Certified Translation Basics

We explained in our post titled “How to be a certified translator” that for the North American market, a certified translation needs to be accurate, complete and impartial and that the certification of a linguist is a testament to these. We also said that a “certified translator” does not mean a person with any linguistic capability for the purpose of “certified translations” but an individual who attests to these three points. (not to be confused with a certified interpreter -┬ácertification does exist for interpreters – more on interpreter certification here…)

Let’s explore what accuracy, completeness and impartiality mean for certified translations and how to assure them.

What does an Accurate Certified Translation Mean?

accurate translation

Accuracy in certified translation

An accurate translation of a document to be certified (birth certificates, college degrees, criminal records, court documents or hospital bills) can be performed by remembering a basic rule. The goal in certified translation is to empower the intended user (be it an attorney, a clerk, admissions officer or judge) to be able to find information presented in a foreign language (and this is especially true for the North American market when it comes to non-Latin alphabet languages such as Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Farsi, etc.) easily.

In order to accomplish this a very simple trick is to make sure that the translated material’s formatting matches the source document as closely as possible. If a document contains tables, make sure that the certified translation also contains them. If the document to be translated has bold, underlined, italic or different font areas – make sure that the certified translation also reflects these styles. Also pay extra attention to set the layout of the translated document as closely and accurately as possible to the source. A good knowledge of formatting in major word processors such as MS Word, OpenOffice or Apple’s Pages will be very handy for this.

What makes a Certified Translation Complete?

This is quite self-explanatory. Make sure that the translation to be certified contains everything from the source document. Dates, seals, stamps, signatures, bates numbering and even little handwritten notes that might be illegible (just put the mention “illegible handwriting” in square brackets – [illegible handwriting] to point these out). DO NOT OMIT ANYTHING (for that matter don’t add anything either).

Impartiality in Certified Translations?

The role of a translator is that of a messenger. Our duty is not to assume, interpret (although this is one of our titles) or pass judgement. Our duty is to translate content so that it can be rendered into a target language as accurately as possible. All information in a source document needs to be translated with impartiality. If a name is misspelled in the source file, it must be kept as misspelled in your translation (that is a problem with the source document, it is not your error, you are just the messenger). If a date is blatantly wrong, you must still keep it as what you see. Do not make material changes – or any changes, to the original document. Just translate what you see as you see it.

Do not translate your own documents. If the subject of the document is you and the certification bears your signature it is normal that your impartiality is questioned.

Keeping these 3 simple rules, the certified translations you provide will be of highest quality. There are some institutions such as USCIS that do not require it but for all else, notarization is an additional step for certified translations (more on certified and notarized translations here…)