An Interview with Certified Translator Angela about the Canadian and American Translation Certification Process
At LingoStar, a Vancouver-based translation agency, we work with different types of translations on a daily basis. Not all of our private clients know what kind of translation they require for their personal documents. “Do I need a regular translation, a certified translation, or a notarization?”
In order to provide some clarification on the translation certification process and the pertinent requirements, we met with Vancouver-based translator and interpreter Angela Fairbank for an interview.
Angela has worked as a linguist in many different subject areas and has traveled extensively throughout her career. She has worked with LingoStar’s Managing Director Lenka de Graafova since 2004 and has completed translations for the agency from French and Spanish into English ever since it was founded. She has a long experience in the translation and interpreting industry and has recently become a certified translator, which is why we believe that her input is the most up-to-date available to us. We met Angela in a lovely café in Kitsilano, Vancouver, right at the beginning of Spring 2019. We were thrilled to receive answers from a professional on many pending questions.
Angela, thank you for accepting to participate in our interview series. We are trying to spread the word across the community about people who have a great deal of experience in translation and interpreting, so I’m really happy that we have the chance to chat with you today.
Can you tell us a little about the different associations in charge of the certification process here in Canada?
The certification body in Canada is called CTTIC, the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council. It oversees the certification process for the whole of Canada and is comprised of seven provincial member associations (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Quebec association, OTTIAQ, also used to be a member, but parted ways from CTTIC in 2012.
According to CTTIC’s website, “CTTIC speaks nationally for about 3,500 language professionals, some 2,500 of whom are certified.” However, I’m not sure if these are the most recent numbers. As far as STIBC (the Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia) is concerned, according to a call I had recently with STIBC’s Membership Secretary, there are currently about 400 certified members and 450 associate members, so a total of roughly 850.
On the other hand, the American Translators Association (ATA) in the USA has a membership made up not only of individuals, Translation and Interpreting schools, associations and agencies from across the United States of America, but also of professional translators and interpreters from other countries, who are welcomed as members, and are encouraged to write the ATA certification exams and to participate in their annual conferences. According to the ATA President’s opening speech at the 2018 annual conference in New Orleans, the ATA has over 10,000 members worldwide of which 1,800 are certified. That’s only 18% of membership certified while, as we saw above, among STIBC’s members in BC, about 47% are certified.
It’s not easy because you must pass a very rigorous three-hour examination for which, in both countries – Canada and the US – the pass rate is under 20%. That means that over 80% of the people who take the exam fail. The ATA describes it as follows: “a challenging three-hour exam [that] assesses the language skills of a professional translator: comprehension of the source-language text, translation techniques, and writing in the target language.” Suffice it to say, in order to pass, you have to have an in-depth knowledge of both languages in your combination and it certainly helps to have a lot of translation experience. According to STIBC’s guidelines, before attempting the certification exam, you should have at least four years of experience as a working translator, while currently you need only one year of translation experience or a degree in translation to become an associate member. The first step is to apply to the association to become an associate member, and as an associate member you gain access to a number of workshops in English or in specific language combinations geared to help you pass the exam – though, of course, these workshops do not guarantee that you will pass. Being an associate member also gives you the necessary time to learn, to gain experience and to connect with other professionals in the business. It also provides for the possibility of mentorship in some cases.
And how does one become certified?
In 2019, there were a few changes made to the exams in both associations. Up until 2018, the CTTIC exam was held on the same Saturday in May throughout the whole of Canada. This year, STIBC started offering the exam once a month on the first Friday of each month. This means you don’t have to wait until May or you can take it after May if you don’t feel ready earlier in the year. However, currently the number of people able to take the exam at STIBC each month is limited and timely registration is key. The reason for this limited number is that they are being held at the STIBC office, and the exam room has only enough space for 10 to 12 people. Another aspect that has changed is the form of the exam. It used to be offered only as a handwritten exam, which of course is now considered very old-fashioned and not reflective of real-life translations, because everyone uses computers these days. However, as of 2019, the CTTIC exams can also be written using a laptop.
