In the U.S., we license doctors and lawyers, plumbers and electricians. The idea is to protect the general public from uninformed practices of others.
Many countries in Europe and South America have certification procedures in place, to give translators and interpreters a government stamp of approval. The status of “sworn translator” does not exist in the United States. So how does a company find the appropriate translator or interpreter to meet their particular need? In the United States, very often it is the written translation itself that bears a “certification” of accuracy. Translation agencies routinely provide these to their clients, but the end-user of the translation never knows who actually translated their document and what that translator’s qualifications and experiences are. And with Google ramping up its machine translation capabilities, providing “gist” translations that are almost certainly flawed stylistically with subsequent risks to substance, how does the seeker of translation services know what he/she is buying? After all, the reason someone seeks a translation in the first place is that they cannot READ material in the foreign language. The issue of trust here is enormous.
Does “certification” guarantee that a better translation cannot be obtained from a hard-working freelance practitioner in the trenches? In the U.S., we highly value the self-made man, the freelancer being one admirable expression, working without a boss, a cubicle, a break room and a corporate dress code. While a freelancer may enjoy the freedom of working in his own basement in his bathrobe during the hours of his own choosing, he also works without a health plan, retirement benefits and paid vacation. Such dedication to a trade is worthy of recognition, for the sheer audacity of working without a net.
There are various bodies that will "Certify" a translator in the U.S. The American Translators Association brags of its certification exam, telling its members up front that the success rate is less than 20%. This process is comprised of translators evaluating translators, and, as all writing goes, is subjective. How much more valuable than a Certification is word-of-mouth from a satisfied customer: the third party that hires the translator as a subcontractor and continues to do so?
NAJIT, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, certifies interpreters for courtrooms. But, strangely enough, the only languages for which NAJIT certifies are Spanish, Haitian Creole and (hold on…) Navajo. What do you do if you have a patent infringement case involving a French company?
We sorely lack a reliable means of locating good linguists, and ways to identify the best ones. Yet, if you break your arm, the law or your marriage, you would have to shop around for a lawyer or an orthopedist on the strength of word-of-mouth, and hope that you have chosen the right individual to repair your situation. Likewise for a translator or interpreter.
References, above certification processes, are golden.