I have had many people comment to me that they think they can translate documents without any problems. Why not? They are bilingual, and they communicate in two languages. Actually, that’s what I thought before I came into this profession too, so I can see where they are coming from.
I’ve actually had requests to just “certify the translation”. “I’ll do all the hard work, then you just need to check it and make sure it’s correct”! Wow! Well, sometimes it’s easier for me to start from scratch, than to edit an already translated document from someone who is not a translator. Why? Because they don’t understand that there are many false cognates flying around even in every day usage here in the United States. A false cognate is a word that sounds like another word in the target language, but doesn’t actually mean the same thing.
I’ll give you a recent example from a translation that I had to do on a Report of Birth Abroad. This certified document was going to the Cuban government and I had the opportunity to translate it from English into Spanish. The document is very short and seems pretty simple, but since it is not going to be used here in the United States, I had to do some research as to what words are commonly used in Cuba so that the meaning would be correct.
If you go to a reputable source like the U.S. Embassy in Cuba to get the correct Spanish translation for the “Consular Report of Birth Abroad”, you will see that the word report is translated to “reporte” in Spanish. If you go to the ultimate dictionary source in Spanish, which is the Real Academia Española, it will tell you that “reporte” and “informe” are the same thing. But that’s when context comes in. Reporte and informe do have the same meaning when we are talking about a news report, this is when they are synonymous. In Spanish speaking countries, one would never use the word “reporte” for “report” in the context of a police report or a report of birth abroad. This is what we call localization. In the U.S. people do use “reporte” for “report”, but this is not the case in Cuba or in other Spanish speaking countries.
Another example that I came across while working on Birth Certificate that was to go to Cuba was actually the word “Certificate” from the phrase: “Birth Certificate”. If the document would be going to Mexico, the translation should be “Acta”, but in Cuba the word “Certificación” is used. The word Acta would make no sense in this context in Cuba. It is very important that we use the correct terminology that is officially used in the country where the document will be read. Government officials of other countries will not be doing research to try to translate a term that did not get localized to their area. It is worth the trouble to invest in hiring a certified interpreter and translator to do the research so it can be done well. Doing a quick job and not investigating deeply can cause confusion and delay the process of whatever immigration application you may be submitting.
We’ve done many translations for immigration purposes and for other important applications that require precision. Some people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into doing this kind of work. This is because there are many people translating documents for very low rates which may or may not be correct. Some people doing translations may assume that they are using the correct terminology. The only way to find out is to put in the time and effort to investigate the context and the terminology used in the target area so that localization can take place.