I got a recruiting email this week from a group called “My Translation”, which bills itself as “A Revolution in Translation”. Naturally I was curious, thinking it might be a new type of collaborative platform for professionals, so I checked out their website. This is what is says on the home page:
Translators: a new way to make money from home. Take a test, get online translation projects and start earning money now.
The only people whom this might strike as a “new” and “revolutionary” approach would be non-translators. This is just as well, since they appear to be the target audience of this spiel, which presents translation like just another no-qualifications-required, work-at-home opportunity. Call this number, start earning $$$ right away!
It looks to me like some entrepreneur smelled a money-making opportunity and suckered some sincere people into signing up. I checked out some of the translator profiles and most of them registered in 2013 and have not been active since then, so they probably moved on, hopefully to bigger and better things.
I actually don’t blame “My Translation”. The only reason they can even get away with this is because the translation industry has no mandatory standards for its practitioners in the first place (in the US anyway; it might be different in other countries, in which case I would love to hear from you). Can you imagine a similar site for lawyers? “Complete your profile, get matched with a plaintiff and start litigating today!” So why wouldn’t an entrepreneur set up a site like the one above? Our profession demands nothing of its practitioners, so we can’t blame others for being under the impression that that’s all it takes to be a translator: nothing.
I’m not saying legitimate translators are inferior or unqualified. On the contrary; top translators are highly educated, gifted writers, analysts and researchers. Besides degrees, many also earn certificates and are members of associations with the requisite standards, codes of conduct and continued education requirements. Translation agencies are well aware of the importance of credentials in the business world, which is why they tout their quality assurance processes, ISO 9001 and EN 15038 certifications, and why many of them claim, sometimes unscrupulously, that all their linguists are actually physicians (as I happened to read one day on an agency’s website after I, a non-MD, had been delivering medical translations to them for years). Smart freelancers also leverage their education and whatever quality assurance process they use, even something as simple as collaboration with a colleague, for example.
But the point is that none if this is mandatory, and the general public is barely aware of these various levels of professionalism in a market place crowded with low-rate hobbyists. It would add to the stature of the profession as a whole if a translation degree with a particular specialization was actually required, certainly in fields with a high cost of failure (pharmaceutical, legal, finance, etc.). This would prevent translations like “the mother is okay with it” for “mamma OK (mammary surgery in Dutch — I’m not making this up; it’s an actual example from a medical text I proofread once). This is not even remotely feasible right now, at least in the US, but with the expansion of online programs it might not be too much of a fantasy much longer. Hospitals and courts already require certification for interpreters; why not for translators? (Although I do have to give a shout-out to the California Board of Registered Nursing, which actually requires translators of foreign transcripts to be ATA-certified.) I’m not trying to make life more complicated, but we are not doing ourselves any favors as a profession by appearing to have no objective standards.
Are there any countries that already require translators to be certified or have a degree?