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With Certified Competencies


Versión en Español: ¿Qué es un traductor competente?

What is a competent translator?

“Competence” can be defined as the mix of skills, know-how, praxis and expertise needed to fulfil a task.

The most exhaustive analyses one can find in the literature (EMT1; ASTM F25752; EN 150383; ILR6) defining a professional translator’s competences, state they are the added mix of the following:

a) Language and cross-cultural competences

They involve an advanced mastery of both languages and cultural elements related to those languages.

- Competence in language C (source language: focus on reading comprehension).
- Minimum: equivalent to CEFR level B2 (simple texts) or C11,4 (specialised texts) or C2 (very complex texts).

- How do you certify competence for language C? With:
a.- Tests done by appropriate examining institutions2,4; or
b.- Studies in a C language country: primary and secondary education8; or
c.- Over 4 years university studies of language C as a second language (simple texts) and more (postgraduate studies, lengthy residence in a C language country or graduate studies/work using the C language) for more complex texts2.
d.- From over 720 hrs (simple texts) and over 2000 hrs (more complex texts) of uninterrupted training in C language7.

- Competence in language A or B (target language: focus on writing).
- Minimum: equivalent to CEFR level C2 or above (Educated Native)

- How do you certify competence for languages A or B?
a.- Tests done by appropriate examining institutions2,4; or
b.- university studies and/or work in disciplines requiring a demanding use of A or B language for reading comprehension and report writing (this is based on the fact that CEFR level C1 is the average graduation level of secondary education in an English country4); or
c.- Intense language and cultural immersion in an A or B language country (Native; immersion at an early age and sustained for many years*) + b (above); or
d.- Immersion for a longer time if it starts at a later age* (above 15 (?) years old) + b (above).
e.- Over 2000 hrs of uninterrupted training in A or B language7.

* These requirements have been suggested in discussions among professional translators in different international forums where language competence has been analysed.

For language C, and specially for languages A or B, a translator must have good knowledge of (in the first case for understanding and in the others for applying), the sociolinguistic singularities of the language variants with which he/she works (regional, social and stylistic variants; assumptions, subtext, stereotypes, historic culture features, values, etc.).

b) Translation competences

These competences include advanced working knowledge of available translation resources and methods which contribute to efficient and effective (quality) translations. For example, translation related software (CAT tools, glossary managers, machine translation); text extraction with OCR, transcription or voice recognition; text aligning; memory management; terminology research; scientific development of glossaries; Internet research; different translation services (translation, interpreting, localising, reviewing/proofreading, revision/editing, etc.); writing, reading comprehension and identifying translation problems (and methods to solve these problems), requirements for preparing a translation project and others.

- How do you certify translation competences?
- Translation experience: years of practice (>3 for simple texts and >5 for more complex texts) attested with proof of work performed and professional references from clients (background assessment).
- Translation tests or assessments carried out by appropriate institutions (including (some) translation associations admission tests, international organisation’s tests (EU, UN, etc.), recognised universities, specialised institutions and reputable companies). Some of these assess the first 3 competences named: language, translation and specialty.
- A translation degree issued by an authoritative institution (excellence is not due to the years of study but comes with the contents and aims of the program). Current undergraduate translation programs do not teach languages up to a "Superior"7,9,10,11 level, and as they don't screen language competence at admission (something not implemented yet in Chile12), nor do they deliver significant and personalised language competence, nor do they test it at graduation, they put on the market a variety of apprentice translators which in average are not fit for the job. On the other hand, if these apprentices were fit for the job, they should go through a supervised internship (>3 years) before working as a freelancer, as is required in any discipline. Regretfully this is very rare in Chile as there are very few job offers for supervised in-house translators.

Additionally, they should have - at least – advisory knowledge related to editing text in images (or its alternatives), text to PDF conversion, html and websites, and the variety of file types and software used; their uses and restrictions for translation.

c) Specialist competences

A generalist, he who only translates texts with rarely any jargon (technical term or slang), does not need this competence, however, as most texts clients want to translate bring some level of specialised topics, every translator must acquire the knowledge which should enable him/her to translate texts from one or more specialties. This knowledge can’t be delivered in depth in a translation program. At most the students will learn to identify some difficulties (as a starting point for developing a specialty) and that they shouldn’t accept jobs they can’t translate correctly.

- How do you certify specialist competences?
- Studies or degrees in the specialty (Engineering, Medicine, Ecology, etc.).
- Diploma or crash course related to the topic of the translation (Rearing fowl).
- Working in-house and full-time in the specialty, either in translation or any other function (i.e. in a hospital, mine or exports company), for a lengthy span of time (>5 years), learning the terminology and procedures used in practice.
- Work in translation, preferably in-house and full-time, with permanent supervision by a specialist (preferably bilingual), equivalent to a long internship (3-5 years).

A generalist translator can develop a specialty simply by translating many texts in that specialty, but there will always be the risk, that with no supervision, he/she may find the wrong linguistic solutions, repeating them throughout his/her career. This translator must be tested using a specialised translation test.

d) Administrative Competences

This involves how a translator manages his/her professional activity and his/her relationship with clients.

