Posted by: patenttranslator | December 15, 2013

Who Can Certify A Translation?

Because my translations of patent applications and other technical and legal documents may be used in court, either for litigation purposes or to file an English version of a patent application that has been originally filed in Japanese, German, French, Russian, Czech or another language, I am sometime asked to sign a “Certification of Translation”.

This is the text I use:

I, [my name]

of [my address]  

declare that I am well acquainted with both the Japanese and English languages, as well as a member in good standing of the American Translators Association and National Capital Area Translators Association, and that the document listed below has been accurately translated, to the best of my knowledge and ability: [identification of the document].

Over the years I tried various versions of this certification, mentioning the number of years that I have been working as a patent translator (in two weeks it will be the 27th year) and the fact that I have a master’s degree in Japanese studies, but then I decided to use the short version above.

Sometime I am asked by a translation agency to sign their version of such a certification, and sometime a patent law firm asks me at a later date to sign a certification of my translation based on a model of such a certification provided by another translator or translation agency.

I find these samples useful because this is how I find out about my competition, both among translators and among translation agencies.

Based on the samples of certifications supplied to me by my clients, I happen to know that in many cases, the certification is signed by a monolingual project manager on behalf of the agency.

A sample of a typical project manager’s certification is below:

This is to certify that the attached translation is, to the best of my knowledge and belief, a true and accurate translation from (source language) into (target language) of (identification of the document).

            (Name and signature of the project manager)

The certification does not say anything about the qualifications of the project manager to sign such a translation. And there is a good reason for that: the project manager generally has none, other than being able to read and write English. The average salary of a project manager in a translation agency is 38 thousand dollars, and people who have a college degree, are fluent in a language like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or even German and French, would be crazy to work for a translation agency for that kind of money.

They may start out by working as a project manager for a translation agency for a low salary, but they would generally do something like that only to get their feet wet once they have graduated from college and within a few months they often quit the agency and start their own business, either as a translator, as a translation agency, or as a translator/translation agency hybrid.

It could be said that the project manager is not really lying in the statement above. The monolingual PM probably really does believe that the translation is true and accurate. But if he is monolingual, or just “has some French”, he has no way of ascertaining whether this is really true if the original document was in Japanese or German. This is also a good example demonstrating that the famous “four-eyes principle” makes sense only when both sets of eyes are equally qualified to determine that a translation is accurate, which almost never happens.

But at the same time, although the statement is not really a lie, it is an extremely unethical statement to make, bordering on an outright lie.

If somebody asked me to certify the provenance of a violin that might or might not have been made two hundred years ago by Stradivari, and I issued a signed statement certifying that “to the best of my knowledge, the present violin was made by Antonio Stradivari”, given that I have no way of ascertaining the provenance of the violin, would I be just extremely unethical, or would I be lying?

Nobody is crazy enough to ask somebody like me, who has no relevant knowledge, to make such a statement, of course. But monolingual PMs are signing “Translation Certifications” without really having any idea at all about what is in the original document every day.

And there is a reason for this. Some translation agencies, a small minority of them, which some translators call “honest agencies” in their online discussions, do ask the translator to sign the certifying statement, because the translator is in fact the only person who can do such a thing.

But the problem is, once the translator’s name is identified, what is to stop the client of the agency, for example a law firm, from running a search with the name of the translator and contacting him or her directly? Nothing, of course, especially if the law firm perceives that little or no value is added to the translation by the agency, which is often (but not always) the case, and the translator’s website can be easily found by running a web search, which is also often the case.

Nothing, of course. If the clients believe that the agency adds no further value to the translation, the chances that they will contact the translator directly are very good.

Sometime a translation agency asks me to sign a certifying statement, which I then scan and either add on the first page of my translation, or which is then printed on the agency’s stationary. But only a translation agency that is confident that the clients will not start working directly with the translator is likely to do that.

Most of them simply ask a PM to sign a statement which is either a bold faced lie, a strategic deception, or at least not exactly a true statement.

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Responses

  1. […] Because my translations of patent applications and other documents are often used in court, either for litigation purposes or to file an English version of a patent application that has been origin…  […]

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  2. Well, you know this is handled a bit differently in some countries such as Austria and Germany. The “certifications” for the UK, Australia and other places always seemed to be a strange joke to me.

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  3. “The “certifications” for the UK, Australia and other places always seemed to be a strange joke to me.”

