Translators may have to be accredited

SINGAPORE - Translators who want to get jobs outsourced from government agencies may have to be accredited in future - a move that can raise professional standards.

The idea of accrediting translators was floated at the first meeting this month of a new committee to improve the quality of translation in government agencies, said Mr A. Pandiyan, a committee member and deputy editor of the Tamil Murasu newspaper.

The mechanics of certification, including who would do so, have yet to be worked out.

"The merit of accreditation has to be weighed against the costs," said Mr Pandiyan.

The Ministry of Communications and Information has about 20 translators, who translate important material such as that for the Budget. Government agencies can outsource translation for other things but should vet the translated material.

The National Translation Committee was formed this month. Its 25 members - translators and government and media representatives - will look at how best to outsource translation and nurture new talent.

Accrediting translators could solve the "lowest bidder" problem, said Elite Translations Asia managing director Carol Hong.

Cheap jobs are often outsourced to other countries and the results are not proofread, she noted. "They may not be translated in a context-specific manner for Singapore," she said.

Rates range from two cents to 50 cents a word, and those of 15 to 30 cents are fair, she said.

The Government is a large buyer of translation services so if it starts employing only accredited translators, the industry would have to keep up, she said.

Accreditation helps identify good translators, translation agencies said. For instance, translators can accredit themselves with the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters in Australia or American Translators Association (ATA), said Interlexis executive director Tan Dan Feng. ATA certification involves a three-hour test, but only 20 per cent make the cut.

Verztec Consulting chief executive Nicholas Goh said: "Translation agencies look out for ATA-qualified talent and clients are willing to pay for it."

But knowledge of local culture and subjects being translated is needed too, he said.

Last year, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) University started a Certification Examination for Professional Translators, which 12 candidates took. But this is "not as established" as ATA certification, Mr Goh said.

If the Government were to start accreditation, the committee would have to consider existing programmes and whether it was reinventing the wheel, said veteran translator Lee Seng Giap.

The Government should also ensure that those proofreading, editing and approving translated work have language capabilities and contextual knowledge, said SIM University head of translation and interpretation Susan Xu.

Accreditation would be "fantastic", said Ms Valli Shanmugam, 43, a freelance Tamil translator for a decade. "Now there's only word-of-mouth to say that you are good. I don't know how to prove my skills." The committee can list accredited translators, she said.

Translation scholarships can also improve the standard and image of the profession.

Book retailer Popular Holdings translator and editor Quek Zhanquan, 33, said: "People see translation as a side skill. Many take translation courses to boost their credentials.

"Translation scholarships are the first step of a long road to change mindsets. Translators are professionals too."


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