Certified translations

Germany has certified translators – each of the 16 Länder has its own arrangements.
In England / USA a translator can sign a statement before a notary public – the notary public witnesses the translator’s signature.

A number of sets of guidelines have been issued in Germany. none are binding, but all are helpful
Here are the guidelines issued by the ADÜ NordTypical advice
Preserve layout of original (if it’s a certificate)
Make sure you have an original or a certified copy
Mention and describe stamps and seals, especially raised seals
Mark the beginning and end of the translation by horizontal lines
Certify: the translation is complete and correct (to the best of your knowledge – Bavaria doesn’t let us say that)
In your certification, state if you saw an original, a certified copy or a copy
If the translation is not complete, point out what is missing
Attach a copy of the original especially if it is hard to read (mark on it any omissions)
Translators’ notes can be in square brackets or footnotes – the footnotes (endnotes) should come before your signature

Ask the customer to decipher handwriting on the certificate if you can’t read it
Ask the customer whether the translation is for the UK, the USA or elsewhere

Some ideas that were new to me (from the BDÜ translators’ regular meeting in Nuremberg)
If you do an abridged translation, attach a copy of the original and mark in highlighter the bits you left out
If you translate out of German, get a second stamp with the wording translated into your target language – otherwise, add a translation of the words on the stamp to your certification

9 thoughts on “Certified translations

  1. >Germany has certified translators – each of the 16 Länder has its own arrangements.<

    To me it is still unclear whether a translator who is not “certified” in Germany can nevertheless certify his/her own translations and if not, whether doing so anyway is an offence and what the consequences might be! I get asked to certify my translations about once every 5-8 years and have always been able to resist the urge to have myself certified.


  2. I don’t see why you can’t. I’ll do a separate entry on this because I forgot to repeat the link to the Bayerisches Dolmetschergesetz. There are certain sanctions, e.g. for using a Rundstempel you aren’t entitled to. You mustn’t claim to be anything you aren’t. Mind you, will your translation be accepted by whoever wants the certification? I know an American translator here who got her signature certified by someone at the U.S. embassy – here, only EU citizens can be sworn.

  3. I don’t know about Germany but, in Austria where Schlamperei is supposed to be a thing of the past and only sworn translators – and interpreters – not Notaries are allowed to certify translations, self-cert. is certainly not an offence for an unsworn translator. However, the issue is where and by whom such a document would be acceptable if passed off, say in a bundle of papers.

    My experience with Courts, registries, the Zivilregister and Standesämter in Vienna is that usually the unsworn self-cert. – albeit triggering perosnal liabilty for the accuracy – gets through.

    But, because of the number of impostors and impersonators around, purported academic and professional quals. of the certifier or applicant are looked at v. carefully

  4. Exactly – it has to be accepted by the person for whom the translation is intended. I hadn’t thought of it being accepted in Germany. The things I do tend to be for the UK or USA, and they also seem familiar with German certification of translators. Recently, however, I had to do something where Singapore (I think) was to recognize the contents of German “Anti-Stress-Pralinen” that were being imported. I wondered whether they would have known what my stamp meant.

    I wonder about the personal liability. I think you are always personally liable, and indeed the only reason to certify your own translations is for accountability – people see my name and address and get back to me if the translation is rubbish. That is, I see the meaning of the certification wording ‘I certify that this is a true, accurate and complete translation’ as ‘Here I am – come and get me!’

  5. Our replies, Margaret, seemed to have coincided in time and in substance.

    As to your second personal liability point, I agree the translator, ‘in principle’, always comes in for primary liability. But it gets complicated when the accuracy is notarially certified.

    I’ll give an illustration of the ‘shifting of the rap’. A City of London Scrivener Notary – whose firm incorporates a trans. agency – warned me before self-cert. that I, and not his firm, vouched for the accuracy and that I, prof. insured or otherwise and wherever I was, would carry the can ‘without limit’ if anything went wrong.

    The moral of the morale-sinking story is that a commissioner of the trans. won’t accept secondary liability on a self-cert., no matter whose name the job goes out in.

  6. That was supposed to be a reply to yours, Adrian. I’m sorry if it didn’t sound like one!
    I see what you mean about the liability. I’m not clear what the situation is where you translated for a notary – did you certify all your translations yourself, or were there some where one of the scrivener notaries did?
    I’m usually liable for what I do.

  7. Both us replied to Derek at the same time and then you replied to my comment. Yes. That’s the way I understood it.

    The notarial situation was the very rare one where the trans. agency inside the notarial practice had a translator’s self-cert. request – as usual from a cost-cutting UK solicitors’ firm wanting to save the cost (up to GBP 75) of a notarial cert. 99 times out of a 100, though, the trans. goes to the agency/ notarial firm for the very reason (schon deshalb = ipso facto)of notarial and not translator’s self-cert.

    I’m unsure the Notary’s pers. liability warning was meant to frighten me off and push the lucrative notarial cert. business back to him.

    I now make a nominal charge of GBP 10 for such a self-cert., but am thinking of charging more to refelct the trouble. Other translators back in London also make a nominal charge of, say, GBP 5.

  8. Is your nominal charge to the agency, or would it be to a direct client too?

    I don’t do certificates very often. Some colleagues say they have a charge of EUR 14 or so for the certification. You can’t charge it to the court, if the court is your customer, but when the court is asked to do an Überbeglaubigung – like an apostille but not technically the same thing – the court charges EUR 14 or thereabouts (sorry I can’t remember the exact figure).
    If you do translations for the courts, there are all sorts of things you can and can’t charge, e.g. a few cents (?) for each extra page, something for a copy for your office etc. Thank goodness I have not had anything from the courts for 5 years or so.

  9. My charge would be the same to both a private or agency client.

    I haven’t done any trans. work for the Austrian Courts direct. They wouldn’t use me as an unsworn translator anyway, but I can be sworn in for the duration of ad hoc court interpreting cases by Austrian lawyers I know.

    Some of the central Bezirksgerichte perform the role of certifying true copies – cheaper than notaries. The ones I know and use won’t get into ‘over-certifying’ the trans.

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