Posted by: patenttranslator | February 6, 2012

You Only Need To Have A Pulse And Say That You Can Translate To Qualify As A Translator

If you want to be a barber (hairdresser, Friseur, Coiffeur) in the state of California, you need to take a State Board examination before you can hang out your shingle and start using your scissors and little buzzing machines to cut other people’s hair. Because this is an inherently dangerous occupation in which you could cause a lot of damage – badly done hair could easily ruin a pretty girl’s life, for example if her fiancé gets cold feet when he sees her coming out of the hair salon with a bird nest on her head – you first need to go through 1,500 hours of a certified training program in the same state before they even let you to take the exam. The regulations for who can and who cannot work as a barber are stringent and complex and they differ from state to state in the United States.

If you want to translate highly technical patents from Japanese or other languages to English, all you have to do is have a pulse and say that you can do it …. and you are fully qualified in every state in the United States as a patent translator. Oh, you also have to file an application with the City Hall stating the nature of you business and pay 50 dollars a year for a license to practice a “miscellaneous occupation”, more only if you make more than a hundred thousand dollars a year.

A degree in translation is common and very useful in many European countries, in particular in German speaking countries, but it is not very common here in America as it is not considered very useful.

In fact, I was asked only twice to submit a copy of my diploma in all those years that I have been practicing my trade here, once by a nosy woman at the Northern California Translators Association (it was none of her business, that’s why I call her nosy), and once by a translation agency in England which was putting together a bid for a large project involving Japanese patents. Since nothing came out of that particular bid, I do not send a copy of my diploma to translation agencies anymore unless I know them quite well.

Because some time ago I wrote a post titled “What Are You Going To Do Now With Your Degree In Japanese Studies?”, I see on my blog’s dashboard that people who may have a degree in Japanese and don’t quite know what to do with it end up on my blog. I hope that some of my posts will be helpful to them.

It is mostly a good thing that the translators are not regulated by government organs and other authorities here, but of course, it also means that highly experienced translators have to compete with the rates that people who have absolutely no qualifications and no experience can charge.


Oh, I almost forgot, the requirements are much more strict if you want to be a court interpreter. Various courts have their own procedures for different languages in different jurisdictions, and some translation agencies and other companies have their own certifying procedures.

For example, I was certified by the Berlitz School of Languages in San Francisco in 1988 as a qualified interpreter for immigration hearings at the Immigration Court in San Francisco. They played two sentences in English to me from a tape recorder, something to do with the procedure at the immigration court, and then asked me to say it in Czech. So I said something in Czech although I was not sure at all what I should be saying, which is how I became certified by the Berlitz School of Languages as a court interpreter for immigration hearings. I am pretty sure that nobody ever heard what was on that tape and that it was just taped over when the next warm body was certified for another language.

That particular immigration hearing was kind of interesting. A guy from Slovakia (yes, the language was Slovak, not Czech as Berlitz told me, but that’s close enough), applied for asylum in the United States because he was persecuted in Bratislava, Slovakia on account of his political views. In particular, he was arrested because he was showing off his skills as a “breakdancer” in public in Bratislava, and because the communist authorities sort of frowned upon something like that back then, he somehow ended up asking for asylum in San Francisco.

The immigration judge was visibly enjoying himself when he was rendering his verdict as this must have been an unusual case for him. The Slovak dude was granted asylum, partly thanks to my interpreting services although I could barely hear what the judge was mumbling under his breath, and although I don’t really speak Slovak at all.

“To engage in activities such as breakdancing is a part of our constitutionally protected freedoms in our country” said the judge before he approved the application.

Back then the United States still was a free country and it sure felt like a free country. That is not the case anymore, I’m afraid.

I think that you could be easily arrested for breakdancing in public in post 9/11 America, unless you have a special permit for this dangerous and somewhat subversive activity from the San Francisco Police Department, for which you would probably need to file an application 30 days ahead of time.

I wonder whether an American could now claim persecution and apply for asylum in Bratislava, Slovakia, based on having been arrested by the police in San Francisco for provocative dancing in public without the proper permit.


  1. The FBI and related agencies similarly have what can only be called “haphazard” requirements, testing, and performance standards. The so-called “language analysts” (previously “language specialists”) who monitor wiretaps and do transcripts are incomprehensibly diversified in their abilities, this without mentioning the politics. The FBI does conduct some sort of in-service training at Quantico (not beforehand and not on the job), but in some cases the “instructors” have never monitored wiretaps (but belong to the ATA and publish worthless dictionaries). Some of the best monitors are not truly “literate” in either language, and some with degrees are stunningly incompetent and/or lazy. Latin Americans fight over whose Spanish is “the real Spanish,” and some who have been on the job never — make that refuse to — learn slang, even drug slang, from another country, even after years and years on the job. Some of the best people are not FBI employees, but work for agencies having contracts with the government, and those agencies differ in terms of their employees’ talent and supervision. Additionally, there is the whole question of who has an “in” with the woman in Washington in charge of the language analysts, so-called. There is “deadwood” at the top of the G ratings making great money with benefits. The more one sees, the more sickening it gets, but truthfully, the hilarity never ends.

    As for diplomas, certificates, et al, as meaningless as they are sometimes inauthentic.


  2. This is why I specialize in patents.

    I really like my job, it tends to pay better then other types of translation, and it is a really useful job.

    What more can one ask for?


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  4. […] school. You just need to have a pulse and say that you can translate to become a patent translator as I write in this post. As far as I know, if you want to become for example a translator who is certified by the American […]


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