Professional Standards for Written Translations in English


The Professional Standards for Written Translations in English petition is now online. Please consider signing it.



One of the most disturbing trends in the field of professional translation is the growing willingness of agencies, publishers, and private and business clients to employ translators who are non-native speakers to produce translations in their second (or other) non-native language. Similarly, we are witnessing a dramatic expansion in the number of individuals who identify themselves as “professional” translators but who nonetheless provide written translations in a non-native language.

When the target language of a written translation is English, these phenomena are particularly widespread.

While millions of people the world over are bilingual (or more than bilingual), this does not make them translators. Because translation is a written art, the ability to live, work, or express oneself orally in a non-native or second language is not sufficient to qualify one as a translator.

Millions more study foreign languages and may become highly proficient in a second or other language. But this fact—standing in isolation—does not qualify them to work as professional translators, either. Professional translation is not solely a linguistic, technical, or “scientific” operation; thus, language skills—even excellent language skills—are not sufficient to qualify a professional translator.

Professional translation requires a vast personal experience of the cultural, historical, technological, political, linguistic, and material realities in which a target language has developed and is used and modified by native speakers.

Professional written translation, thus, is not an “adequate” or “approximate” reflection of the target language or, by extension, of the target culture. Instead, professional written translation requires mastery of linguistic expression and of cultural knowledge that experienced, qualified, native-speaking translators alone are in a position to provide.

Nothing in this petition is intended to impugn speakers of English as a second or other language, students of English, or the many citizens of the world who live their daily lives in more than one language.

Rather, the purpose of this petition is to endorse a Professional Standard for Written Translations in English that distinguishes between, on the one hand, qualified, professional native-English-speaking translators who translate into English and, on the other, individuals who translate into second or other-languages.

We therefore support the following professional standards:

1. The professional translator provides written translation services exclusively into her/his native language;

2. Professional translators, translation educators, and translation-training programs discourage students, administrators, instructors, and clients from providing, accepting, or promoting written translation services into a second or other language;

3. In representing their credentials and experience, professional translators do not claim to be “native speakers” of a second or other language, regardless of their level of competence in that language;

4. Professional brokers and jobbers for translation services (including agencies, publishers, and all other entities that use, provide, or sell written translations) exclusively employ professional, qualified translators who are native speakers of the requested target language;

5. Where possible, professional translators communicate with colleagues the highly unprofessional nature of failing to utilize qualified, native-speaking translators; of promoting oneself as a professional translator into a non-native language; and of accepting employment for written translations provided in a non-native language.


[The Undersigned]


Posted on 8 October 2008, in Crimes Against Translation, English Scorned, Betrayed, and Abused and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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