how could you make a portfolio of something like that?


People go to school to learn how to be interpreters. Google that. It’s really hard.

Another way to become a translator is to have a friend at a translation company. That’s how I get my occasional translation work. I translate the presentations of an architecture phd at Tokyo University into English. I have no background in architecture. Translation is mostly research.


Yah, it’s more the “I’m done with school and got my degree in an unrelated field to linguistics/language (math), so how do I proceed from here” kind of question.

EDIT: For me, it doesn’t matter how long/hard it is or will take, I have a steady job so I can afford to take my time.


I’m pretty certain that there are very, very few non-Japanese Japanese-English simultaneous interpreters on the planet. My guess is that anyone who’s Japanese is at the required level and can interpret probably did grad school at a Japanese University and went to interpretation school. Or more than likely, they grew up bilingual and went to interpretation school. If that’s your goal, better plan for night school in Tokyo or somewhere.

I would just concentrate on learning Japanese. That alone takes forever. Are you in Japan? If not, forget about it.


I’ll keep working on learning Japanese, aim for the JLPT exams, and emailing schools around. I don’t currently live in Japan, but I hired a native-speaker tutor to guide my studies and it’s an option to move to Japan in the near future. I definitely learned a ton when we were in Japan.


That’s not a good attitude to take. If the only way a person could work with a language is to move to another country we wouldn’t have translators or interpretors_emphasized text_

Bilingualism is not actually a good measure of proficiency. Just because you can speak a language doesn’t mean you can work with it. Think of all the people that aren’t good at even their native languages.

Best advice, if someone wants to break into interpreting, would be to volunteer for cons and other events or to apprentice themselves if they don’t want to go to a school for it. That way they’d get experience as well as get their name out.


I have a friend who used to be the office manager of the translation/interpretation side of this company: They do work as serious as interpretation for heads of state.

Looks like they have a school for learning as well.



I was speaking only of interpretation. And if you think a foreigner can learn to be a professional Japanese English interpreter without having lived for years in Japan to learn Japanese, you mostly crazy. Also, that’s probably where most of the work is.


There is this wonderful invention called the internet, it has this marvelous ability to connect people around the world.

No, you do not have to live in Japan to learn Japanese. You have to have dedication and patience and a desire to learn it. It’s kind of a slap in the face to people who don’t have the means to uproot themselves just to further their studies. It’s a slap in the face to people furthering their career by learning a language, by telling them they aren’t good enough because they didn’t live in Japan or can’t just suddenly uproot themselves and their families just to maybe learn a little faster.

Two, you are missing things like conferences held outside of Japan, tourism, medical interpreting, and Japanese businesses bringing their business outside of Japan.

What I’m trying to get at is that interpreting work can be found in ANY country. With ANY language. You don’t have to pick up sticks and plop them in another country just to get work or even to learn. Most language programs want their students to have at least a summer in another country, but they aren’t expecting people to pick up and move to another country for years because of it. Because it isn’t reasonable, and usually isn’t feasible.

tl;dr: You’re actually offending me by suggesting that I’m not capable of learning well if I can’t move to another country.


“A foreigner”? Everyone’s a foreigner in this situation technically… The same standard would apply to native Japanese if this were true, they would need to live and work in an English-speaking country for years as well if this were true.


Calm down. I didn’t say anything about anyone’s ability to learn Japanese, anywhere. I said it would be near impossible to become a professional Japanese-English interpreter without having lived in Japan for years and absorbed the culture and language. And you need to go to interpretation school. I’m not talking about the “interpretation” I do when my Japanese in-laws come to visit me here in The States.

外人 - foreigner, whatever. This is a board connected to a Japanese learning website. I mean non-Japanese. The Japanese is the tough part for us. And yes, I know very few Japanese with great English who haven’t spent time abroad.

It’s good to have goals and dreams though. Go for it. Maybe it will be easy for you.


I am talking about professional interpreters. You have professional interpreters all around around the world and odds are, the vast majority aren’t going to live in their target language’s country for years to do their work. It is not feasible.

You are minimizing the impact of the internet on absorbing information about language and culture and the ability to engage with other people that are natives of those languages and cultures.

You do not need to go to interpretation school, but you need a good foundation in translation and you need to be able to speak clearly and with confidence. Those are things that can be picked up through casual interpretation.

Everyone’s path is different, there is no one right way to do it. Not everyone is going to have to move to Japan for years to just to get good enough to be a professional. Also, it seems to me that you have a much more narrow definition of what a professional interpreter is or does than I do. As far as I’m concerned, translating for tourists on a tour, like the OP was interested in, is just as professional as an ESL teacher, or a medical translator, or a simultaneous translator working for the UN.

Don’t patronize me.

Maybe it’ll be easy for me because I know there isn’t one set way to do things and my way isn’t anymore wrong than any other way. :anger:

Learning Japanese or becoming a translator and/or an interpreter is an individualized thing. Even if two people use the same tool or have a shared experience with something, doesn’t mean the rest of their journey has to be the same or that another person couldn’t have a completely different journey.

tl;dr: If you think moving to Japan for years will help you be a pro interpreter, good on you. I don’t believe the same. Neither of us is wrong.


So we’re moving away from the topic here… I’m asking about “how to become an interpreter”.

Some ideas have come up here, but it seems there are 2 starting points that can be pursued simultaneously: “Interpretation school” and JLPT exam studying. Anyone have anything else that should be started from the get-go?

Further down the road then… After N1 and interpretation school is completed, what’s next? Internships and apprenticeships? Starting work right away? Is there some sort of state/national license that needs to be pursued in USA?

I don’t really care how hard it is, etc. Not doing something because “it looks too hard” before even trying is dumb IMO. Recommendations like moving/living to Japan for a while make sense, but may not be a requirement because of how easy it is to share information via internet, Skype-pal (like pen-pal, but real-time talking/listening) is feasible as well as future VR applications (immersion).