Licensed, sworn-in, state-recognised? - a short guide to the German legal translation system

When searching for a translation service provider, you will encounter different professional titles. First, you should bear in mind the distinction between a translator and an interpreter (in German "Übersetzer" and "Dolmetscher" respectively). While translators only deal with written texts, interpreters render spoken contents into another language. The fact that neither the translator's nor the interpreter's profession is legally protected poses quite a problem. Consequently, in practice anyone can register and offer translations services, even if they speak no foreign languages.

Because of that, you should watch for particular qualifications:

ü  Certified translations in Germany can only be issued by translators who are sworn-in at a court of law. Depending on the state, sworn translators in Germany are either allgemein beeidigt, öffentlich bestellt or allgemein ermächtigt. As a matter of principle, this qualification can only be acquired by translators who have passed a state exam or completed university studies in translation. You can verify if a person is indeed authorised to issue a certified translation by using the database of translators and interpreters run by the State Justice administrations here:

ü  All interpreters who are sworn-in (allgemein beeidigt or öffentlich bestellt) for a particular language, are allowed to interpret under oath. The requirements for obtaining this qualification are the same as for translators. Sworn-in interpreters can make use of their official status when interpreting during court trials, notarisations, marriage ceremonies and any other official appointments. You can verify if an interpreter is sworn-in by using the database of translators and interpreters run by the State Justice administrations here:

ü  Conference interpreters are qualified simultaneous interpreters working in a special sound-proof booth. Most conference interpreters acquire their qualification at university attending classes with a strong emphasis on practical training. They have mastery of special interpreting techniques allowing them to render the words of a speaker almost simultaneously into a different language. One should bear in mind that conference interpreters always work in pairs. You will find professional conference interpreters for various languages by using the database of the German Association of Conference Interpreters.

ü  Specialist translators specialise in a particular area and, as a rule, only accept assignments related to their field of expertise. Such translators often maintain contact with people from the industry and participate in respective conferences and trade fairs. You will easily recognise a specialist translator if you can talk with them in your industry jargon. For instance, you will not need to explain the difference between a trim tab and an elevator when talking to a translator specialising in aviation. Aside from excellent language skills, specialist translators possess extensive knowledge in the field and engage with their clients as equals. In the database of the Federal Association of Translators and Interpreters BDÜ you can specify a particular field and find this way a translator for your industry.