NAATI Certified Translators versus Bilinguals

How many languages can you speak? If you can only speak your own native language fluently then you are classified as monolingual. Bilingual people can understand and speak two languages fluently, while those lucky enough to speak more than two languages fluently are classified as multilingual.

Bilingualism can be a step toward a career as an interpreter or translator, but just being able to be fluent in more than one language isn’t sufficient in itself to be either. That takes training and in many cases a process of certification and accreditation before becoming either an interpreter or a translator. Each country has different rules about what is needed to become a professional translator. In Australia, the vast majority of professional translators have gone through professional training in translation and have passed exams that allow them to obtain certification from the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI). It is a requirement in Australia that all official documents are translated by a NAATI-certified translator and not just by someone who happens to be a bilingual speaker.

What is special about a NAATI-certified translator?

1. Study and certification

NAATI sets the standards for professional translators and interpreters but is not itself a training facility. If you are looking to pursue a career as a translator or interpreter in Australia, then you are likely to be already bilingual or go through a language course that develops your second language credentials. Beyond bilingualism, there are courses available in many tertiary institutions which are aimed at providing training in translation. Once a would-be professional translator has had sufficient training, he or she would then sit an exam or exams set by NAATI which test the person’s abilities in a specific language as well as their skills as a translator. NAATI has a range of exams that can lead to different levels of certification in both translation and interpretation.

2. Research skills and subject matter expertise

Most professional translators will tend to specialize in the field of translation. There are some translators who will offer a generalized translation service, but the breadth required to be a competent translator of every type of text or document usually precludes a generalized approach. This means that translators will become legal translators, medical translators, scientific document translators, marketing translators, or literary translators, just to name the most common categories. Professional translation requires an intimate knowledge of the variety of content that is to be translated and this requires considerable research skills and acquisition in particular of knowledge of terminology unique to the field of translation.

3. Knowledge of cultural variations

Marketing and literary translators will soon be aware of the need to consider cultural variations in language when they translate content on a professional basis. A good sound background in the cultural context of the population for which the translations are aimed is a necessity for a good translation.

4. NAATI-certified translators for immigration and citizenship applications and other legal documents

While not all countries demand professional qualifications and standards for the acceptance of officially translated documents, many others do. In Australia, government agencies and many employers and educational institutions will expect translated legal and personal documents to be translated by a NAATI-certified translator.


It can be seen from the content of this article that bilingualism, while an ingredient in what a professional translator is required to be able to master, is not in itself sufficient. The corollary is that anyone seeking a translator for anything of value or importance should be looking for a professional translator and if in Australia, that means a NAATI-certified translator.