Certified translations covers more than just diplomas

Martin Straňák has seen all kinds of documents in his career

If you are a long term expat living in the Czech Republic, odds are at some point you will need an official translation of some documents. These documents don't just need to be translated accurately, but they also need to be stamped with an official seal from a state certified translator.

Martin Straňák has seen all sorts of documents during his career as a certified translator. He translates from Czech to English, and vice versa.

“The trickiest forms in the US are marriage certificates. You have states like Ohio where it is very simple, it is 12 lines. If you look at the Californian one, it is this complex grid, this table that spans over two pages and there are about 40 different boxes that are filled in. So it is really difficult,” he said.

Birth certificates also come in all shapes and sizes. “Some of the birth certificates are really strange,” he said, showing one from Kazakhstan that was bound in a small, light blue leatherette cover and looked more like a passport. “A live birth record from Nigeria is basically a letter. They don't have any fancy pictures. I have seen ones from England in 1947, and it is basically like a receipt from a grocery store,” he said. Others have quite detailed information. Ones from Pakistan, for example, have specific details and identity numbers of both parents. Increasingly, these sorts of certificates have more security features.

While many people simply need a few pages such as birth certificates and diplomas, which often follow standard templates, other people need much more extensive work. Setting up a company, for example, requires extensive paperwork. “People contact me from all over the world in case they set up a company. They need to fly in for a couple of days do all of the paperwork and leave. So they contact me over email and send scans of their documents,” he said. “When it comes to volume with certified translation, when you open a business it is a pile of documents comprising about 35 pages,” he said.

There is even more volume in business when it comes to importing machinery. “The law states if you bring machinery into this country you can only sell it with a Czech instruction manual,” he said. For a new industrial center, this could add up to thousands of pages. Corporate clients also often require spoken interpretation for business meetings and technical discussions. One job required him to spend two months with the engineering staff at the building site.

Individuals also can require spoken interpretation. “When it comes to the spoken word, my major jobs would be driving schools. You do the written test online, and it is only in the Czech language. So I translate off the screen to the student. It is multiple choice,” he said.

“I also do what they call the nostrification exams, which means if you are a foreign student and you come here you need to have your credentials from high school recognized in order to enroll in a university here. That is one of the conditions imposed by law,” he said. 

“One of the other jobs is short visits to the notary public or the registrar's office, when people want to get married and settle here,” he said. This work includes interviews for people who want to apply for residency or a visa.

His most difficult job involved medical reports for a woman who was going to the US for further treatment. Doctors tend to use a lot of abbreviations, and finding out what each one meant was difficult. There were two years worth of reports. “This is the kind of case you need to get correct,” he said.

Another unusual case was a couple that needed to prove they were actually in a relationship. At the court's request he had to translate and certify 20 pages of online personal chats, with smiley faces and emoticons.

He also gets called in to courts or by the police to deal with other cases, such as tourists who were robbed or ran into other difficulties.

Martin Straňák became interested in languages when his uncle moved to Canada. Straňák went to a UNESCO-certified school to study Italian, English and German and later French. In the meantime, his uncle had moved to South Africa. Straňák went to join him and attended high school in Pretoria. He returned to study economics and business at a university in Ostrava in north Moravia and then went to London for several years to work in business. He also did translations there, but decided after a while it was time to move back home.

Getting the official certification for translating and interpreting in the Czech Republic took four years, as several different state exams are required. The exams required him to show proficiency in a variety of topics including translating and describing baby clothing and items. “They do this to make sure you can think on your feet,” he said. In real life you can be translating business meetings in the day and then a wine tasting in the evening, he added, so you need to be able to proficient in several topics at once.

Still there are some fields he stays away from. “Everyone has their specialties,” he said. He focuses on business contracts but tends not to do work relating to finance and stock exchanges, or some very technical fields like pharmaceuticals.

For more information visit www.stranak.cz

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