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"What is a certified translator?" "Erm, there's no such thing."

Updated: Jun 18

Early in my career as a freelance translator, when the jobs coming through from the few agencies I was signed up with were few and far between, I used to advertise on Gumtree like mad. I would put up multiple ads for my translation services in almost all of the possible locations in the UK - barring the Isle of Skye maybe - breaking the posting rules in the process, of course. But, they couldn’t check all the posts, and many of them stayed put. It was infuriating though when I’d spent all afternoon posting ads to see them suddenly fall like dominoes as some no doubt smug jobsworth busted me. Ah well, they were only doing their job I suppose, just as I was trying to do mine. It was tough to begin with, but the jobs did start to trickle in eventually.

Stay with me readers, this is leading somewhere.

Looking back, what stands out is the number of times I was asked if I carry out a certified translation and I ignorantly and incorrectly said that I couldn’t, since I wasn’t a certified translator. Never mind if I had a pound for every time that happened, how about my actual fee?! Even as a professional translator, I wasn’t aware that there really was no such thing as a certified translator. If I didn’t know, it was really no wonder that my potential clients didn’t either. It was in fact one of those potential clients who pointed out to me that, according to the UK government advice he had read online, I in fact was able to certify my translations. All that was required was the following:

If you need to certify a translation of a document that’s not written in English or Welsh, ask the translation company to confirm in writing on the translation: - that it’s a ‘true and accurate translation of the original document’ - the date of the translation - the full name and contact details of the translator or a representative of the translation company

I owe that person a large debt of gratitude, since they caused me to look in to the matter further and realise that the concept of a “certified translator” is in fact a myth and that I could certify my own translations. With that realisation I was able to take on many more jobs, and more important jobs at that. They were important because they formed part of people’s applications to bring loved ones to the country to be with them, or in their attempts to attain asylum in the UK after fleeing from war.

So now, whenever someone asks me if I’m a certified translator, I know that the answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. I find it’s best to start off with, “I can do it”, but strictly speaking I am not a certified translator, but only because there’s no such thing as a “certified translator”, in the UK at least. That may sound strange, and does sound a bit like “there’s no such thing as fairies”. But don’t worry, one of us doesn’t die every time you say you don’t believe in certified translators. No, the point is that it is not the translator that is certified, but the translation itself.

In many other countries that is not the case, and in order to actually be a certified translator in, say, France or Spain, you have to get a state prescribed qualification. You can then carry out translations for official use. However, the good old UK likes to keep things as vague and unregulated as usual and allows pretty much anyone to certify a translation as long as they write at the bottom that “it is a true and accurate translation”. That should work fine then, shouldn’t it?

Actually, after I did a bit more digging into what the UK government does require, I found another website, belonging to the Passport Office, which did go a bit further and clarify that:

Where a document written in a foreign language is submitted in support of a passport application it should be submitted with an English translation attached. It should be provided by a translator registered with an official organisation such as the Institute of Linguists or the Institute of Translation & Interpreting. A translator who is employed by a recognised Translation company, the latter being a member of the Association of Translation Companies, is also acceptable.

So, they do have some requisites after all. I read the second sentence with dismay, not being a member of either the ITI or the CIOL. But, as I read on my dream was reawakened as I realised that I already worked for a couple of ATC companies, and therefore, I could certify my translations! Was I really a certified translator?! No, Oliver, please go back to the beginning.

I tentatively began adding the required text at the bottom of a few official sounding documents that I translated - birth certificates, marriage certificates, diplomas, etc. - and held my breath. Not literally, the Home Office can take quite a long time to accept or reject submissions. But, having received no complaints after a few months, I assumed my certified translations were fine, and kept on going. Five years later, they’re still going strong and this kind of job is what I do day in day out. I rely very little on agencies any more, and it feels good to be in control of my own workflow and price setting. I’ve still to have a certified translation rejected, or even queried, so I assume I’m doing something right.

Now, the realisation that I could carry out my own certified translations might not seem like a huge revelation, but in my experience very few freelancers actually know that it’s an option for them, and they continue directing the clients who ask for them to the big translation agencies. This means that those big companies have a virtual monopoly on the certified translation “industry”, and can therefore pretty much dictate the prices. The fact that they can dominate the Google results adds to this, since they can afford to hire SEO specialist who will get them there, creating further difficulties for those freelancers whose websites appear on page five, six or seven of a search. Who looks there?! Obviously, these agencies with multiple offices and large numbers of such auxiliary staff are going to have higher prices due to their insane overheads, but even taking that into account their prices, especially for certified translation services, seem a bit of a rip-off. And here I realised that I was on to something. I could offer those same certified translations at a much lower price, while still being able to command a fair price for my work.

Over time, and having built a couple of websites which reduced the need for spending afternoons uploading identical posts on Gumtree, I could no longer keep up with the demand for certified translations. As the sites inched up the Google ranking and word of mouth spread the good news of an affordable and reliable service, I was also getting more and more requests, and not just for the languages I worked with. This led me to reach out to colleagues to help out. Along with friends, translation contacts and the help of Proz.com, I slowly formed a group of translators who could produce certified translations from most major languages. This work has led to the present version of the website you have visited today.

So, here we are. If you need a high-quality, certified translation for official use in the UK or elsewhere (we now have colleagues abroad who actually are “certified translators” according to their much less vague local laws) just get in touch. We’re so confident of the low prices we can offer by reducing the bureaucracy, middle men and profit margins involved in traditional translation agencies, that we have a price guarantee - if you find a lower quote elsewhere, we promise to beat it. We also guarantee acceptance of our certified translations by all institutions, or your money back. So, why go anywhere else? As ever, thanks for reading!

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