Sworn translation, rubber stamps and funny hospital reports

I need a sworn translation

My first experience with sworn translation happened over 15 years ago. I needed a hospital report to be translated from Hebrew to English for an insurance company in Australia. I was in England at the time, Croydon to be precise, so I went looking in the phone book for translation companies in that area. I found one close by and went around to the translator’s house.

Come to think of it, that was probably my first experience with any type of translation. Which makes sense because most people only look for translators when they need something like a certificate or a report translated, when a sworn or certified translation is often required.

Now that I’m a translator, I’d know where to find a sworn translator without having to look in the phone book. In some places, I could even provide a sworn translation. Not in Spain, though. Here, as in many countries, to be able to provide sworn translations, you need to be officially certified, which requires jumping through at least a couple of bureaucratic hoops.

Sworn translation in Spain

My only first-hand experience with sworn translation in Spain to date has been when Spanish sworn translators have offered me jobs, either to translate or proofread documents that they were later going to check again and certify. I’ve never, though, ended up working with any of these translators as I’ve always been too busy, or we haven’t been able to agree on price. It’s very likely, of course, that I’ve done translations that were later certified through agencies, which is probably a fairly common practice.

Despite my lack of experience with it, I’d venture to say that the sworn-translation system in Spain could be improved. The idea is an admirable one, but I get the feeling that the public servants who administer it, in their attempts to nicely order the world (as is the wont of many a public servant), may have factored out too many of the realities of the world. And now their system has drifted away from reality itself.

Who’s up for a bit of hoop jumping?

So, why don’t I become a sworn translator? I’m a legal translator and, in Spain at least, being one does seem to go hand in hand with being a sworn translator. But, would it really be worth all the effort required to become one?

At the moment (the requirements do change from time to time), you have to pass an exam, have certain qualifications and, I think, be a Spanish citizen. They say that the exam is difficult, but, in my case, as I’m not from here and neither are my qualifications, the other two requirements may prove to be bigger obstacles, which might even, ironically, see me having to get a sworn translation or two.

And what about the benefits? You’d think I’d have more opportunities, but would they be better ones?

What’s a stamp worth?

It seems to me that when you need a sworn translation, what you really need is the stamp that goes on it; the translation is nearly a secondary consideration. The whole thing is often just a formality; no-one cares too much about the translation.

In the case of my hospital report, for instance, I just wanted to complete the insurance company’s formalities so that I could get my money. If I needed a translation with a stamp on it, so be it, I’d get one of them.

I didn’t actually care about what the translation said. I didn’t even bother to read it after picking it up. When I did have a look at it, months later in Australia, I was a little surprised to see that the report was about injuries that I’d never even had. It had nothing to do with what had happened to me; and the English was bad. I still didn’t care that much. The insurance company had paid up by then and that was the main thing.

Hospital or translator error?

At the time, I thought the fiction that was my hospital report was the fault of the hospital, which was an extremely modern place—much more modern than all the hospitals I’ve seen in other countries (quite a few, it turns out). Everything looked new and shiny, and there was all manner of gadgetry next to the beds. But it was also a very chaotic place. They’d probably just mixed my report up with someone else’s, I’d thought.

Now that I know more about the world of translation, I think that my quite surreal report may have been the result of the translator translating out of a language that he wasn’t so familiar with. Although even that doesn’t explain the bad English. Of course, sworn translation is not regulated in the UK, so maybe this story just demonstrates that it should be.

Price, proximity or quality

I can’t remember how I chose that translator. But, as all I wanted was, in effect, a stamp, price was probably the main criterion. I was going to deliver the document to the translator in person, so proximity to where I was staying may also have been a factor. Either way, translation quality wasn’t a consideration.

So, would it be worth my while to become a sworn translator here in Spain? It’s different in the UK. There, you don’t have to become one; you just do the translation and swear that it’s authentic. The translation is effectively worth your word and how good it actually turns out to be. Hmm… more or less like a standard translation.

The rubber-stamp market: my stamp’s better than yours

In Spain, though, as it does require some effort to become a sworn translator, if all it did was turn me into a rubber-stamp seller, I’m not sure it’d be worth it.

I’d have to compete with other rubber-stamp sellers, and, as we’d all be selling exactly the same rubber stamp, when the quality of the translation wasn’t important—as in the case of my hospital report, we may end up competing mainly on price. And that is not what my translations are geared to. The idea is for people to need my work for its quality.

The question is, what percentage of the sworn translation market is just selling rubber stamps to wayward backpackers? Maybe there’s another part of that market that needs another kind of translation. It looks like I’ll have to investigate this one a little further. I’d also be interested to hear other people’s ideas and experiences. So please, let me know.

Anyway, before I start thinking about it too much, I probably should just concentrate on finishing my master’s off. Speaking of which, I should publish this and get back to that and that other thing called work, which is also calling me.

Images courtesy of saavem and Rotorhead.

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

6 comments to “Sworn translation, rubber stamps and funny hospital reports”
  1. It’s nice to read your post, your personal experience as a translator and that funny hospital reports. By the way, will you be soon graduating your masters degree?

  2. Have really enjoyed reading your blog. Our translation agency is looking for translators to share their experiences in a series of blogs we have going – drop me an email if you’d be interested in contributing.

  3. Interesting article. I completely agree that a rubber stamp does not necessarily prove that the quality of a particular translation is good (although in theory that is precisely what it should do). However, that does not mean that once you have a rubber stamp (or seal, or similar) that you should produce mediocre to shoddy translations and rubber stamp them.

    Professional integrity is what one would expect from a sworn translator, and while you may well find that the vast majority of your translations do not need to be certified, you may always find that the occasional translation does need to be certified. All certification does, is to provide another sling to your bow- not only in respect of the occasional wayward backpacker, but also because some of your regular clients might at some point require a sworn translation. And few things are more annoying than having a competent legal translator and then having to use a different one, quite possibly less competent, because your regular legal translator doesn’t have a stamp.

    Another point to consider is that (at least in Germany, where the system of sworn translations also exists) the status of sworn translator is also often seen as a mark of quality, so whatever one may personally feel about the value of it, I would say it is probably worth getting, even if only so that you can put “sworn translator” on your marketing materials.

    As far as having to be a Spanish national is concerned, I would be surprised if that were the case, as that would (at first glance) appear to conflict with the provisions of Article 49 on Freedom of Establishment.

    • Hi Richard. That’s a good point about being able to a be one-stop shop for your clients, and reason enough for becoming a sworn translator. Although teaming up with one might be a stop-gap.

      What sparked the idea for this post was some quite aggressive marketing material for sworn translations here in Spain that came across my path. The price was very low, which made me wonder what would happen if all sworn translators went down this path and started competing on price. In such a market, I speculated, it may be harder to differentiate on quality. That is, of course, a big “if”, but it could happen on some scale and in some niches.

      So, the main focus wasn’t really about quality, although quality may suffer as a result of such competition. Apart from my hospital report, which was sworn but not done by a sworn translator as such, I have no evidence to suggest that sworn translators turn out rubbish, in Spain or anywhere else, and I would always first assume professionalism and integrity. The system undoubtedly goes at least some way to promoting and ensuring these things.

      And yes, aside from all of these issues, it’d always be better to have than to not have the certification.

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