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Certification Programs in China

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Jianjun Zhang photoCertification programs for translators and interpreters in China were started a few years ago and are now still at the formulating stage. They were introduced to satisfy demands brought about by the fast-paced commercial and economic boom in the country. This article attempts to describe the current state of these programs.

Currently there are two nationally recognized certification examinations. One is CATTI (China Aptitude Test for Translators and Interpreters, 2003) and the other is NAETI (National Accreditation Examinations for Translators and Interpreters, 2001).

The former is organized and sponsored by the Ministry of Personnel and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG), and the latter by the National Education Examinations Authority and Beijing Foreign Studies University.

The two examination programs are both open to the general public without limitations on applicants' education, background or experience. CATTI sets four proficiency levels: Senior Translator and Interpreter, Translator and Interpreter Level One, Translator and Interpreter Level Two and Translator and Interpreter Level Three. Currently only Level Two and Level Three examinations are available. NAETI offers three proficiency level exams with Level One as the highest and Level Three the lowest.

For both programs, a Level Two certification is considered essential for a professional translator.

Unlike most similar certification programs in many countries, both exams test the candidates' ability to do two-way translations (foreign language(s) and Chinese). For example, if you are sitting for an English-Chinese translation test, you are expected to complete both English to Chinese and Chinese to English translation tests. In order to acquire certification, you have to pass both.

In other words, once you have passed the exam, you are certified as having the ability to translate both into and from Chinese. CATTI allows use of dictionaries in the translation test, but NAETI does not.

CATTI examination for each available level consists of two parts. The first part tests the candidates' general English proficiency with vocabulary, grammar and reading questions. The second part tests their translation skills (altogether four paragraphs, two for other language to Chinese translation, and two in the opposite direction). NAETI exams only test candidates' translation skills (similar to CATTI).

The languages included in CATTI's exams are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. The only languages available in NAETI are Chinese and English.

CET Band 4 and 6

CET stands for College English Test, the purpose of which is to test for Chinese college students' (non-English majors) general English ability--listening, reading comprehension, and writing--against specified teaching syllabus. CET tests are not a professional-level certification.

Students who failed to pass CET-4 test are ineligible for a BA degree. Therefore, for all college students (non-English majors), passing CET-4 is obligatory.

CET-6 is a higher level test of a similar nature. But it is optional and is an exam of the students' English achievement at college level.

CET Band 4 and 6 are also open to the general public. CET-4 and 6 certificates showing "优秀" (Excellence) are reserved for high-scoring students/takers.

TEM-4 and 8

TEM stands for Test for English Majors. They are English majors' CET-4 and 6 with different names and of much higher proficiency levels.

However, TEM-4 and 8 are not open to the general public or non-English majors. Again, these are only academic tests aimed at testing for a student's general college-level English proficiency according to a syllabus and are not professional certification programs.

For English majors, TEM-4 is obligatory and is a prerequisite for a BA degree. TEM-8 enjoys a similar status as CET-6.

CATTI and NAETI Level Three (lowest level) examinations are recommended for students whose English level is equivalent to or above CET-6 with some years of translation practice.

Further references:


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