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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Techniques  »  Translating Certificates

Translating Certificates

By Josephine Bacon | Published  12/25/2005 | Translation Techniques | Recommendation:
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Josephine Bacon
Մեծ Բրիտանիա
ֆրանսերենից անգլերեն translator
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Translating certificates


There are two aspects to be considered in the translation of certificates a) How to do so correctly and b) what sort of certification/authentification is required for certificates.

a) Translating certificates correctly

The main thing to remember when translating certificates is that some official will need to compare the original and the translated version and try and see if they match. That it why it is important to attempt to get the layout of the original and the translation to match as closely as possible. This does not mean going to ridiculous lengths, such as having a DTP version created by a designer (unless the client especially wants it and is prepared to pay for it which can sometimes be the case with a diploma or special award), but the layout of the original and the translation should be at least be comparable.

Secondly, no matter what your client tells you (?This bit isn?t important, you can leave it out...?) you MUST translate or reproduce everything that is on the page. By this, I mean even some tiny little line at the bottom that says ?printed by XYZ?. Otherwise, the official comparing the two documents will wonder what has been left out and why, and may get suspicious. In some cases, it might be confusing for the official checking the certificate if all the alternatives to a question were reproduced, in which case you can put a translator?s note to explain that the other words are simply alternative answers to a question (yes, no, I don?t know, etc.).

On the other hand, you must never add anything to a certificate that isn?t there, no matter how persuasive your client may be. Otherwise you could find yourself indicted for perjury! I once had a case where a judge threw out of court a divorce certificate that I had translated because it did not contain the second forename of the individual. The reason for that is that the name in question did not appear on the certificate. The judge was foolish of course, he should have compared the documents more closely (the language of the original did not use the Roman alphabet). The protagonists were able to go back to court and explain that the name did not appear on the certificate and the judge accepted this. It may even have required another translator to confirm the fact by giving evidence.

Additional translation difficulties arise in respect of the named people on the certificate where the language of the original document does not use Latin characters. In most non-Latin languages, it is difficult or even impossible to guess how a name is spelled in English, it may have several potential spellings. For instance, if you are translating the name ?Aleksandr? from Russian into English, should it be written in English as ?Alexander? or ?Aleksander? or ?Alexander?? The same applies to all the languages written in Arabic script and in Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc. The only way of finding out the right way to spell the name in a translation is to ask the client exactly how their name appears in official documents that reproduce it in Latin characters, such as a passport. Even if the name is written incorrectly in the passport, the same spelling should be retained in a translation into a language that uses Latin characters, due to the probability of a comparison being made between your translation and an existing document. If the client is not satisfied, it is up to them to get the name corrected on all official documents at a later stage.

Spellings of all proper names should be checked with the client or the agency before you begin translating. If you are working for an agency and the agency cannot find out or can?t be bothered to use the correct spelling, you have to inform it that any subsequent changes will have to be paid for (assuming that they are getting a hard copy of the work because you certified it yourself).

Unfortunately, one has no control over what an agency does with one?s work once it has been delivered. A colleague of mine once discovered that she had translated a marriage certificate into English from a non-Latin language for an agency and the agency had radically altered the names at the request of the client. There is little the translator can do about this except refuse to certify the incorrect version.

b) Certifying a translation

This is a trickier area. As a matter of principle, it is a good idea to get a translation sworn or certified in a manner that will make it good for use in any country in the world, so that it can be re-used by the client at a later date. This is not always possible.

I will not go into all the complexities of swearing documents in this article since it is about the translation rather than the certification of documents and this varies widely from country to country. The most useful guidelines are as follows: -

a) A translator can swear or certify their own translations of diplomas, medical certificates, etc. but not certificates of personal status (birth, marriage and death) and possibly of
some other certificates, such as those pertaining to a criminal record or absence thereof.

b) Countries that recognise the status of a sworn or certified translator (the United States and France, to name but two) allow a translator to certify any certificate.

c) The Hague Convention of 1961 allegedly abolished the need for an ?apostille? (the official seal of foreign ministry) on private international documents of the type we are dealing with here. Several countries signed the treaty subsequently, but there are still several countries that have not signed and the document of personal status relating to their nationals still have to sworn by their own embassy and/or the foreign office of their own or another country. Details of the Convention, the signatories thereto and countries outside the Convention can be found at

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