What is a certified translation? And how to get the best certified translation service?

What is a certified translation? And how to get the best certified translation service?

By Philip He, Senior Interpreter and Translator (Mandarin Chinese), He and Partners

What is a certified translation?

A certified translation, did you say? Huh, what is that? You probably think the chances of you coming across that phrase again in your lifetime is slimmer than sipping tea on Mars. However, the fact is, if you ever travel to another country for purposes other than tourism, you will most likely be asked to produce a certified translation of an official document in order to prove who you are and why you are going.

An English student who plans to further his studies in a French speaking country will have to obtain a certified translation of their grades in order to apply for universities there.

An English doctor who wishes to set up his next medical practice in Japan will have to produce certified translations of their qualifications in order to get the process kickstarted.  

In fact, when I applied to be admitted to the roll (to become a lawyer), I had to get a certificate of good behaviour translated into English by a certified translator, in order to demonstrate to The Law Society that I wasn’t going to bring the profession into disrepute.  

What is the difference between a certified translation and a bog-standard one?

Certified translations come with specific requirements. In the UK, a certified translation must be presented alongside a statement made by the translator or translation company confirming that it is a ‘true and accurate translation of the original document’. The translation must be dated and must contain the full name and contact details of the translator or a representative of the translation company.

If a ‘certified translation’ does not comply with the above requirements. It will not be worth the paper it is written on.

However, what the UK rules do not make clear is the level of qualification required on the part of the translator. In civil law countries such as France, Spain and Germany, there are government-approved sworn translation schemes in place. Only qualified translators who have passed admission tests are accredited to certify official translations.

The absence of such an official system in the UK means the quality of some ‘certified translation services’ can be highly questionable. In order to cut costs, some translation agencies would use ‘translators’ with little or no professional qualification. Just like you wouldn’t let a medical school dropout waving a scalpel anywhere near your inflamed appendix. I wouldn’t entrust my articles of association with an unvetted translator.  

How to get the best certified translation service?

The best place to start is reputable professional associations. The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) are the most recognised professional bodies for translators and interpreters in the UK. Both organisations check the qualification and experience of applicants before admitting them as members. ITI is even more rigorous. Only applicants who pass the organisations’ own exams can be admitted. Members must abide by the associations’ codes of conduct affording clients further assurance in terms of quality and professionalism.

If the certified translation you are after is for a technical document, you will want to take into account the translator’s specialism and experience. Translators have specialisms, just like doctors. You should never believe someone who claims that they can translate everything. I specialise in law, finance, engineering and anything in between, but I would never profess to be competent in anything to do with pure math or relating to quantum physics. A professional translator should always be happy to inform you their specialism (and back it up with evidence) and be ready to refer you to another colleague if they don’t feel they are best-equipped for the job.

If you have any further questions regarding a specific translation, please get in touch with us. He & Partners specialise in providing first-class Chinese translation and interpreting services. All of our Chinese translators are trained to MA levels with years of professional experience. Many are even qualified professionals in their specialised subject areas. We strive to understand your business and provide tailor-made service to cater for specific commercial needs.

We specialise in the following industries: law, finance, marketing, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, engineering, insurance, finance, automotive, aviation, energy, education, medicine and pharmaceuticals.


About the author:

Philip He has more than 10 years of high-level interpreting and translation experience. He has had a successful career with the European Commission as an in-house translator prior to founding He and Partners.

He has been a European Union-accredited conference interpreter since 2010 and worked for a number of international organisations including the European Council, European Parliament and agencies of the United Nations.

In addition, Philip is a non-practising solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. He trained with a London-based law firm and was admitted to the roll in 2017.

Philip specialises in providing the most effective interpreting and translation solutions for businesses. He has successfully assisted companies in the fields of automotive, engineering, law and technology to fulfil their communication needs.

He is also a teaching fellow at the University of Bath and a visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster for their prestigious postgraduate courses on interpreting and translation.

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