UN acknowledges the value of professional translation

by Reinhild Möller

A milestone for translators

Translators across the globe have a reason to celebrate and will remember 24 May 2017 as a historic date. On this day, at its 71st session, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution A/RES/71/288 regarding “the role of professional translation in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development”.

The idea of a global consortium of translation, interpreting and terminology associations first came about in 1953 with the founding of the international translators’ association FIT (Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs) in Paris. FIT launched the International Translation Day (also known as World Translators’ Day or St. Jerome’s Day after the patron saint of translators) in 1991. The goal was to promote solidarity within the international language mediation community and to draw public attention to the profession and to the work of translators, interpreters and terminologists. In May 2017, the role of professional translation for communication, understanding and collaboration was finally acknowledged at international level by the United Nations.


Key points of the resolution

“The General Assembly [...]

  1. affirms, that professional translation, as a trade and an art, plays an important role in upholding the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding and cooperation, contributing to development and strengthening world peace and security;
  2. decides, to declare 30 September International Translation Day;
  3. invites all Member States, organisations of the United Nations system and other international and regional organisations, as well as non-governmental organisations and individuals, to observe International Translation Day, in an appropriate manner and in accordance with national priorities, in order to raise awareness of the importance of professional translation, and stresses that the cost of such activities should be met from voluntary contributions;
  4. requests the Secretary-General to continue to preserve high quality and excellence in the work of language professionals in the United Nations.”

Translation is a profession, not a casual job

Now there is an official resolution in which the United Nations acknowledges the services of professional language mediators. This is excellent news. We no longer have to hide behind source texts, but can be proud of our work. After all, translation is more than simply typing up a text in another language.

As tradespeople and artists, translators combine the skills of scientists or technicians with those of writers. Translators must be capable of quickly getting to grips with specific specialist fields and reliably researching the correct terminology. At the same time, they need an ability to play creatively with language and make the conventions of the type of text in question their own.

Unfortunately, the profession of translator is not protected in Germany. Anybody who believes they are proficient in a foreign language can simply provide their services on the translation market, even if they do not have the relevant qualifications. However, translation is not simply a matter of looking in the dictionary and replacing source-language words with target-language equivalents. Professional translators analyse the source text against its cultural background, identify ambiguities and convey the author’s message in the target language in a manner that is suitable for the specific audience.


Public perception

In many cases, those ordering translations may not be aware of the processes involved in translation and how much work is necessary for a seemingly easy translation job. The trend: it has to be quick, the quality must be high and it should not cost very much. In bidding for translations, it is our experience that the price plays a decisive role in which bidder is successful. However, some of the prices offered are alarmingly low.

Does the price a customer is willing to pay for a translation reflect the value they place on the translation service? If this is the case, the public perception of translators is lagging far behind the acknowledgement by the UN resolution.

Nonetheless, the world of translation is proud to have been officially acknowledged and is looking forward to International Translation Day 2017, which is being held under the motto “ITD #iconnectworlds”. Preparations for 30 September are already well underway. The Heidelberg/Mannheim regional group of the Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ) is planning a freeze mob. We will keep you posted.


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