Last month, I ran a post on translating official documents which generated a lot of reader interest and comments. I’m back with a correction and an addition to that post:
The correction: In the original post I advised translators of official documents to “Use a screenshot or graphics program to enhance your translations.” For example, I have often copied logos, seals, etc. onto the translation as .jpg images. After reading the comments on the original post and talking off-blog to a translator who was accused of fraud for copying images onto translations, I now recommend that translators of official documents do not copy and paste any images that are associated with private or governmental institutions. The arguments against copying and pasting graphics and logos are pretty much summed up in Tom West’s comment on my original post. Tom is an attorney, translation company owner, past President of the ATA and legal dictionary author, so I’m very inclined to trust him! Tom says “I know of an instance where an American judge asked that translators stop scanning in the seals and logos on official documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates) because it could appear as though they were “counterfeit” – in the judge’s view, it should be clear that the translation is a translation and NOT an original document, and the more fancy logos/scans you add, the more it can appear that the English-language document was issued by the officials in the foreign country. My conclusion is that all this fancy scanning is (1) not necessary and (2) dangerous, because it can make the document look forged and (3) therefore should not be done.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve seen that a number of my agency clients do scan logos and graphics onto their translations, but in light of Tom’s advice and the similar anecdote from a freelancer, I agree that copying and pasting images should not be done.
The addition: I should have included a note about confidentiality as related to official document translations. Official documents tend to be, for lack of a better term, “juicier” than a lot of corporate documents. For example, French divorce documents often give pages and pages of details about what led to the breakdown of the marriage: affairs, lying, mental illness, it’s often all in there. Many birth certificates produced by former French colonies explicitly state if the child was born out of wedlock. It goes without saying that although you have to translate these intimate details, you should never comment on them to the client or anyone else. Because I don’t want to make clients uncomfortable with the fact that I know some of their personal information, I actually refrain from commenting on anything in the document, even “How interesting, you and I have the same birthday” kinds of things unless I need a factual clarification.
Thanks to everyone who commented on the original official documents post!