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*Ex post facto* sign-offs on translations: Unethical?
Thread poster: Robert Forstag
Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
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Dec 22, 2016

Today, I was asked by an agency to review and sign off on previously completed translations that required a certified translator. I refused on the grounds that such conduct would constitute misrepresentation.

This is not the first time I have been approached with such a request.

I am interested in others' opinions regarding agencies that proceed in this way.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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Depends on the declaration Dec 22, 2016

Robert Forstag wrote:
Today, I was asked by an agency to review and sign off on previously completed translations that required a certified translator. I refused on the grounds that such conduct would constitute misrepresentation.


What is the wording of the stamp? "I, the translator, declare that this translation it is a true rendition of the original"? Or "I, a translator, declare that this translation it is a true rendition of the original"?


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
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For your usual fee? Dec 22, 2016

Robert Forstag wrote:
Today, I was asked by an agency to review and sign off on previously completed translations that required a certified translator. I refused on the grounds that such conduct would constitute misrepresentation.

You mean they were expecting you to spend a couple of minutes reviewing it, certify it, and charge them a tiny fee? Or were they prepared to pay your normal fee, giving you the time to examine every word carefully and make any and every change you see fit before certifying it?

I can imagine the second scenario happening as a perfectly legitimate practice once in a blue moon. For example, the translator could have misunderstood the requirement for certification, or lied, or gone under the proverbial bus before stamping it. They'd then have a translation but no stamp, without meaning to misrepresent anything.

If they've paid peanuts for a translation and then expect to pay you peanuts for the certification, there's only one response. It's too rude for this forum.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
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False or misleading Dec 22, 2016

Samuel Murray wrote:

Robert Forstag wrote:
Today, I was asked by an agency to review and sign off on previously completed translations that required a certified translator. I refused on the grounds that such conduct would constitute misrepresentation.


What is the wording of the stamp? "I, the translator, declare that this translation it is a true rendition of the original"? Or "I, a translator, declare that this translation it is a true rendition of the original"?


I never got so far with this as to view the wording of the declaration, but I would not have been comfortable signing off on either version that you suggest, given that the former is false and the latter is misleading.

There is also the issue here of solidarity with colleagues, and not abetting the practice of agencies assigning projects that expressly require certified translators to (more cheaply paid) uncertified translators.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
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My reasonable inference Dec 22, 2016

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Robert Forstag wrote:
Today, I was asked by an agency to review and sign off on previously completed translations that required a certified translator. I refused on the grounds that such conduct would constitute misrepresentation.

You mean they were expecting you to spend a couple of minutes reviewing it, certify it, and charge them a tiny fee? Or were they prepared to pay your normal fee, giving you the time to examine every word carefully and make any and every change you see fit before certifying it?

I can imagine the second scenario happening as a perfectly legitimate practice once in a blue moon. For example, the translator could have misunderstood the requirement for certification, or lied, or gone under the proverbial bus before stamping it. They'd then have a translation but no stamp, without meaning to misrepresent anything.

If they've paid peanuts for a translation and then expect to pay you peanuts for the certification, there's only one response. It's too rude for this forum.


Once again, I did not get far enough in the interaction to find out, but given that the agency representative did not indicate either the kind of improbable circumstance that you suggest or specify the requirement that each and every word be carefully checked against the original, the implication was that a cursory review was expected and that a small fee was on offer.

This is not the first time that I have received such a request, and the intention on the part of the agencies in both cases clearly seemed to be to save money.

[Edited at 2016-12-22 17:21 GMT]


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JL01  Identity Verified
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No ethics is involved here Dec 22, 2016

I am on the receiving of such requests from time to time. I have no objections in principle. The end customer is only interested in having a proper translation signed off by a certified translator.
However, I would charge on the time spent checking and editing such existing translation. Because there would be my name on it, I won't accept anything short of my definition of perfection.

There is also the issue of how to actually process the certification: paper (with my signature verified by a Notary Public, which is the standard procedure in the USA) or some sort of secure PDF file. I won't accept less.

So, in the end, it has never worked out with agencies.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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The fee is not relevant (unless it is) Dec 22, 2016

Sheila Wilson wrote:
Or were they prepared to pay your normal fee, giving you the time to examine every word carefully and make any and every change you see fit before certifying it?

If I understand certified/sworn translation correctly, you can't certify a translation (i.e. turn it into a sworn translation) that you did not do yourself. But I'm wondering if this isn't because of the wording of the stamp, which usually says something that implies that the signer is the translator.

Robert Forstag wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
What is the wording of the stamp? "I, the translator, declare... "? Or "I, a translator, declare..."?

