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Origins of translation & interpreting

Some facts and history about translation, interpreting and legalisation (and how they can work together)

St. Jerome was a Bible translator and is considered to be the patron saint of translators and interpreters. In 1991, FIT (International Federation of Translators) established St. Jerome’s Day to be officially celebrated on September 30th - more commonly known as International Translation Day.

Translation often gets confused with interpreting. All too often on the news, we hear about a translator travelling with diplomats, armed forces, newscast, etc. They are in fact interpreters. The difference? Translation is written, interpreting is spoken. Both do though share the same goal: passing on a message in another language.

Tracing the origins of both translation and interpreting is not that straightforward, especially as interpreting is spoken and therefore, for the most part, untraceable in history.

However, sources do suggest that the Egyptians had a hieroglyphic signifying 'interpreter'. History then peppers itself with cases in Ancient Greece and Roman and then throughout the centuries, especially as religion spreads and man enters the 'Age of Exploration'.

The most significant development, however, happened relatively recently (in historical terms). In Geneva in 1927, 'simultaneous interpreting' was first introduced at the International Labour Conference, with multiple language combinations.

At the time, it was deemed expensive and so it wasn't until the Nuremberg trials in 1945 that it was re-introduced. The main language combinations were English, German, French and Russian; and were used for trials, meetings and conferences. Following the trials' end in 1947, UN Resolution 152 then established interpreting as a permanent service for the UN.

The Hague Convention was established in 1961 to simplify the legalising of documents for universal recognition (Uruguay will accede into force in December 2012 and become the latest member). Embassy legalisation therefore becomes a requirement when the country of destination is a non-member of the Hague convention. Cuba, for example, is not a member.

An Apostille (which is pronounced 'ah-po-steel') is a 10 point referenced certificate issued by the State Government (in the UK, the FCO or Foreign and Commonwealth Office) attached to the original documents to validate their authenticity. This validation is in turn accepted internationally.

So:

  • To certify a document is original, you need an Apostille.
  • When a document needs to be written or presented in another language, you need translation.
  • To authenticate a translation, you need a translator’s certificate.
  • To authenticate a translator's certificate, the translator needs a Notary.
  • To authenticate translations for the destination country, you need embassy legalisation.
  • If you want to speak to someone in another language but can't speak it yourself, you need an interpreter.