Sunnmørsfæring exhibited at Herøy Coastal Museum, Møre og Romsdal, Norway. (Photo: Silje L. Bakke, via Wikimedia Commons)

Another Frequently Asked Question on board this little Faering that is my law firm:

“Does my translation have to be certified?”

By frequently, I mean at least once a week for several years.  Most recently, it came in the form of a comment on my old post, Yes, counsel, you do have to translate that thing, but it’s often a question in the mind of the lawyers and their staffs who call or email me.  Their Googling has led them to believe it’s a looming issue, and if they don’t have the proper certification, their Hague Service Convention request is doomed.

The short answer: no.  But with a trio of caveats.

First, I’ve actually seen Hague requests rejected because of the certification (that is, it has to be bilingual– English alone doesn’t cut it everywhere).  Net result: I don’t even send them anymore unless the foreign Central Authority insists on one.  Cert’s are handy to have on file just in case somebody questions the quality of the work later on, but I usually just tuck them into a folder and never look at them again.

Second, some countries, like Mexico and Austria, once rejected translations that weren’t done by their own court-certified linguists.  These folks were hard for translation companies to find, and their work was really no better than other professional translators, but their small guild monopolies* inflated prices to double or triple what those others charged.  Fortunately, such requirements have largely gone away, thanks to the Herculean efforts of the good folks at the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

Third, a specific exception comes to mind: Vietnam, whose declaration on the subject (buried deep within the Hague Conference website**), once stated specifically that translations attached to Hague requests must be certified.  That declaration is now worded quite differently, and the nuance brings me to my real point.

There’s no such thing as an officially certified translation.

Seriously– there’s no U.S. government agency, and certainly no international organization, vested with the authority to bless translation work or give it some sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  But the new Vietnamese requirement (a rarity among states-party to the 1965 HCCH Service Convention) is very nicely worded:

“… all documents to be served in Viet Nam must be either in the Vietnamese language or accompanied by a Vietnamese translation, in which case the signature of the translator must be duly verified or notarized.

(Emphasis mine.)

Therein lies my point.  A “certified” translation is not blessed by some higher authority.  It is certified in the sense that the translator (or more broadly, the translation company) states under oath that she or he is competent to do the work and that she or he stands by that work.

The distillation of all this:  don’t get hung up on certified translations.

* Far be it for any lawyer to gripe about guild monopolies.

** You have to know where to look.

Not that it’s relevant to U.S. and Canadian practitioners (aside from mes amis au Québec), but Australia requires certifications… its various states require some variation on this formula, which spells out what a true certification is:

Please note: the translation must bear a certificate (in English), signed by the translator stating:

    • that the translation is an accurate translation of the document
    • the translator’s full name and address, and
    • his or her qualifications for making the translations