Certified translation - things to check for

If you've been asked for a "certified" (or "sworn" translation) by an authority for the first time, you might not know where to start looking and what is required for a translation of an official document.

A good place to start is the French Consulate or Embassy of your country as they will probably have a list of accredited translators on their website. But, before contacting translators for quotes, it might be useful to know more about certified translation and how it's different from the standard translation of marketing documents, literary texts, business copy etc.

1. Certification
To be valid, all official documents - e.g. birth/marriage certificates, divorce decrees, academic degrees and transcripts - must be "certified" or "sworn" (assermentées). You'll find information about the difference between certification and assermentation in this article. In the UK, there isn't a standard way of certifying translations but French authorities require the translator to be accredited by a Cour d'appel (translators based in France) or a French Consulate (translators based abroad).
I'm a member of two professional associations (CIOL, IAPTI) and accredited by the French Consulate in London. This is how I certify my translations: each page is signed, dated and stamped, and my stamp includes my professional membership numbers.

2. Verification of the original
You can expect the translator to ask to see your original document before certifying the translation. This is required by authorities to reduce the risk of falsification. Most translators, myself included, will be able to quote and start working from a scanned copy or good quality picture of the original but they'll only issue the certified translation when they've verified it.

3. Layout reproduction
For standard translations of general documents, the layout isn't essential. However, for certified translations of official documents, most authorities (French mairies, universities or offices) request the layout to be reproduced. More often than not, official documents have complex layouts, with tables and/or text boxes. As authorities have little or no knowledge of the foreign language but still ask for both documents, precise reproduction of the layout ensures that the certified translation can easily be checked against the original.

4. Terminology
With the exception of short letters or statements, the majority of official documents have a specific terminology. Wills, divorce decrees and letters written by solicitors, or even statements with small print, are characterised by their formal register and use of legalese. Obviously, the translator has to translate everything in the original and when the language is particularly complex, they'll need to carry out research to identify the correct terms to use in the translation. This means that documents that include legal terminology are likely to be charged a higher rate.

5. Cultural equivalence (or lack of)
In the UK, standard translations are charged per 1,000 source words but certified translations tend to be charged per page or per hour because the number of words is rarely indicative of the work involved. Think about a degree (Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science), a job title at the bottom of an official letter, or other cultural references such as Sheriff/High Court in the UK or Tribunal de Grande Instance in France. A British High Court has no exact equivalence in France because we're effectively dealing with different legal systems. The translator cannot just transpose a cultural element into another culture; they will have to find ways of making the cultural element clear and concise in the translation. With some documents, this can be particularly challenging and a couple of lines can easily take a couple of hours to translate when there is little or no equivalence between the two cultures.    

6. Price
Compared with a general translation (touristic leaflet, website or marketing document), a certified translation might seem expensive.
For the accredited translator, issuing a certified translation involves a high degree of responsibility as the translation could be rejected due to poor layout reproduction, ambiguous language or inadequate terminology (translation deemed too close to or too far from the original). Some translators aren't prepared to take those risks and prefer not to offer the service. Others might be put off by the amount of work involved, for example:

- Reproducing the layout
- Certifying the translation
- Translating complex terminology
- Verifying the original, ensuring the safety of official documents and posting them to the client
- Tackling difficulties associated with the lack of equivalence

My rates for the translation work are based on the terminology as well as number of words. Layout reproduction costs around £15 per page and certification £25 is per page.

If you have any questions or need a quote, contact me : amandine.lprs@gmail.com

Why choose me

Professional linguist with 15 years' experience
Translator, teacher & interpreter since 2004
Chartered Member of CIOL
Member of IAPTI

Translation experience
Certified translation of official documents:
- birth/marriage/divorce certificates
- diplomas, transcripts & references
- legal/medical/insurance documents
Academic articles/literary essays
Business/marketing communications
CRM software

Interpreting experience
Court hearings
Medical and work-related
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Arts/cultural events
'Fixer' for French TV

Teaching experience
Language assistant at prestigious Fettes College
Teacher at 4 leading UK universities
- University of Oxford (ongoing)

First degree in English Studies
MSc in Translation Studies
Professional Graduate Diploma In Secondary Education (French & Spanish)