Certificate Translations: A Primer

My father-in-law, before he retired, was a landscape architect. He enjoyed making people’s yards and green spaces look beautiful. They enjoyed his vision, and he was very good at what he did.

However, like most people that own their own business (translators included), he was prone to go through periods of feasting and periods of famine.

Sometimes he’d have more work than he had people to help and other times he would wait around for people to give him a ring.

But even if there were times when he didn’t have much work to do, there was one thing that he never wanted to do.

Maintenance work. For whatever reason, he did not want to get into the business of regularly taking care of people’s lawns.

Weekly mowing, pruning, and cleaning never appealed to him.

I think that’s how some translators tend to view certificate translations. I’ll tell you why in a second. First let’s look at what I mean when I talk about certificate translations.

Certificate Translations: An Overview

For those translators that might be new to the business, certificate translations are that class of translations that involve translating certificates or one to two page documents that have a very structured format.

They are documents that normally don’t have much text and instead of worrying so much about the words being translated, the translator in fact needs to worry almost more about getting the format of the certificate right.

One of the reasons for this is because these types of documents are often necessary to conduct some legal business.

Some of the more common examples are:

  • birth certificates
  • school transcripts and diplomas
  • marriage certificates
  • death certificates

You can see some examples of certificate translations I’ve done in the past at my previous post on the subject: Four types of translation jobs you can start tomorrow.

Certificate Translations: The Overlooked Niche

I mentioned this in my previous post on the subject, but it bears repeating here.

A lot of translators tend to view certificate translations the same way my father-in-law viewed maintenance-type landscaping jobs.

Small jobs that don’t pay very much and that don’t allow for much challenge or creativity on the part of the freelancer.

Those points are valid. But they’re each worth exploring.

Myth #1 – Certificate translations are low-paying

Many certificate jobs are relatively low-paying. There’s no denying this fact.

As a point of reference, I normally charge $55 for a one page certificate translation. I might charge extra for shipping and/or for the translation to be notarized, but it’s usually never more than $75.

That’s relatively small peanuts compared to a 5,000-word job. Let’s say a translator charges $0.07 per word for the translation. That comes out to $350 for the translator when all is said and done.

And yeah, $350 is a bit more than $75.

But let’s break this down a bit.

A competent translator can translate a general text at an average rate of about 500 words per hour. Some translators do it faster, some slower. And the rate will obviously change depending on how easy or difficult the source text is.

But it’s safe to assume 500 words per hour.

If that’s the case, this theoretical translation job consisting of 5,000 words would take about 10 hours. (That also doesn’t count adding any finishing touches, reviewing, or any formatting issues that might come up.)

A 10-hour job that pays $350 is going to break down to $35 an hour.

Now, what about that certificate translation?

Normally, a certificate translation will take no more than an hour. Sometimes, once in a long while, it might take longer.

The text is usually very simple and will take no time at all. The majority of your time will be spent making sure the target document looks as similar to the source document as possible.

The first time you do a certificate translation, you might struggle a bit with that. However, the more you do it, the faster you’ll be and the more comfortable you’ll feel with the process.

Say you charge $55 per page and you can do it in a hour.

That is more per hour you’d be earning than the 5,000-word document above.

Myth #2 – Certificate translations don’t allow for any creativity.

This is another complaint that some translators have about translating certificates.

“There’s no challenge, no creativity,” they say.

I say, “Translating certificates can sometimes take more creativity than other types of translation. Just a different kind.”

Whereas you might not have as much text to translate when translating certificates, you do have to rely on more creativity when you create the document itself aside from the text.

That is one of the reasons I like doing certificate translations. I like having the opportunity to make the translated version look as good visually as the original.

Certificate Translations: Things to Remember

Now, if the idea translating certificates as part of your overall freelance translation plan or strategy appeals to you, great! As you get started, though, here are some things that would be useful for you to remember.

  • No specialization is needed when you translate certificates. Because they all follow similar patterns and use similar terminology, there’s no reason to specialize in say death certificates. If you can translate death certificates, you can easily translate other kinds of certificates as well.
  • You can easily upsell other add-ons to your basic translation package. There is nothing illegal or morally wrong in doing this. It happens all the time in every single industry. A good salesperson will make sure that they not only have a basic package for their customers, but that they also sell additional services as a premium. As a translator that offers certificate translations, you could easily add things like notarization, special printing, and upgraded mail options as extras that the client would need to pay for.
  • Be sure to understand what exactly the client needs. With certificate translations, it’s important to know what the end goal of the client is. Is the client using the certificate to apply for college? Apply for benefits? Conduct legal proceedings? Sometimes the person on the far end asking for the translated document needs to have it sent in a certain way. Maybe it needs to be notarized. Maybe it needs to be printed on a certain paper or mailed a special way. Sometimes the clients don’t know what they need, so it is worth your time to ask them for all the requirements up front.
  • Be careful if you’re thinking about translating your own certificate. If you are thinking of translating your own certificate, you’ll need to make sure that the organization requesting the translated copy doesn’t have a clause stating that the translation must not be done by an interested party in the translation. If they do, you’ll have to find an outside translator and won’t be able to certify it yourself.

With this knowledge, you can easily begin offering certificate translations, even if you’re not confident in your ability to translate specialized documents.

It will give you experience, earn you some money, and give you the confidence to move on to other, more difficult types of translations if that’s something you want to pursue.

Any questions? Ask.

In the meantime, buy my new book, Translator’s Market, and use it to find more work with translation agencies throughout the world.

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