A couple of readers have asked me lately how to certify a translation, so that’s today’s topic. This applies to translations certified for U.S. purposes: to be used in the U.S. or by U.S entities such as diplomatic facilities.
Some freelance translators want nothing to do with certified translations, and that’s totally fine. If you hate working with individuals, just don’t do it. Personally, I find certified translations easy and lucrative; I work on a per-page rate (usually US $75 per page) and I don’t do the translation until the client pays by credit card. I handle that through QuickBooks Online invoicing; until a few months ago I used PayPal, but since switching to QBO, I prefer that. It’s much cleaner in my accounting records, the fee is about the same as PayPal, and I think that the invoices look more professional. So far this year, I’ve earned $6,200 doing certified translations for individuals: about half of what I’ve earned from translating for direct clients or interpreting for agencies, but definitely enough to make it worthwhile.
To certify a translation for U.S. purposes, you should:
- First, put the responsibility for determining the certification requirements on the client, not on yourself. Individual clients will ask you all kinds of things:Will the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles accept your translation? Will the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg accept your translation? There is no possible way for you to know all of these requirements, and you don’t want to be responsible if your translation is rejected. So you want to say something to the client such as, “I am certified by the American Translators Association for German to English translation. Please verify with the entity to which you’re submitting the translation whether that certification is acceptable for their purposes, or send me their certification requirements and I will review them.”
- This relates to another issue, whether you have to be ATA-certified in order to certify a translation for U.S. purposes. Yes, no, maybe. That’s the honest answer. Many entities, most notably USCIS, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, do not require any credentials as a translator in order to certify a translation. The translator simply has to sign a certificate of accuracy saying that they are competent to translate the document, and that the translation is true and accurate. However, I feel that it is a distinct advantage to be ATA-certified if you want to translate official documents. Many entities do require it, and the vast majority of entities that require some sort of translator credential are going to require ATA certification.
- Use a certificate of accuracy. Entities such as the American Translators Association have sample certificates of accuracy available for free on their websites. If you are certified, put your Certified Translator seal on the certificate of accuracy. If you are not ATA-certified, just sign the certificate of accuracy. I no longer offer paper copies of the certificate of accuracy unless the client requests them: otherwise I just electronically sign the PDF version of the certificate in Adobe, and tell the client that they can print it out if needed.
- Make a policy about notarized certifications. Realistically, notarized certifications mean nothing (literally, nothing) about the quality of the translation. I’ve honestly never had a document notarized by a notary who even understood French, much less could assess the quality of the translation. All a notarized certification means is that the translator is who they say they are. And yet, people love notarized certifications because they look official. I strongly discourage notarized certifications because they are time-consuming and annoying to obtain; I nearly always have to explain to the notary that the purpose is only to notarize my signature, nothing to do with the translation. It can also be a challenge to find a place (typically, a bank branch) to get things notarized. Typically, I will tell clients that I recommend against a notarized certification only if the entity to which they are submitting the translation absolutely will not accept the translation without a notary’s stamp. I’ve also used an online notary through Notarize.com a couple of times, with good results. The only caveat is that the notary will be certified in a state that allows virtual notary services (typically, Nevada) rather than in the translator’s home state.
If you have other questions about how to certify a translation, just pop them in the chat, and I’ll try to help you!
Corinne McKay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Training for Translators, and has been a full-time freelancer since 2002. She holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College, is an ATA-certified French to English translator, and is Colorado court-certified for French interpreting. If you enjoy her posts, consider joining the Training for Translators mailing list!