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When it comes to having their official documents translated for governments and institutions – birth certificates for citizenship or immigration visas, transcripts for university admission and so on – one of the biggest hurdles my clients have to overcome is finding an eligible translator. While meeting these organization’s requirements is the client’s responsibility, I also see it as my responsibility as the translator, because if I know the requirements I can make their lives easier, and if I don’t know them and don’t provide my client with the appropriate form of translation, I could be contributing to their application being delayed, and in some cases rejected altogether.

Neither I nor anybody I have worked with in this regard finds it easy to understand the various terms used by organziations to describe the required translator or translation. Half the time I think the organization themselves aren’t sure what to say and just put together words that sound good!

In an effort to improve this situation, I am decanting all my findings on this topic into this blog post, so that if any of you ever needs to decide what type of translation or translator is required, this reference will be here for you to make this one hurdle a bit easier to hop over.

So, here we go…

Qualified – if the translator needs to be “qualified”, I would suggest they need to have a university level degree, or at least a diploma, in either general or specialized translation. I am not sure being bilingual, working as a translator for x years, or having passed a high school or continuing ed certificate in translation would be satisfactory in this case.

Official – now, this is tricky, as where I am from, there’s no such thing as an official translator. In other countries, there are bodies that grant this title to certain translators (see “Sworn” below). If that is the case for you, then congrats! You’re an official translator, please pass go and collect $200. For the rest of us, we have two choices – we can tell the client they must look to country x for an official translator and turn down the job, or we can say that we are a qualified and/or certified (see below!) translator and that for translation matters in our country, that must be good enough.

Sworn – some official translators are “sworn”, and usually sworn translators are “official”, but there’s not a 100% overlap. The one constant among sworn translators is that they have taken an oath in court that they are willing and able to provide translations. Some countries don’t have sworn translators, and of those that do, some require the translator to pass test of competence, and some don’t. But if you are in a country that has sworn translators and you are asked for an official translation, your best bet would be to head in their direction. Also note if you are dealing with the UK, they have such a thing as a sworn translation, which is a translation that has been sworn by the translator in front of a solicitor to be accurate and/or complete.

Certified – now when you see this word floating about, beware! Things are about to get murky. There’s a difference between a certified translator and a certified translation, for one. Then the definition of a certified translator varies from country to country.
First, the certified translation – according to the American Translators Association, to certify a translation a translator must sign a statement “attesting that the translation is accurate and complete to the best of the translator’s knowledge and ability”. (According to the ATA and the UK-based Institute of Translation and Interpreting, this statement must be notarized or sworn before a solicitor – see Notarized and Sworn respectively! – but in Canada at least, I have had no problem simply providing the statement without third party involvement.) So – no special knowledge, experience or certification is required of the translator here. And that is the difference between certified translations and certified translators.
Certified translators must have been granted certification from some regulating authority (such as the ATA in the US), usually with a requirement that translators pass a test of their translation competence, though in Canada you can become certified by showing evidence of having completed x number of words of professional translation work.
The last thing to bear in mind here is that just because a translator is a Member of a translation association doesn’t mean they are certified. Most associations have different levels of membership and only a translator who has passed specific certification requirements can call themselves certified.

Verified – who knows what people are getting at when they come up with this one? But in true translator fashion, I have looked the term up in my trusty dictionary. And the dictionary’s response is that the truth or correctness [of the translation] has been established by examination or demonstration, OR, in a legal sense, the translation is supported by testimony or proofs. So, the translator or the client would have to verify – see what I did there? – whether the translation in question requires general or legal verification. But either way, it seems clear that a third party needs to get involved here. I would suggest another translator with knowledge of both languages and the subject matter would need to review the document and the translation, and provide a statement that the translation appeared to be a true translation of the original. It could be argued that the original translator could examine and verify their own work, in which case “verified” would be synonymous with “certified”, but if in doubt, I would get a third party to help out.

Notarized – last (I hope!), but not least, is “notarized”. Seems fairly straightforward on the surface, and hopefully it is. This in North America is synonymous with the UK use of “sworn” (see above), and means that the translator has appeared before a notary public and signed an affidavit to the effect that they really are a translator for the relevant languages, and that the translation is complete and correct to the best of their knowledge. The notary public then signs and stamps the affidavit and attaches it to the translation. This lends authority to the translator’s statements and usually requires the notary public either to know the translator personally or have been shown evidence of their professional capacity or translation qualifications.
One small opportunity for hiccups here – at times the organization requesting the translation may want the notary public to in fact act as a verifier, and swear themselves that the translation is true. In which case the notary public would have to be a fluent speaker of both languages involved, so… good luck with that one! 😛


Okay, that brings us to the end of my not-so-quick-but-hopefully-handy reference guide to official translation terminology. Good luck to you all!
And if anyone has come across a term I haven’t included here, please do post it in the comments; I will gladly research it and provide an update to the above.

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