Do I Need a Certified Translator?

Certification for translators can be an important credential. It also has limitations. Certification is according to language combinations. A translator might be certified for English into Spanish or Chinese into English. Since there is no certification for many language pairs, translation agencies need more ways to pick the right person for the job.

Translation projects can be an act of faith.

Your web site, brochure, advertisement, form or contract is important. There’s no room for error but if you don’t know the language, you’re flying blind. Having a certified translator makes you feel safer.

For the most common languages, a certified translator could be just what you need. Some companies and government agencies even mandate it. With other projects, your language service provider (LSP) needs to take more factors into account.



Certifications in the translation industry are very fragmented.

One of the most recognized certifications covers translations from English into fifteen (15) languages: Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Ukrainian.

Translations from another language into English are a bit more limited: Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

To put it into perspective, Kenneth Katzner identifies nearly 600 languages in his book The Languages of the World.

There might not be a certified translator for your language combination unless you count your LSP. Many LSPs develop their own certification requirements, but it isn’t third party certification from someone else.

Area of Expertise


Some translation topics require special expertise. Certification exams include a passage on technical material, but it might not go into the amount of detail required.

Who would you pick to translate telecommunications materials into Spanish: a certified Spanish translator with general experience in technical translations, or an electrical engineering professor who moonlights as a translator and has provided good Spanish translations on other jobs?

I was personally told an anecdote from someone in this industry who complained their provider translated “ground wire” as “earth wire.” We’ve used very good certified translators and very good translators who are not certified. In the end, quality is what matters. It comes down to trusting your LSP and their choices.

Technical Skills

Professional translation requires skills in computer aided translation (CAT) tools. Translators need to be able to use translation memory software, terminology databases and style guides. These skills are not tested in certification exams.

As you can see, finding qualified linguists can be challenging. Before working with any LSP, you should ask about the specific qualifications of translators. Certified or not, you should be made to feel confident in your “act of faith.”

Sign image by Flickr user Mr Wabu



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