Dyer Scientific and Technical Translations
  Home  |  Qualifications   |   Confidentiality  |  Quote  |   Expertise  |  Glossaries  |  Resources  

Finding a Translator

1. Introduction

2. How to Find one

3. Selection

4. Working With

5. Certification Form


Certifications, Accreditations and Judging Translations

In some countries even more heavily regulated than the US, translators may be required to prove their training, business status, and ability before a governmental agency. They are then issued a governmental approval, certification, or license.

There are no such state or federal agencies in the US, and no governmentally certified translators. (Some agencies, and some courts, may have their own internal lists of translators or interpreters found to be satisfactory.) Any attempt to license translators in the US would almost certainly be unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Buyers of translations in the US are pretty much on their own and, unfortunately, the worse you need a translation the less you are able to judge how good it is. (For some useful tips, see http://www.iti.org.uk/pdfs/Translation_-_getting_it_right.pdf.)

The American Translators Association (ATA) offers accreditation examinations to associate members who, if they pass the examinations, become full (accredited) members. The examinations are given in 24 major languages pairs such as German to English or English to Spanish. Passing and accreditation are considered to indicate possession of basic skills. This accreditation is not governmentally recognized. It was originally available only to ATA members. Since 2000, ATA has decided to rename 'accreditation' to 'certification', to make the certification available to non-members, and to require continuing education to maintain certification.

Membership in ATA and other translators' organizations, and accreditation, are positive factors; but ATA does not offer accreditation in all languages; the accreditation is basic; and many good translators in the US are not ATA members or have not sought accreditation, often because they consider that their work speaks for itself. Also, of course, there are many good translators outside the US, especially for translation into languages other than English. Evidence of training and experience (resume, curriculum vitae) helps. Word of mouth and referrals from other buyers may help; but because nearly all translation buyers strongly request confidentiality, I do not use them as references.

Once you have found a few individual translators, how do you choose among them?

Many translators are willing to do a short test translation of perhaps 300 words at no charge. As a more serious test, consider paying two or three leading candidates to translate a complete short document so that you can see which translation you prefer for your specific purpose.

Even if you do not know how accurate the translation is, it should at the very least make sense in your language. (Presumably the original made sense.). The words should be spelled correctly, and it should read reasonably smoothly. The latter requirement may have to be stretched a bit for some documents, such as patent claims, which rarely read smoothly in any language; but in general the finished translation should read as if it had originally been written in English. Remember that none of those features guarantees that the translation is actually accurate.

Some clients have a document translated from, say, English into German. Then they have a different translator 'back-translate' the German into English, and they compare the original and back-translated English. Many translators say that is not a good idea, for several reasons:

  • It is unlikely that any two writers or translators will use precisely, or even nearly, the same wording or phrasing.

  • If there is a significant difference, then which translator do you believe?

  • If there is not a significant difference, is that really meaningful? The back-translator, finding an awkward or even incorrect statement in German, is likely to translate it into correct English, so the English may be correct even if the German is not.

In my opinion, it will be more effective to have the translation edited by someone (perhaps not even a translator) who is skilled in the 'target' language (German, in this example) and in the subject matter of the document.

Back to top

Copyright © 2010 Denzel Dyer, all rights reserved.