- How do you certify administrative competences?
- Full adherence to a Code of Ethics, specially those stipulations widely accepted in the industry, regardless of any other which may be added.
- Has work procedures and QA procedures which follow international and local standards and recommended practices.
- Understands the restrictions and applies required procedures to protect confidentiality of every project, informing his/her clients accordingly. This demands enough knowledge of computing for correct handling of digital material, being aware of its restrictions, and being able to work efficiently either with or without the Internet.
- Is capable of identifying the complexities and risk areas of the translation process, and is capable of deploying safeguards against their negative effects (includes estimating costs and fees, yield, work conditions, negotiating terms, rights, contracts, tenders, project plans, budgeting, hardware management, etc.).
- Is capable of assessing and self-assessing his/her professional procedures.
- Has a procedure for continued professional development to keep up to date with the industry’s progress.

Some authors separate linguistic and cultural competences or computing and administrative competences, establishing 5 or 6 categories, but with the same contents5.


1. EMT: Competences for professional translators, experts in multilingual and multimedia communication
European Masters in Translation
The European Masters in Translation (EMT) details the competences required but does not establish how they can be achieved or what can be considered evidence of achievement.

2. Estándar ASTM F2575
The US ASTM F2575 standard establishes specific evidence of achievement of the competences examined, however, it does not establish the minimum thresholds required, leaving it open to the assessor’s judgement. This standard makes the mistake (probably due to business interests) of defining different translation “qualities” as part of professional translating, allowing unqualified people to be considered translators for producing “Gisting” and “Information extraction”). If a person or software is not capable of interpreting correctly a language it might “extract” the wrong information and, consequently, it is not fit for use. The requirements for a “Précis-writer” in the UN establish that translator as an expert in the topic to be summarised and an expert user of the source language, something which contrasts with this feature of the ASTM F2575.

3. European Standard EN 15038:2006
According to the EN 15038:2006 there are three ways a translator can accredit he has these 4 or 6 competences: having a degree in translation or languages; or having another degree plus 2 years experience as a translator; or having 5 years experience as a translator. Considering the standard doesn’t mention “specialist competence” (or expertise in a discipline) as a required competence for translation, and neither does it analyse the quality of translation degrees and experience, these requirements must be the absolute minimum for simple translations. One serious mistake of this standard, and the ASTM F2575 also, is not establishing a minimum level of fluency in languages.

4. Evalúe el nivel de inglés de su proveedor de traducción. English language tests equivalents: (In Spanish)
How different tests of language competence for English compare, the different levels and the band descriptors. Compare your translators qualifications.
For other languages see: CEFR test equivalencies

5. JST, Journal of Specialised Translation
Problems observed in the European standard EN 15038:2006.

5. 6th Conference «Hellenic Language and Terminology»
The European Translation Standard EN 15038 and its Terminology – A Mirror of Missing Professionalism? Problems observed in the European standard EN 15038:2006.

6. Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR)
It defines 5 levels of overall translation competence, but doesn’t establish a minimum level of language competence which may be comparable with the CEFR. “In summary, an individual’s translation performance level depends on (1) command of two languages, (2) ability to exercise congruity judgment and apply a translation methodology, (3) familiarity with the cultural context of both languages, (4) knowledge of terminology in specialized fields, and (5) ability to finalize the product within time constraints and according to specifications.”

7. Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) - Attaining High Levels of Proficiency
According to this document the levels of language competence of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) can be achieved by a student after completing a number of hours of language study which are not supplied by the educational system:
Advanced (Probably equivalent to CEFR level B2): requires 720 hrs of study.
Superior (CEFR level C1): requires 1320 hrs of study.
Distinguished (CEFR level C2 or near an educated native according to CAL): they don’t mention a number of hours of study, but most probably it’s above 2000 hours.
The CAL using a simple mathematical equation establishes that a program with 3 hours a week of language studies entails only 360 hours after 4 years (or 180 in 2 years).
To fulfil 720 hours we’d need 6 hours a week for 4 years (to achieve level B2).
To fulfil 2000 hours we’d need 17 hours a week for 4 years (To achieve level C2).

8. English levels required to apply to Universities in the UK: Natives’ requirements. (in Spanish)
“De los datos se puede extrapolar que, para un nativo y residente de un país de habla inglesa, el nivel de inglés demostrado al egreso del colegio (Key Stage 5) lo coloca en una equivalencia con el nivel B2 del MECRL como mínimo.” (From the information one can infer that, for a native and resident in an English speaking country, the level of English at graduation (Key Stage 5) is equivalent to CEFR level B2 at least).

9. Pym, A. (2012) The status of the translation profession in the European Union, European Commission, (DGT/2011/TST) Final Report 2012, Anthony Pym (Pg.126).

10. Wagner, Emma, Bech, Svend and Martinez, Jesús M. (2002) Translating for the European Union Institutions. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing. Pgs.31-32 (In: Pym 2012)

11. Lafeber, Anne. 2012. Translation at inter-governmental organizations: The set of skills and knowledge required and the implications for recruitment testing. PhD thesis. Universitat Rovira I Virgili. Tarragona: Intercultural Studies Group. Pg. 4 (In: Pym 2012)

12. The complaints of a translation teacher (in Spanish).


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