There could be a bit of confusion among the potential clients about certified translation. That confusion could arise because it goes under a number of other names that signify the same procedure. It is also known as sworn translation, but also as a public legal and official translation. All these names apply to the same thing – that the translator confirms the accuracy of his work. He does that with his signature and a seal.
This form of accepting responsibility is also often confused with what the notaries do. Due to this confusion, possible clients would take a translation to be notarized, instead of certified. But there is a distinct difference there. The notaries confirm the authenticity of a signature. They certify the identity of a person that signed a document. Certified translators confirm the accuracy of a translation.
Certified translation is something a client would need in a number of legal proceedings. Those could be when they have to submit court documents, international business contracts or immigration matters. International validation of academic credentials always needs certification, as do a number of other matters.
But who are the translators that can certify a translation? The rules and regulations to that effect vary widely throughout the world. Still, in general, terms, as explained by the American Translators Association (ATA), that person is “linguist whose linguistic skills have been evaluated and verified by a certifying organization.”
The ATA defines certified translation as a procedure of “attaching a certificate to a translation which includes a statement of the translator’s qualifications, a statement affirming the completeness and accuracy of the document, identification of the translated document and language.” It also includes “the translator’s (or translation company’s) name, signature, and date.”
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This post was updated in May 2021
What does certified translation include?
Basically, certified translation comprises two documents. The first is the translation itself and the second is proof of accuracy. This second, attached document usually states the translated document contains the same meaning and information as the original document. The translator also attests that he has done his work to the best of his abilities. In the end, the translator provides his signatures to take full responsibility for the completed project. Where the regulations require, the translator provides the prescribed seal.
Potential clients should bear in mind that the certified translation is of a higher quality than a ‘regular’ one. As ATA notes, “, it is simply a means of meeting a specific legal or regulatory requirement and affirming that the translation has been rendered accurately to the best of the translator’s ability and that the translator is qualified.”
Specifically, in the U.S., “a translator does not need to be certified in order to provide a certified translation. The individual translator can certify their translations, as can an employee of a translation company.”
ATA also notes that a translator can also certify someone else’s translation. He can do that as long as he has “fully reviewed the translation for accuracy and completeness and the translation will not be changed after being certified.” This means that a client can have his document translated by one provider and certified by another.
ATA regulations also provide what a certified translation should include as information:
- A statement of the translator’s qualifications.
- A statement affirming the completeness and accuracy of the document.
- Identification of the translated document and language.
- The translator’s name, signature, and date.
When would you need a certified translation?
As some of the services that offer certified translation note, a potential client would need a certified translation for “almost every legal documentation, including documentation used in trials or hearings.” For example, in any litigation, “having a transcript or any type of document in another language which could be used as evidence in court, the translation of this type of document should only be a certified copy.”
You would be in the same situation if you need to submit “any type of a document to a legal or governmental authority”. Going through an immigration procedure would require all the documents to pass through the process of certification. All the documents that originate in one country are in most cases in a different language than the official language in the country to which somebody is requesting to immigrate. In this case, all the documents have to pass through certified translation. The same goes if somebody is applying for residency in another country.
Another case is enrolment in an academic institution in another country. These institutions always require a certified translation of documents. All diplomas, transcripts list of subjects and exams have to have certified translations.
Here is a more detailed list of the documents that would require a certified translation:
- Medical records
- Regulatory compliance documents
- Legal documents
- Academic records
- Financial documents
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Countries have different criteria for certified translators
As mentioned above, different countries have different legal requirements for certified translation and translators who can make such an attestation. In most Latin American countries, like Brazil and Argentina, the state appoints certified translators. For example, in Argentina, “All private persons, companies, the judiciary, and other government departments are subject to this law regarding documents or depositions in a foreign language.”
In European countries like Germany and The Netherlands, a certified translation can be done by sworn translators. In Germany, regional courts (Landgerichte) have the power to appoint “sworn translators”. On the other hand, in The Netherlands, there is a Bureau for Sworn Interpreters and Translators, which is a part of the Dutch Legal Aid Council.
The regulation concerning certified translation and translators in the English-speaking countries, including the United States and Great Britain is much more relaxed. In these countries, basically any certified translator can issue a certified translation based on more or less the ATA definition cited above.
ATA itself has more than 10,000 members and has members in over 90 countries. According to the organization’s rules, any interested person can become an associated member. “Applicants will remain Associate members for four weeks before they apply for Active Membership Review or take the ATA certification test. When an associate passes the certification exam he automatically advances to Active status.”
In the United States itself, there are a number of other organizations can appoint certified translators in most cases using specific commercial and government tests that confirm the translator’s linguistic competency. Along with ATA Certification, there is also the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT), American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Court interpreters, on the other hand, have to have Federal/State Court Certifications.
International Conventions and Regulations
While different countries require different types of certifications within their territory, on an international level they have to abide by certain conventions and protocols. These deal with legal documents like letters rogatory (international court requests), but also business contracts, academic diplomas and similar.
The most applicable of these is The Hague Apostille Convention, officially known as The Hague Convention of 5 October 1961, Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. This convention was drafted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) and has been signed by about 100 countries. The full list of signatories is available here.
As defined by the U.S. Department of State, “apostilles authenticate the seals and signatures of officials on public documents such as birth certificates, court orders, or any other document issued by a public authority so that they can be recognized in foreign countries that are members of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty.” The convention defines public documents as follows:
- Documents emanating from an authority or an official connected with the courts or tribunals of the State, including those emanating from a public prosecutor, a clerk of a court or a process-server (“huissier de justice”);
- Administrative documents;
- Notarial Acts;
- Official certificates which are placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacity, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document or the fact that it was in existence on a certain date and official and notarial authentications of signatures.
Other important conventions and protocols that apply to certified translation are the 1970 Hague Evidence Convention, the 1975 Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory and 1979 Protocol, and the Vienna Consular Convention.
- Immigration documents
- Birth, marriage & death certificates
- Driver’s licenses
It is important to stress that not all translated documents need to pass through certification. For example, personal documents, like letters, that somebody needs to submit in legal proceedings do not need to be certified. The same applies to a translation of website content and some other documents like marketing materials, safety manuals or CVs & resumes.
Where to go for certified translation?
As mentioned, a certified translation does not have to mean that it is of a higher quality than any other. Still, it is usually the most experienced and qualified translator that is able to do certified translations. In most cases, they are located in the reputable agencies, where documents pass through at least a dual process of checking. Of course, certified freelance translators are also common. They all have to pass at least a set of specific qualifications and tests.
Whether it is an agency or a freelancer, they should be able to guide each client through the maze of which and what kind of certified translation their documents would require.
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