The ATA, which doubled their exam fee in January 2019, has been allowing candidates to write the exam using laptops ever since 2016, However, you can only use a certain type of software that does not have spellcheck and you are limited to the use of very specific glossaries and terminologies online such as Wordreference.com, Termium, among others. The ATA provides a list of the sites permitted for each language. When I took the ATA exam, it was held in a large conference room and everyone was able to plug in their laptops. In the STIBC exam, on the contrary, Wi-Fi connection is not allowed and you are required to have three hours of battery on your laptop, because, as it is a small office, there is not enough power to allow everyone to plug in. However, for both the ATA and STIBC translation exams, you may bring in as many paper dictionaries, and thesauruses as you like.
The exams for both associations are limited to the number of languages they have markers for. The markers themselves are certified translators, so certification in some of the rarer languages is simply not possible for either association.
In this case, in Canada, there is another procedure for becoming certified called on dossier. For an on dossier application, along with your CV, credentials and a cover letter, you must supply evidence of your experience as a translator in your language combination. For example, you must prove that you have translated several hundreds of thousands of words. You are also required to attach reference letters from employers, sponsorship letters from other certified members, several examples of your translation work, etc. Once all that information has been submitted, STIBC’s Registrar will examine your documents and, if satisfied, will congratulate you on having successfully become certified through this process. According to my research, ATA does not currently offer on dossier certification.
So what exactly is your certification with the ATA?
I passed their French to English exam so I am an ATA-certified French to English translator and one of a long list of certified French to English translators with them. However, the good thing is that when someone searches for a translator in the ATA’s on-line directory, the list provided for each language combination is automatically rotated. That is to say, the list is random, not alphabetical, so that each time you go into the directory to call up the list of French to English translators, for instance, it will provide the list in a different random order and a different name will be at the top each time. There is an additional “certified” image next to the names of certified translators to differentiate them from those who are not. I also appear in the ATA’s Spanish to English translators list.
On the other hand, currently the STIBC Certified Members directory only lists members by the language combination(s) they are certified in and not the others that they might also work in. When I first joined STIBC as an associate member, I was listed under my strongest language combination (you may choose only one when you join as an Associate Member), which is French to English. When I became certified by STIBC in Spanish to English translation, however, my name was switched over to the Spanish list so, strangely enough, I no longer appear in the STIBC French to English list. It’s a bit strange that way, but perhaps when the website is next updated, you will see STIBC members listed with the other languages they work in and not just the ones they are certified in.
And what does the exam look like? Do you have one text to translate?
At both the CTTIC and ATA exams you are given three texts per language pair, but you are only required to translate two of them within the three-hour period. One text is obligatory and is on a general subject, while with the two other texts, you have a choice between one that is more scientific/technical/medical and the other that is more economic/social.
As for the number of words, the ATA exam tends to require fewer words to be translated in their exam texts than the CTTIC exams. I’m not sure why that is, but for both countries, the texts vary from about 175 words to 275 words.
Once you are certified, you are provided with a certified translator’s seal so that you can certify those translations you have made, which for the most part are legal in nature. The STIBC seal doesn’t specify the language, but contains a specific number. Anybody can then go onto STIBC’s website and look me up to make sure I am certifying the language combination I am certified in. If somebody were to certify a document that they had translated that was not one of their certified language combinations, that would not be ethical and they would have their seal taken away from them and be struck from STIBC’s membership. So it’s pretty serious. I use my STIBC seal when I certify Spanish to English translations and my ATA seal to certify my French to English translations. The ATA seal on the contrary does mention the language combination I am certified in as well as a number for verification purposes.
Can you tell our readers about notary certification and the difference between this and a regular certified translation? Some clients already have a translated document and ask us if we can provide a notarized certification for them. They don’t really understand why we can’t do that.
Yes, that does need to be clarified. According to what I have been told by the STIBC, the only translated documents in Canada that require notarization in addition to a translator’s certification seal are documents pertaining to a divorce. Otherwise the translator’s certification seal overrides a notary seal. In any case, notaries cannot certify translations as such because they are (usually) not translators themselves, and do not know both languages. In fact, all the notary is doing by affixing his seal is confirming the fact that I, the certified translator, have told him face to face that I translated the document to the best of my ability and that in my opinion it is a true and accurate translation.
It is important for immigration agencies to underline that only certified translators have the right to translate these types of documents. Immigrants researching the steps they need to take to immigrate to Canada become very confused, because different sites – and sometimes even different pages within the same site – tell them different things. I believe that one of STIBC’s mandates – advocacy – is to work with these types of entities to make sure that the on-line information is clear to end-users. The role of certified translators in the immigration process is paramount. It needs to be stressed that the general public cannot themselves simply translate these types of documents and then go to a notary to get them notarized.
