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The legal requirements for working as a certified translator in Spain


Although most of our work is carried out for use in the UK, where any professional translator with the right credentials may certified a translation, we also provide translations for use in Spain, where only those translators authorized by law may carry out sworn or certified translations for official procedure. This article approaches the topic of how to obtain the qualification of Certified Translator in Spain from a practical and specific point of view.

Throughout the article we will try to cover the points that, in our opinion, are most important for obtaining this qualification, either from studies taken at Spanish universities or from those taken abroad, and within the latter we will distinguish between the countries that form part of the European Union and other countries that do not belong to it.

In this regard, we should consider the translator as a professional with an academic degree that qualifies him or her for the function of a translator in the general sense. This professional can then achieve a higher-level degree in his or her training and obtain the rank of Certified Translator. With this degree, their translation work obtains a level of official authority, as the document translated by a Sworn Translator is equivalent to the original language document itself, only in another language; this is recognised by all countries.

In view of this, it is logical to assume that different countries require a certain degree of training, both to obtain the academic title of general translator and subsequently that of Certified Translator. It is clear that in order to carry out a translator, it is sufficient to know a language, which can be within the reach of many people, who have received some cultural training in more than one language. However, this does not guarantee that the translation carried out by that person will be of the right level in a professional sense. For this reason, when translations are required for official procedures, this knowledge must be backed up by an academic qualification and by passing specific tests to obtain the title of Certified Translator.

In addition, as normally occurs in the activity of liberal professionals, there may be a greater degree of specialisation in various subjects which, due to their complexity, require greater training for the translator. In this context, there is a particular acceptance, among the different countries, regarding the specialisation of the translator in legal and economic matters; often forgetting about the complexity derived from other subjects such as medicine and engineering in their various and specific degrees, to mention some specialities, without prejudice to other subjects.

All this leads us to the conclusion that the translator, in his or her broadest sense, is a person who, apart from having in-depth knowledge of a language other than his or her mother tongue, must possess a great level of general knowledge in order to deal with the various texts to be translated; without prejudice to specific training that allows for a given specialisation. From the set of characteristics described above, we can define a translator as: A liberal professional, with specific academic qualifications regarding knowledge of one or more languages other than his/her mother tongue, with a broad general knowledge.

As a liberal professional and before entering into the particularities of the Spanish legislation, we must make a brief reference to the "Treaty of Rome and its evolution up until the present day".

European Union rules have the objective of ensuring the free movement of persons and services by allowing EU nationals of Member States, in particular those that have the power to exercise a profession, whether self-employed or employed, to do so, temporarily or permanently, in Member States other than those in which they acquired their professional qualifications. Progress in this area was initially made in the 1970s, based on individualised directives governing professional qualifications and the freedom of establishment and provision of services for each professional sector. From 1989 onwards this formula was abandoned (in accordance with the principle of mutual recognition) in favour of a general system of recognition of diplomas, which were then regulated in a generic way that set out the requirements for host Member States to admit professionals from the other Member States on the same basis as home citizens. However, specific regulations, by means of "sectoral directives" of certain professions (doctors, dentists, architects, pharmacists, etc.) remain in force. Subsequently, from the 1990s onwards, the system was supplemented by the recognition of degrees, diplomas and certificates attesting to less than three years' education, a formula will allowed a wide range of professions to be included in the system. The general rule of the system is that each Member State must recognise, in order to allow the persons concerned access to a regulated profession, the diplomas issued in another Member States for the same purposes. The purpose of the directives on the "general system" was not to harmonise training and regulation of professions, but simply to recognise qualifications and, in the case of notable differences between them, to establish compensation mechanisms which, in the end, will help to reduce any such differences.

Council Directive 89/48/EEC of 21 December 1988, as last amended by Directive 98/34, provides for the establishment of a European standardisation body which specifies the system of general recognition of educational qualifications of the most common types of training that are sanctioned by professional training courses of at least three years' duration.

Member States regulating the professions must recognise the qualifications obtained in other Member States and allow holders to perform their activities within its territory on an equal footing with home nationals with regards conditions.

