Feb 13, 2013

Stumbling toward pro databases

One of the most popular posts to date on this blog is one I wrote about 13 months ago on Finding good translators in which I listed the online search pages for professional associations around the world. There are other lists out there as well. However, when one begins to use these online databases, frustration quickly sets in, because they are in no way uniform in their language, format, search criteria or much of anything else. In fact, the "pros" often seem almost as unprofessional as proZ.

That is why there has been so much excitement since I initially hinted at the possibility of a unified database of qualified professionals with uniform classification criteria and interesting features such as "fuzzy matching" of subject areas. The idea came up in a chat with the database architect, the owner of LSP.net, who created the basic database structure and matching algorithms over the course of a decade of considerable research and investment to enable another small company of his (the translation agency zappmedia GmbH) "punch above its weight" with a few project managers doing the work of two or three times their number using what is now marketed as the commercial product OTM (the Online Translation Manager).

Although I used this database structure occasionally for about three years as had the friend and colleague who introduced me to it (a progressive pro association officer), neither of us considered a possible link between the world of commerce and the needs of often commercially naive professionals. Silly, really. My friend at LSP.net had no idea that I had been talking off the ears at the ATA, ITI, BDÜ, SFT and elsewhere for ages pushing for this and said in a rather puzzled manner the day before I tried to take my first vacation in ten years, "But Kevin, it already exists. The work is done. The associations can have it."


I was, needless to say, a bit speechless.

"What's in it for you?" I asked.

"Well, I can use it too," he replied. Those association databases are mostly a waste of space, and my PMs and I waste too much time looking for the right translator if that person isn't already in our existing records." Made sense. Almost too much sense.

"But why give it away?!" I asked.

"Because I can. It costs me nothing now. The work is done. I'll need a few days to set up the admin so the associations handle their own data, but so what? They can have that. Late Christmas present. It's just time that someone did something to make a real database. And we already did. The best."

I knew that was true, knew there was no way that any translators' organization would match the resources invested here or the expertise in IT. But my God - even his competitors could use this! Direct clients and individuals could search directly for the most qualified translator in an association anywhere in the world! And what would become of ProZ, where the search results are dominated by much more important factors like whether a translator has paid monetary tribute to King Henry's Argentine Junta or shopped a bride with his Ukrainians, collected Kuhdose points, P'd red and other great stuff? Qualifications? Yeah, right.

But in the midst of all this Sturm und Drang about about Ze Ultimate Worldwide Translators und Interpreters Get Gigs Yesterday (ZUWTIGGY) tool, I discovered another pretty awesome free database of translators and interpreters and maintained at public cost by public agencies for public benefit. In five languages no less.

For some years I had heard rumors that my status as a court-sworn translator with Munich's District Court I could be looked up online, but none of the people who seemed so terribly interested in "proof" of my qualified pudding seemed to know how to execute the complex incantations required to tease such Secrets from the World Wide Web. I didn't know either, so I just tried the old fashion approach of if hours or days of clever research have yielded nothing, just ask Google. So I did. Minutes later, I found myself in another Land, "aus dieser Welt gefahren" so to speak. There was this guy, Kevin Scott Lossner, who seems to be a sworn translator for "Landgericht München I". Damn, that was hard!

Searches can specify region (important perhaps if time is critical or you need on-site service ASAP), the sort of service provider you seek (translator/interpreter), whether the court oath has been executed in fact and what languages are involved. Postal codes, cities, names, and German federal state can also be used as search criteria. There are over 22,000 persons in the database. I suspect that not all of them are under oath as I am.

If you are a sworn translator or interpreter wanting to find yourself in a way less fun that a plane trip to an ashram in Goa, try this URL:

Or just click it now if you are a translation buyer or private individual who needs the services of a sworn translator or interpreter. The Database of Delivery from the Valley of the Shadow of ProZ will offer a more "granular" search, i.e. you can find a freak like me who can do research chemistry and understand, translate and certify documents about it, but it's still purty durned NIFTY.


  1. Here's the Dutch equivalent of that database for translators under oath: http://www.bureaubtv.nl/register/index.cfm?registeraction=showsearch&section=afnemer

  2. Hi Loek,
    Yes that database does exist but as a search tool it leaves a lot to be desired. My name is on that list. If I enter my own postcode I still come up as third and if I use a general postcode for The Hague (2500 XX), it comes up with 31 results, not one of which is in The Hague region. The list, which is topped by Amsterdam, Nieuw Vennep, Hilversum, Amersfoort, Arnhem, Zieriksee and Eindhoven, actually includes Belgium but not towns within 1 km of The Hague. Need I go on?

  3. One problem here is what is essentially the "misuse" of the sworn translator status, or at least a misunderstanding of the purpose it is designed to serve (at least here in Germany): to maintain a register of translators who are authorized to translate documents to be used in court cases. This doesn't mean that those translators actually *can* translate, as admission to the register is a merely formal procedure that is based on paper qualifications. Unfortunately, quite a lot of clients think that a "sworn" translator is necessarily a competent translator, and that the status has been conferred after going through a course of professional training similar to that for lawyers. So we're faced with situations where a client asks for a "certified" translation of their financial statements on the assumption that a "sworn" translator is the best person to do it. In almost all cases, this is rather like asking a divorce lawyer to audit a set of IFRS consolidated financial statements. As a rule, we We manage to persuade the client that "certification" is a waste of time and has nothing to do with the quality of the translation, but it still costs time and effort. I think it would be really useful if databases like this - as well as T&I associations - explained exactly what the status of the "sworn" translator is (and is not).

  4. Interesting article. :) I checked my main language pair (English to Hungarian) and I do not know anybody from the list. A more important question came to my mind. This is a German domestic list, meanwhile it does matter whether the person lives in the country of the target language. If I lived on the Seychelles for example let's say for 15 years and I would still work as an English to Hungarian translator, I know I would need to come back to Hungary at least for 4-6 months/year to keep up with the linguistic, cultural and scientific terminology changes.
    As I see translators' directories (international): most of them are useless. In my language pairs I know more quality professional translators among those who do not have certifications than those who have. A directory that contains a lot of names may involve more professionals. But you have to be an excellent "treasure hunter" to find the professional you need. I do not name any lists but according to my experience mostly translators can tell about their own colleagues (in their own language pairs) whether someone is a professional translator or not. The question is whether somebody is professional enough to admit that although he/she is my competition but he/she is a good translator in his/her specialization(s). Of course there are qualified project managers who also have a list of good translators. But as we all know many agencies list their translators based on their rates (lowest comes first) and not based on their professionalism. Fortunately there are exceptions. :)

  5. @Katalin: as Robin Bonthrone pointed out, this list has a very specific purpose. The German list I mention here is not about quality or where you live, it's whetherr you are essentially able to function as an officer of the court in a limited capacity by certifying the correctness and completeness of your work or work you have reviewed most carefully.

    Most translators' directories that i found and listed are rather useless. That's the point of this new international initiative that got started by accident more or less the way I told the lead-in tale. As for who will be the right translator for a given purpose, I refuse to take any general positions; your language (HU) is subject to very different influences from mine (EN-US, DE-DE), and so many factors play a role as you know that I think it's pointless to generalize. I had to translate a newsletter once from Sinhalese to English. The newsletter contained scandalous claims about a Theravadan monk, so most translators refused to touch it (and I had a limited pool to start with). So I was grateful to get anyone to deal with it at all and quality be damned.


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