I’m very well aware of this and I hope that STIBC is able to resolve this with Immigration Canada. We get these types of questions all the time: People ask us for notarizations and we have to explain every time that they don’t need notarization unless it’s for divorce proceedings. And even then, it has to be certified and then notarized on top of that.
Once the question came up “Can you translate it for the client so that the client can then take it to the notary and get it notarized?” The answer is “No” because I am the person who translated it so I am the one required to give the oath in front of the notary. The client cannot swear that it has been translated properly and consequently cannot give the oath to the notary.
There is another problem: I was contacted by another agency who said “We have a translation that has been completed but it now needs to be certified. Can you put your certification seal on it?” The answer to this is always “No. If I put a my seal on something, it’s got to be my own translation. If you would like me to translate it and certify it – fine – this is my fee.”
Yes, we also tell our clients that Canadian translators do not accept to certify documents that have already been translated by other people. If you need this translated, this is the fee for a translation from scratch. We don’t accept documents that have been translated unprofessionally.
On two occasions, I was sent documents that other people had already translated and asked to certify them and I said “No, I’ll do it myself.” Still, thinking to help me, they sent me copies of the previous translations. Once I had finished my own translation, I pointed out errors in the translations they had given me. They had clearly not been translated by a professional. In some cases they had merely been “Google translated” or machine translated and we all know what those are like! I felt I had to make it clear to the client that if they want a translation done well, then it must be done by a human professional. Those are moments when I think to myself “That’s exactly why our profession needs to be recognized.” STIBC and other translation associations with a professional standing around the world are striving to reach the same high standard of recognition for translators that lawyers, doctors and chartered accountants, among other recognized professions, already have. Once that recognition has been achieved, then hopefully people will understand better what it is that we do and why we do it.
Have you noticed an increase in work since you became certified, e.g. because your name is now included in various certified translator directories?
Yes, I would definitely say that there has been an increase in work since I was certified by STIBC. That is one of the four reasons why translators might choose to become certified. First, there is the potential for increased compensation and new business because clients contact you specifically for translations containing your certification seal. Secondly, it verifies the professional level of your translation skills. Thirdly, you obtain greater visibility in online directories because you have that special word “certified.” Fourthly, it recognizes your commitment to the profession and to its ethical practices. If you are not following the rules, then it’s right that your seal and status should be taken away from you.
Commitment to the profession is also shown by the continuing education (CE) units you are obliged to obtain in order to maintain your certified status. You can claim these CE units in a variety of ways: by taking workshops or attending conferences related to the profession, by serving on STIBC’s board of directors, by giving workshops or by going into schools and talking about the professions of translation and interpreting, for example. Or, you can write articles for the STIBC Voice, which is a quarterly newsletter. For STIBC, you currently need to accumulate 8 CE units per year. For the ATA, there is a similar requirement, and most people attend ATA’s annual conference for that specific purpose, because as many as 170 CE courses are available during the 3- or 4-day conference. However, there is currently an advantage for older members of ATA: once you turn 60, you no longer need to acquire continuing education units!
I am upgrading my skills all the time though, in addition to travelling to new countries where my languages are spoken. For instance, in September 2017, I went to Antwerp, Belgium, to attend a summer school in technological translation – i.e. CAT tools and machine translation – in order to learn the latest information. In February 2018, I took a weekend seminar in Washington D.C. with the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) on how to market my interpreting skills, and in October 2018, I attended the annual ATA convention in New Orleans.
We have a protected status by being certified: once we are certified, we are allowed to use the initials CT (Certified Translator). Only those translators who are certified may use those initials.
Have you done conference interpreting as well? You said you’d been to a workshop for conference interpreting.
Well, that seminar was related to interpreting in general. It was given by the International Association of Conference Interpreters, but it was for other interpreters as well. It was basically about how to market your interpreting skills and how to acquire more clients.
So, no, I’m not a conference interpreter, I’m a consecutive interpreter. I did study simultaneous interpreting when I did my Masters in California because conference interpreting was something I had aspired to as a teenager, but it takes special abilities that I do not have. I actually much prefer consecutive interpreting, especially in the medical field because it’s a lot less pressure. There are fewer people listening to you. You can correct yourself, if you need to, because most of the time it’s just you, the patient and a professional. Actually, when I was at interpreting/translation school, I was told that the profession of conference interpreter is so tough that most people burn out by the age of 40 and one should have a second profession to fall back on. Some people are comfortable interpreting and translating, but most choose either one or the other profession.
