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Know Your Interpreter

Recently, the American Translators Association (ATA) reprinted a news brief from the Associated Press in its newsletter. It concerned translation for the armed forces overseas — and should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone looking for a translator or interpreter.

A former recruiter of U.S. military interpreters has been indicted for his role in an alleged scheme to recruit unqualified interpreters for the military.

A statement from the U.S. Department of Justice says that 34-year-old Abdul Aman, of Fairfax, Virginia, circumvented procedures designed to ensure that candidates for jobs for the U.S. military meet minimum [interpreting] proficiency standards. This resulted in unqualified interpreters being hired and deployed alongside combat forces in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.

I have witnessed situations like this over and over again throughout my years as a translator and interpreter. I have encountered cases in which:

  • the interpreter was not actually fluent in both languages;
  • the interpreter was truly bilingual, but not trained for and/or experienced in interpretation; and
  • clients believed in the professed skill of an unqualified interpreter, only to regret it later.

This is why I am so passionate and determined to do something about the lack of a certification for Persian/Farsi. Anybody can come here and say “I am a translator.” Often only a cursory background check is performed before they go into the field and start translating.

A lot of clients don’t research enough to grasp what’s going on in the translation/interpretation world. Translation and interpretation services are often not viewed as necessities, but instead are perceived as luxuries by many people. I believe this is why people don’t take the time to adequately research the qualifications and experience of potential translators. People are unaware that not everyone who speaks a language can be a translator, and that there are very qualified translators and interpreters who work on this full time.

I am actively engaged in the process of creating a certification program for Persian/Farsi interpreters at the ATA. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help ensure the translator you hire meets some minimum requirements.

  • If the translation is for a legal setting, the courts have a registry of qualified interpreters.
  • An organization called NAJIT, the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators, has a directory of qualified interpreters.
  • The ATA has a website and directory of members.

In addition to ensuring quality translation, the professionals you can find in the listings above adhere to the highest ethical standards — including protecting your confidentiality.

Sepideh Moussavi, MSSepideh Moussavi, MS

Farsi Translation Center
(212) 304- 4400

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