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What is a certified translation service and how to obtain it?



In today’s globalised world, language services, such as translations or interpreting play an extremely important role. Individual clients as well as businesses alike rely on professional translation agencies to accurately convert their content. From corporate or legal documents, marketing campaigns to simple birth or marriage certificates – the variety of materials which need to be converted into a different language is truly astounding. As a result, the translation industry is today an extremely rapidly growing sector, with a predicted worldwide worth of around £45 billion within the next 12 months. That means, the market will double in size within only a decade and is expected to continue its growth at a fast pace in the future.

As a result of this high demand, the number of agencies and freelance linguists offering professional translation services has grown noticeably over the last few years. This is of course beneficial to the client, as more competition positively affects the quality of service and lowers the prices in general, nonetheless, it also makes it somewhat more difficult to distinguish the differences between the different types of services offered.

One of the most puzzling aspects of obtaining a professional translation is the certification type which accompanies your documents. Generally, a translated document can be certified in a number of different ways, often dictated by your particular circumstances and type of document. In this article, we will take a closer look at what the different certified translation types are and explain how to go about obtaining them as well as finding the best provider possible.

What exactly is a certified translation?

In the United Kingdom, generally speaking, a certified translation service, which is also often referred to as ‘official’ or ‘authorised’, is the translation of documents and other materials from one language into another by an accredited agency or provider. It can also be characterised as a translation, which has been formally stamped and signed by a registered authority.

Unfortunately however, the term ‘official’ isn’t particularly cohesive, and so it can vary from country to country and depend solely on the specific country’s legal systems. Consequently, understandably so, in many cases people can be a little confused as to what constitutes as an officially certified translation of their documents.

In the United Kingdom, we can recognize formal translation authorities, such as the Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI), CIOL (Chartered Institute of Linguists) or the Association of Translation Companies (ATC). Members of such organisations can legally issue ‘certified’ translations, which will then be accepted by third parties and authorities, such as the Home Office or Courts of Law.

In general, we can recognise 3 main types of certified translations, and those are:

  • Standard certified translation
  • Apostilled translation
  • Notarized translation

Standard certified translation:

A standard certification is perhaps the most common type of certification, which can accompany your translated documents. Majority of professional translation agencies or language providers are able to issue this certification, given that they are registered with an authority, such as the previously mentioned Association of Translation Companies. In order to make the translation officially certified, the linguist (or translation company) must attest that the translation is a true and accurate reflection of the original document. This is usually presented in the form of a cover letter, which comes with an accredited stamp and a signature, which ensures avoiding any misuse of the document. In general, the documents would come with a letter, which specifically states:

  • That it is a ‘true and accurate translation of the document’
  • The date of the translation
  • The full name and contact details of the translator or a representative of the translation company

Apostille translation:

Often, a document which had been issued with the apostille certificate may also need to be officially translated into another language. The ITI (Institute of Translation & Interpreting) claims on their website that “The competent authority for issuing Apostilles in the UK is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). An Apostille verifies the authenticity of the signature and ensures that the document is recognised in all States that signed the Hague Convention of 1961; it does not endorse the content of the document.”

Notarized translation:

Typically, a notarized translation is required when taking your documents or certificates abroad or when wanting to use them with international authorities. This form of certification allows such authorities to confirm the full details of a linguist, who translated the documents and consequently proves their accountability.

Commonly, a notarized certification means, that the translated documents have either been signed by a Notary Public or that it carries a statement by the Notary concerning the original document and the translation. It’s important to bear in mind however, that the Notary’s signature, similarly to the apostilled certification, does not endorse the quality of a translation and simply proves, that the linguist provided their details accurately and takes full responsibility for the accuracy of their work.

How can you obtain a certified translation?

Finding a reliable provider (whether an agency or a freelance linguist), which can officially translate and certify your documents can often be a challenging task, especially if you do not have any previous experience in this field. Fortunately however, there are many different ways and resources, which can help you in obtaining this service.

In the United Kingdom, one of the most popular ways of obtaining a certified translation service is working directly with an authorised translation agency. In order to provide this service, language companies must be fully registered with an authority, such as the ATC UK. This guarantees highest industry standards and accuracy, as in order to become a member of the ATC (Association of Translation Companies), the translation agency must meet a number of very rigours standards. Other ways of ensuring that the agency is up to date with the latest standards may include checking whether the company follows the ISO guidelines or by simply looking through their reviews on third party websites, such as for example, Google Business or Trustpilot.

The quality and convenience of working directly with a translation agency, unfortunately, comes at a price. As a result, this option may be more attainable for businesses rather than individual clients, especially as businesses often require translations into more than one language.

Fortunately, private clients also have the option to work with freelance linguists. Although this may not be an ideal option if your documents need to be translated into more than one language, or if your deadline is short, however, if your content is fairly straightforward to translate, for example birth or marriage certificate, approaching a freelance linguist may prove to be slightly cheaper than working with an agency. Similarly to finding the agency, freelance translators also have their official associations, which guarantee highest linguistic accuracy. One of the most popular – CIOL (Chartered Institute of Linguists) gathers some of the most talented and professional translators in the United Kingdom. You can also find professional certified linguists on organisations such as Proz.

As you can see, obtaining an officially certified translation can be somewhat puzzling, especially if you have never needed to translate your documents before. Whether you work with a translation agency or choose to partner with a freelance linguist, ensuring that the provider is authorised to provide the legal certification is absolutely essential. If the interested third party won’t be able to verify this, your translated documents may not be accepted, and you’ll unfortunately have to go about the entire process again from the start.


I'm Nikos Alepidis, blogger at motivirus. I'm passioned for all things related to motivation & personal development. My goal is to help and inspire people to become better.

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