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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Translator Licensing

It has been proposed that translators be subject to licensing, like lawyers, physicians, and accountants are, to be allowed to exercise their profession or at least to sign certain types of documents. Those who argue for licensing expect translators' incomes to rise substantially if we are subject to licensing restrictions, which would be equivalent to significantly reducing the supply side of the supply/demand balance. Those against question the practical implementation of licensing, like "Who will do the licensing?". We don't want government bureaucrats to decide whether or not we are allowed to exercise our profession. Universities are not equipped for this since, unlike medicine, law, and accounting, translation does not depend on a well-defined body of knowledge which is relatively easy to test for. Neither do we want to outsource this function to translation companies, who may have their own agendas and will be suspect as objective testers.

The American Translators Association (ATA) offers certification in 27 language combinations, but only about 1/4 of its individual members are certified.

The debate on licensing is nothing new. It was discussed within the ATA decades ago, and the current state of affairs in the U.S. reflects the outcome of that debate.

It may be time to resume the debate on this issue in this era of globalization. What do you think? Should translators be subject to licensing? Who is to administer the test and grant the licenses? According to what objective criteria? What activities would be subject to licensing? What may and what may not an unlicensed translator do?

If you don't live in the U.S., tell us if translation is subject to licensing in your country, and what is your experience with the current state of affairs there.

Gabe Bokor