Understanding the Translation Certification Process in the United States

August 13, 2009

Oftentimes clients within the United States will request that a document be certified in order to meet the needs of its intended purpose.

US Entities that may require certification of translated documents include educational institutions (foreign transcripts and diplomas), the legal system (divorce decrees, marriage licenses, or law firms wishing to certify translations submitted as evidence), and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (birth certificates).

Certification of a translated document within the United States is a notarized affidavit stating that the translation is a true and accurate translation of the source document.

The translation process involves many steps including translation, editing, proofreading, and desk top publishing or formatting. Each step is performed by a separate individual as part of an overall quality control process that is necessary for most any translation, but is especially important in the certification process.

The certification is provided by the entity that oversees this comprehensive multi-step quality control process much as a manufacturer of clothing or other goods will put their stamp of approval on the item once it has passed their quality control process.

The certification is an additional layer of assurance to the client and anyone who may have need of the translation.

Do certified translations need to be performed by certified translators?
The short answer is no. Any entity overseeing the translation process can certify a translation.

Document certification and certification of individual translators are two separate processes. As discussed above, certification of a translation is a notarized affidavit assuring that the translated document is true and accurate to the source document, while certification of translators is a process ensuring the competency and skill level of an individual to perform translations.

Who certifies translators in the United States?
The American Translators Association (ATA), a national professional association of translators, does offer certification for translators working into and out of several languages. It is the largest organization in the industry with over 10,000 members and 30 years of experience.

In order to be certified by the ATA a translator must pass an examination that is administered across the United States several times a year. Translators must apply to take the exam by providing proof of eligibility to the ATA. Proof of eligibility includes education and other relevant experience.

The test consists of translating one general subject document and another ‘technical’ document from the translator’s area of expertise from the following areas science/technology/medicine or law/business/finance.

Upon completion, the translations are graded for accuracy by a select group of qualified ATA graders from across the country. Candidates that pass both the general and the technical document translations are awarded the ATA Certificate for Professional Translators.

The ATA certification is available for individuals qualified to translate into English from the following languages including; Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish and from English into Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian.

For hundreds of languages of lesser diffusion the ATA has yet to develop a certification/test. It is important to note that even without the certification these languages get translated everyday to and from English, by many professional translators in a very competent manner.

If you would like additional information on this topic or have questions on planning and executing your next translation or multilingual initiative, contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation or call us at (800) 413-7838.

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