The universal confusion between translators and interpreters comes to light when members of legal profession develop a need for a certified translation. Consider the following hypothetical: A young litigation associate has an English-language legal document that needs to be translated into Italian. The case is filed with the Civil Branch of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County. In order to introduce it as an exhibit at trial, a certified translation of the document is required. Not sure what ‘certified’ means, the associate picks up the phone and asks his legal translation company to arrange for the document to be translated by someone certified by the New York Courts.
Little does he know, there is an inherent problem with this request. There are several English-Italian interpreters residing in New York who are qualified to interpret in the state and federal court by virtue of their background and experience. None of them, however, are court-certified. That does not mean that the young litigation associate’s quest for a certified Italian translation is futile. He just needs to realize that certified translations can and should be done by professional translators (who may or may not be certified, who may or may not be court interpreters, and who may or may not reside in New York), whose job is translating foreign-language documents.
In fact, Federal Rule of Evidence 604 states that “(a)n interpreter is subject to the provisions of these rules relating to qualification as an expert . . . .” Even though this rule explicitly applies only to interpreters (who translate spoken language), as opposed to translators (who translate written language), no less an authority than Prof. Edward Imwinkelried says, without qualification, that translators are expert witnesses, and the courts generally treat them as such.