Translating transcripts

ATA54 was an incredibly informative conference. The quality of the presentations really impressed me, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to next year’s event in Chicago. If you presented on any topic, thank you!

Various diplomas

One of my favorite sessions was rather a lone wolf, exploring the topic of transcript translation from a credential evaluator’s perspective. It’s not talked about often, but it can make a huge difference to someone’s life. I’ve had several individuals come to me to have transcripts translated so they could continue practicing their profession in their new home country (as opposed to flipping burgers or driving a cab). Others get translations of transcripts for higher education purposes, immigration, or perhaps to get permission to open a new business.

The biggest mistake a transcript translator can make is not knowing enough about the country of origin’s education system. I don’t speak Spanish, but apparently collegio can denote different sets of grades, ranging all the way from primary school up to upper secondary, depending on whether the transcript comes from Spain versus Peru versus Mexico. In Hungarian, kollégium doesn’t have anything to do with classes—it means dormitories (independent of schools, so not really boarding school).

The second big mistake in transcript translation is failing to grasp nuances in course titles. Have you ever considered how an American literature class in the US might differ from Literature of the Americas taken in Spain? What about how basic economic concepts might be presented in an American classroom versus a Soviet-era Russian classroom? What might seem to be simply Econ 101 could actually be better translated as Economics from a Communist Perspective.

Another mistake the presenters talked about was stamps. Some countries have different governing bodies for general education versus higher education (I believe Venezuela was the example nation). The stamp or official seal might be the only place on the transcript that notes whether the document comes from a primary school versus an institution of higher education. You have to translate everything, or the translation may mean nothing!

Mistranslating these big ideas gives evaluators the wrong impression, which is detrimental to your client no matter how you spin it. Either their education is perceived as poorer than the truth, leading to undeserved rejection letters, or their education is perceived as better than the truth, leading to impossibly high course placement or responsibilities. It’s a bad deal all around.

If you want more examples of common errors, or more information about this topic, the presenters will be posting their materials online this week. I hope you find them as useful as I did!

What is your experience translating transcripts? How do you prepare for translating such a document? If you were at the ATA conference last week, what sessions got you thinking?


5 thoughts on “Translating transcripts

  1. Pingback: Translating transcripts | LinguaGreca |

  2. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Nov 29-Dec 5) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

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