What is a “Certified” Translation?

A certified translation stamp marking a translated documentA frequent point of confusion for many translation clients relates to “certified” translations. In the translation industry, the word “certified” can refer to different things. For example, a “certification” can be a document attached to a translation for use in a legal proceeding, or a translator or interpreter themselves possessing some form of “certification” that validates their competency. Since this has confused many clients, we’re going to explain what is a “certified” translation.

“Certified Translation”

A “certified translation” involves attaching a certificate to a translation which includes a statement of the translator’s qualifications, a statement affirming the completeness and accuracy of the document, identification of the translated document and language, and the translator’s (or translation company’s) name, signature, and date.

Typically, a certified translation is required for certain legal proceedings, immigration matters (e.g., translated documents submitted to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service), validation of academic credentials, etc.

However, the fact that a translation is “certified” does not mean that it is of any higher quality than one that has not been “certified.” Normally, it is simply a means of meeting a specific legal or regulatory requirement and affirming that the translation has been rendered accurately to the best of the translator’s ability and that the translator is qualified. It is also worth noting that a translator does not need to be “certified” themselves to be able to provide a certified translation.

Occasionally, clients also request a “notarized translation.” However, it is important to note that a translation cannot actually be notarized. When a notary public signs and affixes their seal to the certification, they are merely attesting to the identity of the individual signing the certification statement, not the translation itself.

“Certified Translator”

A “certified translator” (or “certified interpreter”) refers to a linguist whose linguistic skills have been evaluated and verified by a certifying organization. In the language industry, however, there is no single certifying body for translators and interpreters. Rather, there are numerous commercial and government tests that are used to validate linguistic competency.

Some of the more common types of certifications include the American Translators Association (ATA) Certification, the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT), American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), and Federal/State Court Certifications (normally for interpreters).

A growing number of university programs also offer translation and/or interpretation certificates, some foreign countries certify translators and interpreters, and many language service providers (LSPs) require prospective translators and interpreters to pass their own internal language testing process. Additionally, the types of certifications for linguists vary based on what they are testing, such as translation/interpretation skills specifically versus general language proficiency.

Therefore, given the complicated question of “certifications” for translators and interpreters, it is advisable to discuss with your LSP to determine what type of certification (if any at all) is most appropriate for a given project. For example, a Federal or State Court certification would be more appropriate for a Spanish interpreter interpreting in a courtroom setting than an ATA Certification for written translation.

Finally, it is important to note that a “certified” translator or interpreter is not necessarily “better” than a non-certified linguist, particularly one that has many years of professional experience, advanced linguistic training, and subject matter expertise. For many linguists, there are no widely-recognized certifications that either match their language pair/direction or particular skill-set, and many of the certification examinations can be cost-prohibitive.

In conclusion, the question of what is a “certified” translation is complicated. Affordable Language Services can provide both certified translations and certified translators (or interpreters) depending on the specific project requirements and can provide guidance on which would be most appropriate.