ULG's Language Services Blog

What is a 'Certified' Translation? Do I Need One?

Suppose you go to a garage sale, and you find a first edition copy of a well-known book, signed by the author. You want to buy the book as a gift for your best friend, but you don’t know if the signature is legitimate. How do you know if the book is a collectable, or if it’s not worth anything because there is no proof that the signature is valid?

Many translations, especially in legal circumstances, face a similar dilemma as this signed book. In certain situations, translations are required to be “certified" by document translation services, which is similar to how a signed copy of a book or other paraphernalia should have a “certificate of authenticity” to affirm legitimacy.

How do you know if your language services project requires a certified translation? Here’s a quick overview to help you find out. 


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What Is a certified translation?


According to the American Translators Association, “A certified translation is a translation accompanied by a signed statement attesting that the translation is accurate and complete to the best of the translator's knowledge and ability.” This is also known as a “Certificate of Accuracy” and is prepared by the translator or language solutions partner that translated the document. This certification further ensures that the work is up to the highest standard.

In many cases, independent translators are unable to provide certified translations due to the additional time and expense of quality control. Language solutions partners are better equipped to handle certified translations because of their extensive quality assurance processes, as well as their in-house subject matter experts and linguists. 


What is the difference between a certified translation And a certified translator? 


Despite their similar names, a document prepared by a “certified translator” is not the same as a “certified translation.” A certified translator is an individual who has passed a certification exam to verify his/her professional translation skills in a certain language. Not all languages have a certification exam, and not all countries or projects require translators to be certified. By contrast, a “certified translation” is the signed statement verifying translation accuracy, and it can be prepared by non-certified translators, certified translators, or a language solutions partner.


What is the difference between a certified translation and a notarized translation?


Unlike a certified translation, a notarized translation is strictly about following official protocol and does not have the same standard for quality assurance. Notaries are not required to approve the quality of the translation before giving it their approval. Instead, notaries are only expected to confirm the translator’s identity, ask the translator to swear under oath that the translated document is accurate, and have the translator sign an affidavit. After this process, the notary signs and stamps the translated document with an official seal. Official documents that often require notarized translations, rather than certified translations, include school transcripts and foreign diplomas.


When is a certified translation required? 


Most legal documents will require a certified translation, given the highly technical nature of the content as well as the stringent consequences that could occur in the event of a mistranslation. Examples include affidavits, trial transcripts, contracts, or anything that must pass through a legal or government entity. Official government documents, such as a birth certificate, would also need to be certified translations. For example, when handling immigration cases with USCIS, all foreign documents would need to be certified translations into English. 


When is a certified translation not required? 


Unofficial documents like personal writing, marketing materials, and web content would not require certification. However, these should still be translated by a reputable provider who can adapt content in the most accurate and culturally sensitive way for the new audience. 

ULG's experienced linguists, industry-leading technology and award-winning project management process ensures your translations are completed on time, on brand and on budget.

Want to learn more? Get a quote today. 


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