In Spain, the implementation of Directive 89/48/EEC took place through Real Decree 1.665/1991, of 25 October (Official State Gazette of 22 November). The aforementioned Royal Decree recognises, in general terms, that the holder of professional qualifications acquired in another Member State which are similar to those required in Spain to exercise a profession and may obtain access to it under the same conditions as those who have obtained a Spanish degree.

In short, the recognition of qualifications by the relevant Ministry will allow nationals of other Member States to exercise their profession in Spain under freedom of establishment. In any case, the possible absence of regulatory implementing measures for certain professions may not be an obstacle to the recognition of those foreign qualifications which fall within the scope of the Directive.

The administrative procedure for the recognition of diplomas has a maximum time limit of four months from the submission of the documentation and will end with a reasoned decision. If the decision is not made within the time limit, the application will be rejected for the purposes of bringing the appropriate action.

Spanish regulations regarding the appointment of sworn interpreters, Royal Decree 79/1996 of 26 January 1996, amended several articles of the Office of Language Interpretation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The appointment of sworn interpreters by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was regulated by Articles 13 et seq. of the Regulation of the Office of Language Interpretation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, approved by Royal Decree 2555/1977 of 27 August 1977 and partially amended by the Royal Decrees 889/1987 of 26 June and 752/1992 of 27 June.

The aforementioned Royal Decree 79/1996 was an attempt to reflect the reality of the activities carried out by Sworn Interpreters and give official status not only to written translations, but also oral translations (or interpretation), as well as reverse translations, in addition to direct translations.

At the same time, the entry into force of the Agreement on the European Economic Area required that access to the exams for appointment as a sworn interpreter be granted to the nationals of its Member States.

Given the existence of the university degree in Translation and Interpretation, the possibility was granted for the holders of the aforementioned Degree to apply to the Office of Interpretation of Languages of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on appointment of a Sworn Interpreter, without exams, by means of the accreditation of having passed, within this Degree, the subjects that provide graduates with specific training in legal and economic translation and oral interpretation into the language(s) for which the appointment is requested. For this purpose, it was established that those persons who hold a Spanish degree in Translation and Interpretation, or a foreign degree that has been recognised as such, and who meet the other requirements set out in the previous section, may apply to the Office of Language Interpretation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the appointment to the rank of Certified Translator, without the need to take the exams provided for in Article 14, accrediting by means of the corresponding academic certification that they have passed the subjects of the said degree which, in accordance with the study plans of the corresponding faculties, give the graduates "specific preparation in legal and economic translation and oral interpretation in the language or languages for which the appointment is requested".

Likewise, Article 5 of the Order of February 8, 1996, which lays down the rules for the examinations for the appointment of Sworn Interpreters, stipulates that persons who hold the Spanish degree of Translation and Interpretation, or a foreign degree that has been homologated to it, and who meet the other requirements indicated in Article 1, sections a) and c), may apply to the Office of Language Interpretation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the appointment of Sworn Interpreters, without the need to take the examinations provided for in the previous article, accrediting, by means of the corresponding academic certification, that they have passed the subjects of that Degree which, in accordance with the study plans of the corresponding Faculties, provide the Graduates with specific preparation in legal and economic translation and oral interpretation in the language or languages for which the appointment is requested.

Persons who meet the above requirements and wish to receive the appointment of Sworn interpreters must apply to the Office of Interpretation of Languages of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Following the aforementioned Royal Decree 79/1996, the Order of 21 March 1997 developed Article 15.2 of Royal Decree 2555/1977 of 27 August, in which the Rules of Procedure of the Office for the Interpretation of Languages were adopted, establishing the requirements for applying for the appointment of sworn interpreters.

Given that the aforementioned Royal Decree 79/1996 did not give graduates in Translation and Interpretation the right to automatically access the appointment of interpreters, but requires them to prove that they have received, throughout the degree, sufficient training in legal and economic translation and oral interpretation, it was necessary to clarify the criteria for determining what the term "specific preparation" actually means.