Do you yourself find your job stressful or are you able to manage your workload in a way that it’s okay?
Work comes in waves. One week there might not be much work to do, so I might spend my free time updating my website, for example. Another week, I may be given a large translation assignment that goes on and on. A third week, I might be asked to interpret every single day – even on the weekends. Some of those interpreting jobs can be stressful, depending on the subject matter.
If you know what the assignment is about and you don’t like the topic, have you ever rejected a job?
If I am not comfortable with it, yes. That is one advantage of conference interpreting: in conference interpreting, you know exactly what the topic is. You receive a glossary or you have time to make a glossary yourself for that particular conference. In community or medical interpreting, you are not told what the subject matter will be, though you can sometimes get an idea from the location of the assignment. It’s really nice when I am given as much information as possible so that I can at least prepare myself mentally beforehand, review possible vocabulary that might come up, etc.
You have many years of experience in both translation and interpreting. Are there still challenges for you?
Yes, there are still some things I find challenging. There may be certain expressions in French or in Spanish whose meaning I won’t always know in English. Those are the kinds of things I will look up, just to be sure that I understand them correctly. For certified translations though, I often find myself going to proz.com for ideas. I type in a certain phrase from a document. Many times I find that other translators have queried that same phrase and it has already been translated by someone else or at least there are suggestions. I don’t always agree with their suggestions, of course, but once I see I’m on the right track I will phrase it in the way that I think suitable for the particular text I am working on. I also use Termium, a Canadian online dictionary, and forums at wordreference.com. Those are my main stand-bys.
Another challenge is timing. For example, I have received requests to translate substantial projects that are also marked as rush jobs with top level compensation, yet just at that point I am on holiday without 24/7 access to the internet and have had to say “I am so sorry. Any other month of this year, I would have been happy to accept, but without having current access to my translation tools, I will not be able to finish it within your deadline.” I can’t except work if I am not 100% sure I have the necessary time and tools to produce an excellent translation.”
A third challenge that comes to mind is pricing and knowing exactly how to price work for a certified translation. I appreciate LingoStar because you pay certified translators the certified rates, but there are other agencies that do not. I then have to think “Is it worthwhile spending my time on work that pays a lower rate, or should I wait for something at a higher rate?” Your agency has been paying well though, so thank you for respecting the certification.
Yes, I understand that it’s more work for you and you have to go through a lot to get that certification. You have to pay annual fees to be a paid-up member of STIBC too, don’t you? In addition, you have to take into account all those continuing education points you need to acquire and they cost money and time as well!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
In actual fact, I find the whole process enjoyable: receiving an inquiry, getting the go-ahead from a client who wants me to do the job, accepting it, working on it, getting it finished on time, and feeling that I’ve done a good job. And if someone then says “Nice work” that’s the cherry on the cake. All of that is even more gratifying when it’s a challenging job. The gratitude of clients is a reward in interpreting that you don’t necessarily receive in translation. In translation, sometimes when I send off a document, I never hear back from the client that it has been received. I explicitly say in my emails: “Please confirm that you’ve received this”; and sometimes they do, sometimes they give you nice comments, but that’s only maybe 10% of the time. The other times, they just don’t respond, but I’m sure if they hadn’t received it, they would let me know. However, in translation, the best reward is when they come back to you and they say “Thanks and now I have another job for you.”
Yes, I see that and I also find it challenging sometimes. I like to have a communication channel with the people that I work with. It’s true, the best reward is regular clients. I would like to do one of those government jobs again. You did a fantastic job on the last government translation. The editor was totally impressed. It was a very difficult French to English translation project about Aboriginals, very historical.
Thank you! Yes, I learned a lot while doing that job. See, that’s another advantage: You are always learning new things, both in interpreting and translation.
Do you have any questions for us as an agency or is there anything we can help you with or improve?
I know medical interpreting is mostly taken care of by the provincial government, but do you receive many requests for consecutive interpreting?
