4 points to consider when translating qualifications

Foreign language certificates as example for translating qualifications

Copyright Iolante Ltd 2016

Translating qualifications, diplomas, school certificates, degrees etc. is different from ‘normal’ translations. The reason is that the education systems in the various countries, the subjects on offer and the marking schemes are different. Therefore it is not possible for translators to simply translate these concepts into another language.

The difficulties of translating qualifications obtained from secondary schools abroad

When students leave secondary school with the highest possible qualification, they have A’ Levels in the UK, Abitur in Germany and the Baccalaureate in France. But it is not possible to translate “Abitur” as “A ‘ Levels”. The German qualification is a complex calculation of the coursework and exams students sat during a 2 year period in at least 9 subjects. The final results include maths and a modern foreign language. Additionally, the results include special final exams in 4 subjects taught in more depth than the others. German students have “Abitur” with an average grade. English students generally study 4 subjects in year 12 and 3 subjects in year 13. They end up with individual A’ Levels in each of those subjects. Each subject has an independent grade.

However, while similar, the two qualifications are not identical. Therefore translators cannot translate this type of text with the same high degree of equivalence as they aspire to with other texts. The solution is to translate these qualifications in a descriptive way as: Higher Education Entrance Qualifications. Because that’s the one thing they all share – they allow students to apply for a place with any institution offering tertiary education.

Translating university degrees

Translating university degree courses and qualifications is even more complicated. Some courses are 3 years, others 4, many German courses are at least 5 years, although students may take longer. Course content varies, the system for final examinations vary… it is impossible to find 1:1 equivalents. And, although many European countries are now introducing BA and MA qualifications, the translator cannot assume that the content of these courses is the same in all countries.

In this case, the solution is to leave qualifications in their original language (BA, MA, Ph.D.), offering an explanation in brackets.

When translating qualifications translators are not qualified to judge their quality. With education systems ever-changing, what is equivalent today may no longer be so tomorrow. A degree from the 1990s is probably quite different to one with the same name awarded in 2010.

Translating grades

The translation of grades is equally complicated.

Again looking at secondary school grades, British grades used to run from A* to G and U (unclassified) at GCSE level. From September 2015 they will run from 9-1. A ‘level grades run from A* to E (with a U for unclassified). For the purpose of applying for higher education, course providers convert these grades into UCAS points from 600 down to 240.

German grades at GCSE equivalent run from 1 (highest) to 6 (fail). The A’ Level equivalent starts at 15 points (highest) and finishes at 0 point. The system to work out an average is very complicated. On the school leavers’ certificate, a scale of 1.0 (best grade) to 6.0 (lowest) shows the grades achieved.

This is not the only thing that makes it impossible for a translator to convert grades from one system to the other. Grade boundaries are another factor. Professional translators do not know what standard a student needs to achieve a particular grade. It would be wrong to simply equate A with 1, B with 2, C with 3 etc.

The only solution is to leave all grades untranslated.

Who compares? UK NARIC

All countries have their own authorities for comparing and certifying the equivalence of qualifications and grades. In Britain, this is UK NARIC (https://www.naric.org.uk/naric/).

UK NARIC offer their own service of translating qualifications. However, they are happy to accept certified translations done by professional translators. For a fee, they will then compare and confirm the equivalence and the value of school leavers’ qualifications, tertiary education qualifications, vocational qualification etc.

NARIC have recently introduced a “translation waiver service” that certifies the equivalence of qualifications for use in Great Britain without the need for a certified translation. https://www.naric.org.uk/naric/individuals/CompareQualifications/TranslationWaiver.aspx

If you believe you need to provide certified translations of your qualifications, it is worth checking with the person or body that asked for these translations whether they would be happy with the NARIC translation waiver service.

Where can you find more information?

Visit our certified UK translation page for more information on the process of certifying translations for use in the UK and beyond. If you are looking for a qualified translator to help you with your foreign language certificate, find a linguist in our Translators’ Directory.

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