I never got so far with this as to view the wording of the declaration, but I would not have been comfortable signing off on either version that you suggest, given that the former is false and the latter is misleading.

I've trimmed the wording down to the essential text that makes my point. You were looking at the wrong end of my sentences.

There is also the issue here of ... not abetting the practice of agencies assigning projects that expressly require certified translators to (more cheaply paid) uncertified translators.

I don't think that there is a rule that says that the client must pay at least X in total for the translation to be ethical.

[Edited at 2016-12-22 20:31 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
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It depends... Dec 23, 2016

I recently became a Chartered Linguist, and can certify my own translations for what it is worth.
In principle, I could as an MCIL, but normally I would ask a Danish colleague to stamp and certify them, or the agency would. They were better known, at least among Danish clients, and I worked well with several colleagues.

It is not easy to qualify as a State Authorized Translator in Denmark without a specific MA, so as far as I know, there are no native speakers of English who are/were State Authorized. Danes are trained to translate both ways, and they are often subject experts too, but on occasions they prefer to get another translator to do the translation, for instance when the client wants a native speaker of English to do it. The State Authorized Translator then proofreads it and certifies that it is a fair and true rendering of the source text. It is not a requirement that the certifying translator actually does the translation, and that is not claimed in the declaration.

A year ago, the State Authorized Translator system was abolished in Denmark, so now they can certify translations if the client is satisfied, or they may have to go to a notary who is not a linguist, and may not be able to read both languages. OK, notaries are public officials with stamps...

That is another story.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
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Huh? Dec 23, 2016

Samuel Murray wrote:
I don't think that there is a rule that says that the client must pay at least X in total for the translation to be ethical.

[Edited at 2016-12-22 20:31 GMT]


Certainly not, but I think most people with a rudimentary notion of ethics would agree that if a client requires that a translation be done by someone with certain qualifications, then assigning that project to someone without said qualifications as a ghost writer, and then having the work signed off on by a person with the qualifications in a way that either states or implies that it was created by the latter, is at the very least questionable practice.

In my view, the only really above-board way to provide an ex post facto sign-off in the scenario I've presented would be for the original translator to sign off as having translated the document, and for a reviewer to sign off as having reviewed and approved the document as constituting "a true and accurate translation" (or using whatever language is required).

But proceeding in this way would not meet the requirements for "translation by a certified translator," at least not in a US context. And so some agencies resort to the kind of subterfuges that I've described.

By the way, after I initially posted yesterday, the representative of the agency whose recent conduct had prompted my post wrote back to me in part as follows:

The problem is that the client had said they would need a certified translation but they did not mention anything about ATA Certification or Court Certification until later after we had assigned the project.

Let's consider this explanation for a moment. A representative of a reasonably sized translation agency in the US that has been in business for some years receives a request from a client for "a certified translation," accepts and assigns the project, then claims to not know what was meant by "a certified translation," and unexpectedly finds itself having to scramble for someone who can meet the client's requirement.

Methinks not.



[Edited at 2016-12-23 14:33 GMT]


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JL01  Identity Verified
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No "ethics" here Dec 23, 2016

There is no such a thing as a "requirement" of "translation by a certified translator" in the USA.

There may be requirements that a certified translator (ATA-Certified, or Court certified) state that a translation is "to the best of [his/her] ability an accurate translation."
That is what a certification states. No one in the world cares in which manner, or by whom, such certified translation was achieved.

When I sign a certificate of accuracy, there is my name on it, for crying out loud. It means that I, a certified translator, vouch for it. That is all the customer wants and needs.

The only ethical issue arises when a translator wrongly states "I personally translated this document."

Again, no one cares about WHO translates a document. What counts is who signs off on it.

Robert Forstag wrote:

But proceeding in this way would not meet the requirements for "translation by a certified translator," at least not in a US context.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
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Huh? (II) Dec 23, 2016

JL01 wrote:

There is no such a thing as a "requirement" of "translation by a certified translator" in the USA.



Wrong!

I have received numerous requests to do work on projects specifically because I am ATA-Certified, and because the job in question required translation by someone with this certification, including a signed and notarized statement indicating the holding of said credential. In fact, in many of these cases, I was explicitly told by the person who contacted me that they found my name on the ATA website (where they had gone in search of a person for their job).

There are hundreds of ATA-Certified translators based in the US who can confirm that such a requirement does indeed exist for certain projects.


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JL01  Identity Verified
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Let may say it again in plain English Dec 23, 2016

Yes. Me too. I am on a first-name basis with my bank's Notary Public.

However, the requirement is for the certified translator to SIGN OFF the translation.