No, not many at all. It’s very minimal. If we are asked for interpreters, it’s usually for conference interpreting French to English or for business meetings. However, those jobs are quite challenging to organize. The interpreters charge very rigid rates and many rules apply. There’s a lot of money involved, and a lot of research to be done.
Recently we received some requests for phone interpreting – the ones we contacted you about. We invested a great deal of time for several requests and we even started partnering with a company that specializes in over-the-phone interpreting. After sending the quote, we followed up a few times but the clients did not get back to us. It’s a shame because they were potentially good clients. We worked with some of them before, so they are already in our portfolio. Still it’s sometimes difficult to work with them because many stakeholders and decision makers are involved.
I remember that for one of the interpreting jobs, they asked for simultaneous interpreting over the phone and unfortunately, that’s just not possible. Even a specialized agency cannot do simultaneous over-the-phone interpreting. One company said “There is no technology for that. You can only do consecutive over-the-phone interpreting.”
You are working with translators from all around the world, right? So you have people in different time zones who can work on the same projects?
Yes, we work with people from all around the world. We have actually just completed a small project for a Software Company client, which will hopefully become a bigger project. For now, they required only a Chinese translation, but ultimately they want to complete a global project. Actually, our client is a PR agency who does marketing and other things for the Software Company. However, it was quite challenging because there were so many parties involved. First. the Software Company, wherever their specific team for the project is based, then their Chinese counterparts who check our work as well and finally, we have our editor, translator and the voice-over artist in China who all had their own input. It was quite challenging because so many people in different time zones were involved. We were going back and forth all the time. But ultimately, the client’s final feedback was very positive so we’re happy that they liked our Chinese translation and voiceover work.
Are you also offering localization, i.e. making the text understandable for Canadian Chinese AND Singaporean Chinese, for instance? What if they want it for a number of different target audiences? That’s usually the case when it comes to marketing, right?
It depends what the client wants. We usually ask who the target audience is. Usually, we choose a generic language that is not targeted to Chinese people in Canada or Mandarin speakers in China. We usually ask the client what they prefer.
Of course you have that with English too: UK English, US English, Canadian English, Australian English and New Zealand English, among others. Sometimes agencies ask me “What type of English can you translate into?” I tell them “If your text is for a specific Australian audience that speaks “Australian English,” then probably I’m not the right person for it. If it’s for a general text that’s going to go to Australians among other English speakers, then tell me what variety of English you want. Usually I am told US English or UK English because they’re generic. There is one company in France and another in Austria that I work for that always request US spelling. At first, this was strange to me because my thinking was that if they are located in Europe, their primary audience would most likely be the UK, but I suppose American English is becoming much more universal. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
On a related subject, when I took the TOEFL/TESOL course to teach English overseas, I was told that the Canadian accent is the accent most coveted by foreigners because it’s considered standard and easy to understand. For instance, an English speaker from Louisiana or Boston in the USA can be quite a challenge for people trying to learn English. I would imagine that in general the English Canadian accent would also be the accent of choice when clients are looking for conference interpreters interpreting into English at international conferences. Food for thought.
Yes, I’ve actually noticed that it’s very easy to understand the Canadian accent.
After reading this interview, are you ready to become a certified translator?
Now that you have read this interview, you should have a good idea of how one becomes a certified translator in Canada and the US. Angela gave us an impression of the profession and its challenges and benefits. One thing we can conclude from this interview is that translators, especially certified ones, have a lot of commitment to their profession. It’s also clear now that if you would like to take the certification exam, you have to be well prepared. While client communication can be one of the major challenges, it’s also the biggest reward when you receive positive feedback. A goal for the future of the profession would be to raise awareness about the importance of translation and interpreting and how much effort it takes, so that in the end we can obtain greater recognition.
We are here for your certification requests
Here at LingoStar, we offer certified translations in addition to many other language services. We take certified translation very seriously. If you ever have a request for a certified translation, we will make sure that all your needs are fulfilled while also respecting the professional requirements. Perhaps Angela will be the one translating your document…
For more information, contact us by calling 604-629-8420 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your next language-related project. You can also request a free quote via our website dev.lingo-star.com. We look forward to hearing from you.
This interview was conducted by Lenka de Graafova, the CEO of LingoStar, with the assistance of Assistant Project Manager Lisa Menne. It is part of a series of interviews about interesting people living in Vancouver. Let us know what you think about this article through our Facebook page LingoStar Translations.