    Oh, well, this world is full of strange jokes.

    Can you describe what you mean in this case?

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  4. I often see U.S. translators advertising that they have a notary license and offer to notarize their translations (notary stamp and signature). The only thing is that notarizing your own translations is illegal. You are basically certifying yourself.

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  5. That makes no sense to me.

    And why bother anyway when your will notarize your signature for free?

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  6. Excellent post, and a subject we have been discussing in our “hybrid agency” for some time now.

    Regarding “certification”, our lawyers (and a recent court case) have confirmed that anyone can sign such certification, because they are the party accepting responsibility for the accuracy of the translation. The same as a general contractor being responsible for the work of his plumbing subcontractor if it is not up to code. The certification has nothing to do with lying or telling the truth, it simply states who is legally liable if there is a problem with the translation!

    In the past we included the name of the actual translator in our certifications, including their city location, and some information about their credentials (education, affiliations, certifications, etc.), but as you described, we realized that our clients could easily track these people down, and hire them directly. So, we have stopped identifying them by name, but we continue to include their credentials.

    Regarding the notarial act, in the US this act simply verifies that the person signing the certification is who they say they are. It also has nothing to do with the accuracy of the translation. And yes, you cannot notarize you own signature. If the document is going overseas to a Hague Convention country, then you may also need an Apostille from your state to confirm that the Public Notary is currently licensed. For a non-Hague country, then you can send it to the State Dept. for a similar authentication.

    All the Best, and keep up the good work!

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  7. Hi Richard:

    Always a pleasure to hear from a fellow translator-agency hybrid.

    “The certification has nothing to do with lying or telling the truth, it simply states who is legally liable if there is a problem with the translation!”

    I love that lawyer’s statement: so as long as the lawyers have somebody to sue, they don’t care whether the party who just certified that the violin was indeed made by Stradivari was somebody who knows absolutely nothing about violins.

    (Can’t say I’m surprised).

    Also, which recent court case are you referring to?

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  8. […] Because my translations of patent applications and other technical and legal documents may be used in court, either for litigation purposes or to file an English version of a patent application tha…  […]

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  9. […] Because my translations of patent applications and other technical and legal documents may be used in court, either for litigation purposes or to file an English version of a patent application tha…  […]

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  10. This was a simple, small claims court case here in the Seattle area, so it won’t have any legs for setting a translation industry precedence! However, our lawyer advises that similar cases in higher courts have had the same results (such as my contractor/subcontractor example above).

    It involved an Immigration document we translated. Our client refused to pay us because CFR 8 says to the effect that the translation must contain a signed certification by the “translator.” The judge ruled that we, the translation agency, was hired to do the translation, and we had the authority to use whomever we chose to perform the translation because if the translation was incorrect, we were the only party that our client could legally pursue. Therefore, our signed and notarized certification was acceptable on behalf of the actual translator.

    Re: The Stradivari. The lawyers actually do care if the person knows anything about violins, because any lawsuit is going to depend on that person’s bona fides.

    Isn’t business fun!!

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  11. “Isn’t business fun!!”

    Absolutely! Our job is not nearly as boring as it might seem to some people.

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  12. […] Because my translations of patent applications and other technical and legal documents may be used in court, either for litigation purposes or to file an English version of a patent application tha…  […]

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  13. […] Because my translations of patent applications and other technical and legal documents may be used in court, either for litigation purposes or to file an English version of a patent application tha…  […]

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  14. […] Word(s) of the Year 2013 How Do You Judge a Translation? Sid’s Advice to young translators Who Can Certify A Translation? How to ask for client feedback How Many Words in English? Translating for […]

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  15. […] But it is also a bad thing, because in the absence of a reliable certification system that could be based on specialized education and years of experience, creative marketing types have come up with the idea of “our own strict certification test”, and “ISO 9001:2008, ISO 13485:2003″ and “EN15038 certification”, which is just a marketing ploy when it comes to translation as I wrote for example in this post. […]

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  16. In Dubai& Abu Dhabi, any document in any language other than Arabic required for official use should be translated by a legal translator duly authorized by The UAE Ministry of Justice. The translator should pass a certification test and obtain a license from the ministry to perform legal translation services.

    Index Legal translation, BR2
    Hamdan Tower, Ground Floor, Plot C41, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Street – Abu Dhabi
    TEL: 0097124445359
    Email: indexhamdan@gmail.com

    Like


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