What is a certified translator and how do I find one?
Whether you are moving internationally, doing business in another country, or entangled in an international legal battle — you may need certified translation services from a certified translator to help you communicate. Anyone delving further into the subject may discover that there are a number of official credentials a translator can have. There are “certified translators”, “qualified translators”, “sworn translators”, “on dossier certification”, “staatlich geprüfte Übersetzer”, “beeidigte Übersetzer”, and many more. Today I will cut through the clutter to help you figure out exactly which certification your future translator should have so you can get the certified translation services you need. I will lump all of these titles under the phrase “certified translator” in this article for the sake of simplicity.
First, you should be clear on whether you need a translator or interpreter. The general public tends to refer to both as translators, but there is a very real difference between the two. If you need a person to stand by your side, listen to everything you say, and relay it to another person in a foreign language, then you need an interpreter. If you have a document that no one can even start to understand, because it is in a foreign language, then you need a translator.
Who issues translator certifications?
Within the German-speaking and English-speaking world at least, there is no uniform regulatory system for translation and interpretation. This means there are a lot of different certifications that carry varying levels of authority. It is common for branches of government where translators and/or interpreters are used frequently to issue their own certifications. Large organizations that make frequent use of language professionals may likewise have their own certifications. Furthermore, each country tends to have around one dominant professional association that many language professionals belong to. These professional associations may have their own certifications, which are widely recognized within the association’s home country. My expertise is in German- and English-speaking countries, so let’s take a look at the general structure of translator certification in a sampling of these countries
Certified Translator in the United States
In the United States, the translator certification of the American Translator’s Association is widely recognized by legal bodies and institutions. Translators with this qualification are referred to as "certified translators",
The United States Courts have a certification program for Spanish and other local court systems sometimes have their own certification programs.
Certified Translator in Canada
The Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC) issues a translator certification that is widely recognized in Canada. Translators holding this qualification are referred to as “certified translators”. There are various avenues through which a translator may become certified with the CTTIC. These are: on dossier certification, certification by examination, and certification by mentorship.
Some provincial regulatory authorities in Canada also issue the qualifications of “certified translator”, “certified terminologist”, “certified community interpreter”, “certified conference interpreter”, “certified court interpreter”, and “certified medical interpreter”. Although these qualifications are granted by Canadian government authorities, the actual tests to earn them are sometimes administered by the CTTIC.
Certified Translator in Great Britain
The Institute of Translation and Interpreting in the United Kingdom has a “qualified translator” program widely recognized in Great Britain. Translators who meet the application criteria are able to take a translation test. If they pass, they become “qualified translators”.
Certified Translator in Germany
There is a major translator’s association in Germany called the BDÜ (Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer), but they do not issue certifications.
The translator certification process is more government-based in Germany. Translators and interpreters are able to take a professional exam offered by the government. If they pass it, they receive the title of “Staatlich geprüfter Übersetzer/Dolmetscher” (Government-Tested Translator/Interpreter). A passed test can be used to apply for status as a “beeidigt” or “sworn” translator.
The local chamber of commerce in Germany, the IHK, also runs a translator and interpreter certification program that is widely recognized. This certification is intended for translators who work in business and commerce.
Certified Translator in Austria
There is a major translator’s association in Austria called UNIVERSITAS. Like the organizations in Great Britain and the United States, UNIVERSITAS offers its own translator certification.
The Austrian government runs a testing program for “Staatlich geprüfter Übersetzer/Dolmetscher” (Government-Tested Translator/Interpreter) similar to the one in Germany. Successful candidates can subsequently become “beeidigt” or “sworn” translators.
How do translators become certified?
The requirements vary by organization and country, but becoming certified usually involves passing an exam. Material directly testing a translator’s ability to translate written documents or an interpreter’s ability to accurately relay oral information makes up the main part of all certification exams. Some exams may require the translator or interpreter to know additional information about the cultures, professions, or countries they will be working in if certified.
Requirements to sit the exam differ as well. Some organizations might allow anyone to sit the exam, while other organizations may require test candidates to first work as a translator for a certain amount of time or have an academic degree in translation before they are allowed to take the certification exam.
Can translators be certified for certain professions?
Translators usually are not certified for specific professions outside of translation and interpreting. Certification only indicates the translator’s skill as a linguist. Two clear exceptions to this rule are the legal field, where it is common for courts to certify interpreters or for governments to offer specific legal certifications, and the medical field. You are unlikely to find a translator certified to translate manufacturing documents, fashion documents, or software for example.
Translators are well aware of this lack of profession-specific certifications. It is therefore very common for translators to earn certifications or even entire academic degrees directly in the field they translate for. This should tell you just how valuable a good translator is. In order to be good at what they do, they need to have professional linguistic skills and full familiarity with another profession entirely!
Which certification should my translator have?
The person requesting a certified translation from you will have to tell you which certification they require. It is never enough for someone simply to say “get a certified translation of this”, since there are so many certifications! Always make sure the requester tells you which credential they accept from which issuing organization.
How do I find a certified translator?
There are many places to find translators worldwide. The public directories of professional translation associations and the organizations that offer certification are a good place to start. Here is a list of some major translator directories in the English-speaking and German-speaking worlds.
American Translators Association (ATA)
United States Courts Interpreter Database
The Member Societies of the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC)
Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI)
Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer (BDÜ) (Professional Association of Translators & Interpreters)
Österreichischer Verband der Gerichtsdolmetscher (Directory of Certified Court Interpreters)
UNIVERSITAS Austria (Professional Association of Translators & Interpreters)