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Saturday, November 17, 2007


The American Translators Association and several other national translators' organizations test for the individual translator's ability to translate between specific languages, and they certify successful candidates accordingly. Most translation buyers test their prospective translators. One translation company has recently started certifying translators; however, most translation buyers issue no certificates and some of them don't even tell translators whether they've passed the test. The U.S. State Department prohibits translators from mentioning the fact that they have been successfully tested.

The ISO (International Standards Organization) 9000 family of standards prescribes "good quality management practices" and certifies companies or individuals complying with those standards. However, ISO certification means only that the certified entity follows certain procedures; it does not attest to the quality of the entity's product, i.e., in the case of a translation provider, to the quality of the provider's translation. ISO certification may cost tens of thousands of dollars.

At least one vendor of computer-aided translation software is certifying the software's users; however, this company may be motivated by its business interests: they expect their certification program to increase their market share in addition to earning them extra revenues.

Which certification, if any, should translation buyers require their providers to have? Which certification offers the best indication of a translator's ability to perform a specific job? Are certain programs self-serving or do they fulfill a legitimate function of screening individual and corporate translation providers for quality and good business practices?


Blogger S.M. said...

In a rose-colored world, some kind of certification would ensure that a professional always delivers a "perfect," professional product--whether lawyers, doctors, physical therapists, day care providers, or translators.

In reality, certification inherently cannot do that, and I personally think it's unreasonable for people to claim otherwise. All a certification does is vouch for the level of education and performance--on one particular test at one particular point in time.

Case in point: The ATA certification test allows translators to bring myriad dictionaries with them into the test, but it doesn't allow the use of the Internet. What sane translator nowadays translates without the vast and free resources available online? What translator forgoes consulting with other colleagues on difficult terminology or wording--so much easier now with the Internet? What translator translates longhand instead of typing onto a computer? The ATA tests are engineered texts, furthermore, that are quite removed from the actual kinds of texts translators encounter on a daily basis. In some cases, there have been controversies within the ATA about the qualifications or accuracy of the *graders,* as well, which is another issue to bear in mind. Someone who holds an ATA certification has certainly achieved something hard to do, but holding that certification doesn't correspond to the quality of the work the translator then does out in the real world with unengineered texts, tight deadlines, difficult clients, poor copy quality, and use of the Internet.

There are other gauges of a translator's skill that certification exams don't consider: can he or she making a living as a translator? Repeat clients are a sure sign of a translator doing good work.

When asked by beginning translators if certification is worth it, I always say that it will feel like it is worth it when you're starting out, but once you are established certification doesn't matter much at all. I say that, if you have limited funds, spend money on good dictionaries rather than on a certification because lots of good dictionaries and hard work will get you more respect in the field in the long run than a certification will.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Ryan Ginstrom said...

I've been a professional translator for over ten years now, and no client has ever asked me for certification. There is thus no economic incentive for me to become certified, and from what I've gathered, no educational benefit either: from what I've heard from people involved with NAATI and ATA certification, the graders tend to be looking for literalistic, clunky translations that I'd probably fail if judging for a client.

Most of my clients are here in Japan. There is a translator certification program of sorts here, run by a consortium of translation agencies. Passing that test is fairly useful if you want to get work from certain agencies paying on the low end of the scale.

For a new translator lacking experience and references, every little bit helps and a certification is probably better than nothing. But I have doubts as to its value for an experienced translator.

12:41 AM  
Blogger endless english said...

thanks a lot for the sources

12:40 AM  

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