translation certification

Translation Certification: Should Translators be Forced to be Certified?

I’ve written about translation certification in the past.

In fact, if you’re interested in reading more about my thoughts on translation certification, you can check out these posts:

However, because translation is such a hot topic for new translators, I’m always getting questions about the different aspects of certification.

The latest question comes from Sheila in Virginia.

Well actually, it’s not really a question but more of some thoughts on translation certification.

Here it is verbatim:

Well, I do think it is worth it [translation certification]. I have had so many translations messed up by someone who shouldn’t be translating. The person sounds good to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish at all. However, I speak a little Spanish and I could tell they were missing a lot especially when it came to technical and academic words. There was no one there to critique their performance.

When you are translating a child’s IEP or medical documents, etc. you really need to know what you’re doing! I have a question for the readers: Does it matter to you if your child’s teacher is certified? A lot of them aren’t by the way.

And here was the initial response I sent back to her:

Thanks for your response regarding ATA translation certification, Sheila. I agree that there are many translators out there that are peddling their translation services but are not providing quality translations.

In my own career, I’ve met many so-called translators that don’t have any formal training. Neither do they even have any practical experience. And if you don’t have either of these, then you’re not going to be translating very well. That’s true no matter what it is you’re translating.

As translators, one thing we are always dealing with are people who are merely bilingual that are passing themselves off as translators just because they can speak in two different languages. We know that bilingual ability by itself does not make a good translator. Any person who speaks Spanish can go into any hardware store, airport, grocery store, etc. and find plenty of examples of bad translations done by translators who were definitely not professional translators.

All that being said, however, it’s equally important to understand that certification does not automatically make a translator a good translator. What translation certification means is that the person has merely passed a translation test of sorts. This doesn’t prove that this translator will do a good or a bad job on a translation. There are plenty of certified translators that aren’t professional translators. Equally, there are many translators that are not certified that are excellent translators.

So while ATA translation certification might be worth it to some degree, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a particular translator will be good or bad. As I’ve said before, the best way to tell if a translator is any good is to ask the clients that he or she has translated for before. Word of mouth and good references will give you a lot more information than a piece of paper.

In terms of medical translation, I agree that it’s very important that a client be sure to get a quality translator to translate something as important as medical documents. But then again, it’s important to get a quality translator no matter what needs to be translated. Most translations are going to be very important for the person requesting the translation.

And while it might be true that some teachers aren’t certified, there are more checks in place to be sure that a teacher is performing adequately in the classroom. A bad translator can oftentimes hide behind his or her anonymity online and disappear easily after doing a bad job. A teacher, not so much.

Your Thoughts on Translation Certification?

So what do you think?

Should translators be forced to be certified?

Or in other words, should translators be allowed to translate even if they are not certified?

Let me know in the comments below.


If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a certified translator, be sure to read my book.

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