Certified Portuguese Translators


A statistical breakdown of ATA-certified Portuguese translators. These are translators who have passed a relatively simple test by translating some 700 to 800 words in three passages selected out of a total of five. Three major errors or 20 minor errors suffice to fail a passage, and one has to pass two to pass the test. From 1981 until 2004, passing at least one of these tests was a requirement for voting in the association. People who have passed the tests are usually listed on the ATA website and hence are verifiable.

More and more entities are exercising responsible stewardship by checking translator qualifications. So, what is an ATA-certified Portuguese translator? Of the 987 persons claiming the ability to translate to or from Portuguese with professional competence, only about 16% have passed either of the two separate and distinct tests. Four out of five alleged Portuguese into English translators have never passed that specific test and only 14% of those claiming the ability to translate from English into Portuguese have demonstrated that ability by passing the other specific test. Most of the people who pass either test are native speakers of the target language, meaning that is their dominant language.

If someone says “I am an ATA-certified Portuguese translator,” that doesn’t tell you very much unless they mean they have passed the tests in both directions. Only one percent of all of ATA members claiming some competence as Portuguese translators have passed the certification tests in both directions. That works out to exactly 12 listed translators at the time of writing (2 more are unlisted). Although certification in one direction is better than no certification at all, only one in about 18 certified translators can reliably work in both directions for Portuguese. Here is a breakdown of the numbers:

ATA members who Claim E-P Claim P-E Claim Bidirectional
Claim direction ability 441 546 643 (estimated)
Certified f/direction(s) 86 75 12 (or 14)
Unverified 355 471 359
% unverified 80 86 36
% Certified 20 14 1

Most certified translators only assert that they are certified in one particular direction. The ATA, for reasons of internal politics, goes to great lengths to suggest that certification tests have nothing to do with interpreting ability. I have observed many interpreters, and every one of the certified translators who has passed the test in both directions has turned out to be capable of interpreting with professional competence in both directions (without necessarily liking the work). Somewhere in between 284 and 643 of these interpreters claim competence in both directions. The data tell us nothing about overlap, but the ratios of certified to uncertified (as translators) appear to be in the same ballpark for interpreters as for translators. As you might expect, most (but by no means all) of the better bidirectional interpreters in the ATA have passed at least one of the tests as near as I can ascertain.

Looking at the ATA as a whole, one is struck by the tiny number of people are certified into three different languages. When total membership stood at 8000, there were three such members. It is probably a safe bet that there are approximately half a dozen translators certified into three target languages today.

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One thought on “Certified Portuguese Translators

  1. Another ATA member with a better command of details recalls only two members certified into three target languages at that time. I therefore change my wager. I would be surprised to learn there are four such translators in the ATA today.

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