This Order was intended to regulate the requirements to be met by persons who hold a Spanish degree in Translation and Interpretation, or a foreign degree that has been homologated to it, who want to apply for the appointment of Sworn Interpreter, without the need to take the exams provided for in article 14 of the cited Royal Decree. These requirements are:

(a) Holding Spanish nationality or the nationality of any other Member State of the European Economic Area.

(b) Proving, by means of the corresponding academic certification, that they have passed the subjects of the degree in Translation and Interpretation or an equivalent foreign qualification, duly recognised, which, in accordance with the curricula of the corresponding Faculties, give the graduates a specific training in legal and economic translation as well oral interpretation in the language(s) relating to the appointment.

(c) In the case of homologated foreign qualifications corresponding to education systems in countries where Spanish is not the official language, they must prove that one of the languages studied is Spanish.

In addition to these requirements, this Order sought to regulate what was to be understood by "specific preparation" in legal and economic translation and provided that: "it will be understood that applicants have specific training in the subjects indicated if they have obtained a minimum of 24 credits in legal and economic translation and 16 credits in interpretation". These requirements were extended to foreign degrees and to this end it states that "the applicants who hold a foreign degree that has been homologated to the Spanish degree in Translation and Interpretation, must submit a certificate, issued by the foreign university where they obtained the above-mentioned degree, certifying the credits obtained in the required subjects with specification of those corresponding to each subject".

When the Order came into force, if the required number of credits were not met and the degree in Translation and Interpreting was completed, they could only be obtained by taking specialist courses in legal and economic translation at recognised public or private universities.

This Order was appealed on the grounds of its restrictive nature and on 10 February 1999 the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, upholding the validity of the requirements in that Order, which is in full force and effect.

Finally, after listing the precise requirements for obtaining the appointment of a Sworn Translator in Spain, I would like to make a few comments on this subject.

Mostly, sufficient controls must be established to the appointment of a Sworn Interpreter, since, as we said at the beginning, this appointment has the character of "public attestation of the translation", and therefore its appointment must be surrounded by the maximum guarantees. However, we do not understand the special insistence on "specific preparation" in the form of legal and economic translation, when in our opinion this is only one speciality among many others. Therefore, I believe that it would be much more consistent to accredit at the highest level the knowledge of the language for which the appointment of a Sworn Interpreter is requested and that this knowledge should be passed, either during the undergraduate studies or in subsequent specific exams, by means of extensive specialised training in different subjects that have a specific lexicon or language.

By way of conclusion, I would like to contribute my personal opinion on what I have stated and in this sense I must clarify that Spain is a country that continues to support a protectionism of its liberal professionals against those of other countries and therefore creates administrative barriers that prevent the fluidity of the application of supranational laws and treaties, which promote the free movement of persons and establishments in the different countries. It is fair to acknowledge that not only does Spain extend its administrative protectionism to its own citizens, but in my opinion this protectionist zeal ends up being detrimental to the country that practices it, which is isolated from the currents of world integration that act as a driving force for the evolution of peoples. And to finish a brief note. We observe, day by day, a worldwide globalization of countries, their policies and economy, and this leads us to an open conception, without borders, which allows a greater integration of peoples and their cultures. In this context the translator is increasingly necessary, given the particular defence of the human being of his own language of expression.As a current example, we refer to the difficulties currently faced by the European Court of Justice which, in the words of its President, is "on the verge of collapse" due to a lack of sufficient translators. The creation of the new European Area requires the defence of new freedoms such as the free movement of persons, capital and goods and this necessarily implies the interpretation of Community social law as a guarantee of the prohibition of discrimination of any kind affecting European citizens, with the European Court of Justice having jurisdiction to resolve such cases; decisions which are impaired by the delay in processing them, due to a lack of translators to facilitate the work of understanding the cases raised.

For all these reasons, the Certified Translation qualification, as the highest expression of the translator's profession, must be surrounded by maximum guarantees of professional training, but at the same time the training and proven capacity of professionals from other countries must be transparently recognised, avoiding the creation of administrative barriers that protect the partisan interests of local professionals.

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