The more you know about the services offered by professional translators and interpreters, and the qualifications that such individuals have, the better equipped you will be to make the right selection for a given project.
Translation is the transference of meaning from a written text in one language (the source language) to a written text in another language (the target language).
Interpreting is the transference of meaning from speech in one language to speech in another. In many scenarios, the interpreter must render meaning in both directions. Interpreting can be consecutive or simultaneous, depending on the circumstances of the encounter.
Language pair refers to the two languages used in any translating or interpreting activity.
Translators generally can produce accurate work more quickly and easily when translating from a source language into their native language. That is the norm. Written work requires an extremely high degree of accuracy, and true bilingualism is rare. However, some translators have lived in another country so long that they have achieved near-native competency in the new language and prefer to work into it. A translation into English should sound as if it has been drawn up in English by an educated native speaker.
Legal, medical, business, and community interpreters must be able to operate in either direction as they hear a unit of meaning and then render it in a different language, and then reverse that procedure as the encounter continues. Conference interpreters, who generally interpret formal presentations in one direction, prefer to work from the foreign language into their native language due to the high stress of their work.
Many texts that need translation are general in nature and can thus be handled satisfactorily by any professional translator working in a given language pair. If a text is specialized, however, it is best to seek out a translator whose background knowledge of the field in question and the specialized terminology involved paves the way for a meaningful and accurate translation.
Qualifications and certification
Some foreign countries have national examinations for translators and interpreters. The United States does not. However, in recent years, more and more American universities have been offering degree or certificate programs in translation and interpreting.
The most usual background for translators and interpreters is a bachelor’s degree (or foreign equivalent) in either foreign languages or a science, engineering fields, business, etc. Many translators and interpreters also hold advanced degrees.
Membership in national and/or regional professional associations such as ATA, NETA, MMIA, or NAJIT is an indication that a translator or interpreter is interested in supporting such organizations and deriving professional benefits from them.
The American Translators Association (ATA) administers certification examinations in most major language pairs for its members. An ATA-certified translator has met the stringent requirements of a professional group in a given language pair and is required to earn continuing education points to maintain certification. See www.atanet.org/certification/index.php for a full description of the ATA certification program.
Federally certified court interpreters have met extremely high standards of performance by passing separate written and oral examinations in a given language pair. For information on certification of federal court interpreters, see http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/federal-court-interpreters/federal-court-interpreter-certification-examination.
Many states have extensive training programs for state court interpreters. A large number of states use the written and oral tests developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) (www.ncsc.org/education-and-careers/state-interpreter-certification.aspx) to certify court interpreters. NCSC has developed court certification tests in 20 languages.
There are two national certification bodies for medical interpreters, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI).
NBCMI offers the Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) credential to Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese interpreters. For information on CMI certification, go to www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org.
CCHI offered the Core Certification Healthcare Interpreter (Core CHI) credential, available to all medical interpreters regardless of language, and the Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI) credential, available to Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin interpreters. For information on CCHI certification, go to www.cchicertification.org.
Individual or company
There are advantages to working with a freelance translator or interpreter and other reasons for engaging the services of a translation or interpreting agency. The choice is up to you. It depends on your needs and goals.
Direct contact with an individual will often result in more personalized service, flexibility, and lower rates.
Engaging a translation or interpreting agency will generally provide you with a wide range of languages and specialties. Project managers are in charge of multilingual projects that may include editing, proofreading, glossary management, a range of software options and technical capacities, website localization, and desktop publishing. Accordingly, rates are generally higher.
See Translation & Interpreting Rates to learn about fees for translation and interpreting services. Rates vary significantly depending on any number of factors and should be decided upon in writing in advance.
If you need what is sometimes called a certified translation, a professional translator will include an appropriate statement, certifying that he is a trained and/or experienced professional and that his translation is a true rendering of the document in question, done to the best of his ability. You may also wish to have the statement notarized by the translator.
If one text is to be translated into more than one language, it is generally advisable to hire a different translator for each of the required languages.
It is important to leave plenty of lead time for written translations. Rush jobs are likely to contain errors or omissions or infelicitous text. They may also incur extra fees. Remember, translation and proofreading take time!
It is important to schedule interpreting appointments well in advance so that interpreters can plan their schedules and arrive at your site in advance of sessions.
It is a good idea to check references of any individual or company that you intend to work with. It is also essential that you ask plenty of questions and specify in detail exactly what is intended before any work begins. Again, fee arrangements should be in writing before any work begins.
For further information
The American Translators Association has published brochures for clients entitled “Translation: Getting it Right” and "Interpreting: Getting it Right." They are available free of charge from the ATA, at www.atanet.org.
The Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society provides a great deal of information at www.notisnet.org.