Let me use the sausage comparison: no one wants to know how the sausage is made; they just want to eat it.

I have no objection to signing off a translation done by someone else, provided it meets my criteria, which may have happened once or twice over the last 25 years.


Robert Forstag wrote:

JL01 wrote:

There is no such a thing as a "requirement" of "translation by a certified translator" in the USA.



Wrong!

I have received numerous requests to do work on projects specifically because I am ATA-Certified, and because the job in question required translation by someone with this certification, including a signed and notarized statement indicating the holding of said credential. In fact, in many of these cases, I was explicitly told by the person who contacted me that they found my name on the ATA website (where they had gone in search of a person for their job).

There are hundreds of ATA-Certified translators based in the US who can confirm that such a requirement does indeed exist for certain projects.


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Texte Style
Local time: 22:53
French to English
from the agency's standpoint Dec 23, 2016

back in my PM days, we often had to deal with sworn translations and it was a real pain. The system in France is such that you get a stamp if you're friends with the right people, it has nothing to do with linguistic ability. So, as an agency with a reputation for quality, we had to ask a decent translator to do the work and then get a sworn translator to sign off. We paid the decent translator their well-deserved handsome rate and then paid the sworn translator whatever they asked for, and the client paid through the nose. (back in the day when quality mattered)

the one time I found a half-way decent sworn translator, I managed to screw things up because after proofreading his work. I then had to ask him to please make a few changes. He took it very badly, informing me down his nose that his work was flawless. I tried to tactfully point out that his omission of the word "not" in a sentence at the bottom of page 2 rather made nonsense of the entire text and he refused ever to work with us again.

I really don't think that signing off on a text you didn't actually translate is all that unethical provided you've proofread the translation carefully to be sure there's nothing out of place. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, certainly, and there are plenty of worse issues to get het up over


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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ATA certification versus certified translations Dec 23, 2016

Robert Forstag wrote:
I have received numerous requests to do work on projects specifically because I am ATA-Certified, and because the job in question required translation by someone with this certification, including a signed and notarized statement indicating the holding of said credential.


That may be so. Government and non-governmental departments may have their own requirements about the credentials they require from translators. But that has nothing to do with certified translations, unless that particular department specifically says that it does.

The representative ... wrote back to me in part as follows:
The problem is that the client had said they would need a certified translation but they did not mention anything about (a) ATA Certification or (b) Court Certification until later after we had assigned the project.
Let's consider this explanation for a moment. A representative of a reasonably sized translation agency in the US ... claims to not know what was meant by "a certified translation"...


No, I suspect you're misinterpreting the agency's words. Here's how:

The agency probably knows that a certified translation is. Many US government web sites will also tell you, usually something like "a certified translation is one that bears a signed and dated statement from the translator certifying that he or she is competent to translate and that the translation is accurate" (see also e.g. here). In the USA (barring exceptions), any translator (in fact: any person) can produce a legally valid certified translation.

But then their client came back with an additional requirement, namely that the translation should be produced by either an ATA "certified" translator or that it must be court certified.

See, a while ago, ATA changed the name of its accreditation system to "certification", which was a bad move in my opinion because it creates confusion about what the function of ATA accreditation is. Now, when clients are in need of a certified translation, they think that specifically a "certified" ATA translator can provide it. But the fact is that (in the USA, but depending on state laws) anyone can create a certified translation, and the ATA "certification" has absolutely nothing to do with certified translation.

As to the original question of whether only the translator can certify a translation, well, IANAL, but perhaps it's telling that the example certification mentioned on the USA's foreign affairs ministry's web site does not specifically say "I did this translation, and it is accurate" but rather "I'm a translator, and this translation is accurate":

Certification by Translator
I [typed name], certify that I am fluent (conversant) in the English and ________ languages, and that the above/attached document is an accurate translation of the document attached entitled ______________________________.
Signature_________________________________
Date Typed Name
Address



[Edited at 2016-12-23 23:20 GMT]


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
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I don't do it Dec 24, 2016

I'm not sure if it's unethical but my gut feeling tells me not to do it. I advise the client that the original translator needs to have it stamped and signed by a notary public or commissioner for oaths. Those are the people who do this in Canada, I don't know if similar 'officials' exist in other countries.

If the client says that this is impossible, for example if the original translator can no longer be contacted, I offer to do a new translation. In other words I only get a scan of the document, I don't want to see the existing translation, and I prepare a completely new certified translation. Needless to say I charge my usual fee for that but it has happened only once or twice.



[Edited at 2016-12-24 19:33 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-12-24 19:34 GMT]


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