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Bandera de Puerto Rico

About Certified Translations
in Puerto Rico, the United States, and Beyond


In Puerto Rico and the United States, a certified translation consists of a translation accompanied by a signed statement by the translator or translation company affirming that the translated text is an accurate and complete rendering of the original document. Often, the signed statement is called a “Certificate of Accuracy” or “Translator’s Certificate”.


Local court rules regarding translation vary throughout the United States, and are often not the same as those in Puerto Rico. Because of this lack of uniformity, Font Translations recommends that If you need to submit a certified translation in any court in the U.S. court system, check first to see exactly what type of certification you need. Depending on the court or venue, it may need to be notarized, and the translator’s qualifications and/or resume may need to be attached.


A bit of background may be useful in explaining why it is important keep the preceding advisory in mind. In the U.S. legal system, a translation’s certificate is offered as an attestation and not as “proof” that the translation is accurate.  Moreover, and somewhat confusingly, this “certificate” does not necessarily mean that the translator who prepared it is “certified”. This is because unlike in many other countries in the world, in the U.S. there is no official certification of translators regulated by the government or by judiciary systems. Technically speaking, any person or entity could provide “certified translations” for the judiciary system without having been “certified in translation”.


Given this situation, there are a range of rules and practices by which courts, legal professionals, and other interested parties seek to ensure that the translations which they commission or use, a) have a high level of quality, and b) are valid in the jurisdictions of the different state and federal courts, as well as in U.S territories and foreign countries.  Let us briefly review the rule in Puerto Rico and the most common practices in the United States.


The following is the text of the current local rule on translation of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico:


“Local Rule 5 (g) Translations.

All documents not in the English language which are presented or filed, whether as evidence or otherwise, must be accompanied by a certified translation into English prepared by an interpreter certified by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Certification by a federally-certified interpreter may be waived upon stipulation by all parties.”[1]

In the United States, it is also a common practice for courts to validate translations performed by linguists who have passed the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (the “FCICE”), but this is limited to the languages covered by this exam, which is currently Spanish and formerly included Haitian Creole and Navajo.[2] Additionally, many courts recommend (although strictly speaking, they do not require) the use of linguists who have passed the American Translators’ Association Certification Examination (the “ATA Exam”) in Spanish to English and in the other language combinations covered by this exam. [3] However, while the ATA Exam is widely respected as an indicator of general translation ability, it does not specifically test for legal knowledge and thus, taken by itself, it is not a particularly trustworthy indicator that the linguist who passes it is efficient as a legal translator.


For clients interested in commissioning certified translations that are both high in quality and whose certification is validated throughout the United States in the Spanish-English language pair, Font Translations recommends the use of linguists whose credentials include one or more of the following:

a)              Passage of the FCICE or, at a minimum, of the “sight translation” (verbal rendering of a legal document) portion of the FCICE.

b)             Passage of the ATA Certification Examination, and bona fide evidence of extensive knowledge and/or experience in the legal field, in the form of:

1)                    at least one year of accredited study of a legal profession

               such as law, legal research, legal studies, etc.

2)                  evidence, whether by publication or other means, of extensive translation of legal subject matter; and,

3)                  passage of the “sight translation” portion of state interpreter tests administered in accordance with the standards of the National Center for State Court Language Access and its Consortium.[4]

For languages not covered by the FCICE or the ATA Exam, many court administrative offices -and notably those in the Consortium mentioned above- have established credentialing processes for their linguists. Unfortunately, these are often not clearly explained as we have seen for example in Puerto Rico’s Local Rule 5(g), which does not address certifications in languages not covered by the FCICE. Consequently, clients who need to obtain a certified translation in less common languages need to take special care to check requirements for translation in these languages.

Likewise, the need to consult specific requirements is especially acute when translations are submitted for the State Department, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), administrative proceedings, educational, medical, and other civil settings, and to countries abroad. Because of this situation, it is usually a good idea to, a) obtain an official statement in writing from the office that issues the pertinent rule on submission of translations; b) attach a copy of this rule along with your submission; and, c) describe the attachment specifically in a cover letter. Often the cover letter may also mention the translator’s credentials, whether his or her resume is attached and, if applicable, information on the translation’s notarization (for international submissions, an Apostille is often required).

In any case, at Font Translations, we will be happy to assist you in meeting any translation certification that you may have.

[1] Note that as of the time this is written (September 2017), this rule is in the process of being discussed and may possibly be amended.

[2] While the FCICE is an interpreter exam, it includes a sight translation component, in which written documents are read and their translation is rendered verbally. This “translation component” of the FCICE is administered with a high degree of difficulty and uniformity throughout the U.S., and is therefore widely respected.

[3] Note that ATA certification is for one language combination only. Thus for example, a translator may be certified from English to Spanish but not for Spanish to English. For an updated list of the language combinations covered by an ATA exam, please visit: https://www.atanet.org/certification/aboutcert_overview.php

[4] For more information on this program which seeks to promote quality and uniformity in state certification of translators, visit http://www.ncsc.org/languageaccess.

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