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Should errors in the original document be corrected in certified translations?

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

A certified translation (also called, depending on the country, or just the person referring to it, a sworn translation, an official translation etc.) is an officially recognised translation carried out by a translator who has the correct credentials to do so in the country in which it will be used. It will usually contain some or all of the following: a statement of accuracy, the translator’s contact details, a stamp, the translator’s signature, the date, etc.

One of the challenges of carrying out a certified translation is maintaining the formatting of the documents. In many cases the text to be translated is in forms with multiple boxes, in very small letters, with footnotes or reference labels or symbols, as well as watermarks, stamps and letterheads.

Since one of the characteristics of a sworn or certified translation is the fact that it remains true to the original, the translator should reproduce as accurately as possible all the design features of the original document. However, if the design of the document is too complicated, the translator may choose to simplify it somewhat, since the regulations do not require its absolute reproduction.

If possible, the ideal situation is to create a layout of the document that is as close as possible visually to the original. However, the translation will not be "better" or "worse" for respecting or not respecting the format, because what matters is clarity and a correct translation.

If the translator has the technological tools to reproduce a format with the all the detail of the original, then great, but this has no bearing on the acceptability of the certified translation. However, if an identical format is not reproduced, it is important to be descriptive, i.e. describe a logo, bar code, ribbon, etc. that may appear in the original document, indicating its position.

A certified translation differs from a normal translation, since in the former it is obligatory to reflect the original document from which it translates as faithfully as possible, trying to capture everything, even ambiguities or doubts that arise in the original, or even the errors it contains.

When working on a standard translation, if an error is found, the translator can communicate it to the client for correction, or even has the freedom to correct it themselves in the translation. In a certified translation this is not possible. Since the translation can give rise to legal effects, the professional who translates, seals and signs has the responsibility of reproducing all the content of the original.

So, what should be done when we find errors in the original document? The first thing is to identify the "error". It depends on what kind it is. If it is a simple spelling mistake ("price", instead of "prize", for example), in context it would probably be understood perfectly well, although a note can made pointing it out. If concepts or figures appear incorrectly in say, a contract, that could affect the content, and therefore the outcome, very seriously.

In these cases the best thing to do when typographical or orthographic errors are involved, they should be described and not corrected, most easily with the use of an asterisk in the text and a “translator’s note” at the foot of the page.

In more dubious cases, where part of the text is not legible, the description as such should be made and a translator's note should also be added to the footnote indicating the error on the grounds that the only possible interpretation according to the context is that of the translation provided. This method is not useful, however, if we have to translate, for example, notarial documents, since notaries often make typographical errors, then leaving amendments or erratum slips, that are usually perfectly understood. We can’t overlook them, so if it is very necessary to indicate them, we can add a footnote indicating our interpretation.

The same applies if errors appear in the original document with numbers, since in many originals numbers are often repeated or the correct order is not followed, and translators must translate them respecting these errors and, at most, and if necessary, indicating the details in a footnote.

In order to avoid making mistakes, abbreviations should be explained in the target language, without using an equivalent abbreviation.

And what about when there are parts of the text in an additional language that the translator does not know? These are never translated! If the translator is not qualified to translate that language due to lack of knowledge of it or if they are not accredited to do so, the text should be transcribed as it is, in the language in which it is written, with an explanatory note being left.

What about times or dates? These will be transcribed using the common format in the country of destination.

To conclude then, we can say that the work of a sworn or certified translator is very serious, it implies a lot of responsibility which, as we can see, can have repercussions in the legal field. As such, the sworn translator attests that the translation he or she has made is faithful to the original, including errors, because if these "errors" are corrected, the legal repercussions can be serious.

When the error is so significant that it changes the meaning of the document, and since the translator cannot correct it in the original, they can use the Latin word "sic erat scriptum", in English, "thus was it written". This indicates that the translator is aware of the error, but in the case of a certified translation, it is impossible to correct it. As has been stressed on countless occasions, if you need certified translation services, don't entrust it to just anyone, look for the services of a professional translator or a translation group such as our own. They are the ones who will be able to know how to handle these "errors" and give your document have the desired legal effects at affordable prices. We suggest you come to us! As ever, thanks for reading.

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