Translation of Personal Documents

We’ve translated thousands of documents for customers and agencies around the world.
We would like to share our thoughts on translation of such personal documents, whether or not it is for submission to the ICA for PR application and citizenship application, or for submission to the MOM for work pass application.

How do we deal with handwritten text that are hard to read on personal documents?
Oftentimes, we come across handwritten text on Birth Certificates and Marriage Certificates that are extremely difficult to read. Fortunately, as these personal documents belong to our client, we have the privilege of asking them directly.
This also comes in handy when the place of birth written on the birth certificate is a small town of a certain country that we are not familiar with. We find that it is totally legitimate to ask our client, as they would obviously know where they were born.

Is it OK to put [illegible] on the translated document?
We think there is no hard and fast rules on this. But as far as professional ethics of a translator is concerned, we think we should never guess or fill in the blanks if the section of the text is not visible or cut off on the personal documents. Even if our client could resolve the issue for us by filling us with the necessary information of what the invisible or cut off text actually says, we usually put [illegible]. Our rationale is, the issue is visibility of the content, rather than readability due to sloppy handwriting. We cannot “concoct” a translation when the source is not visible to human eye.

How do we deal with requests for unjustifiable revisions on personal documents?
Oftentimes, customers asked us to insert names, change birth dates, or change graduation dates because they were not indicated on the source documents, or were incorrectly written on their source documents. We decline these requests because it is just not right to do so, and it could constitute falsification of information. Instead, we advised our clients to explain to the receiving party, such as the ICA or MOM officer on why their names, birth date or date of graduation were incorrect on the source documents and make necessary justifications. We are quite sure that the receiving party would be in a better position to determine whether or not the justifications are legitimate or not.

Additionally, most of the translated personal documents must be certified and notarised by a notary public in Singapore. As such, we will never attempt to insert additional information or modify any data that is not found in the source documents. Fortunately, after explaining to our customers on why we cannot fulfil their requests to make those changes, they are all agreeable.

Does it make sense to certify and/or notarise translations that were not done by us?
Some of our clients came to us with documents that were already translated, either by themselves or somewhere else. To meet the requirements of the government agencies, schools, or employers in Singapore, they just need a qualified translator or translation company to issue a Certificate of Translation Accuracy. We have to politely reject such requests because our Certificate of Translation Accuracy says that the translation was executed by professional translators. As such, we cannot take the translations done by our customers or some other agencies and say with conviction that the translations were performed by professional translators, without the means to investigating the same.