Many people first become aware of translation when they need an official document translated, need to understand an official letter they have received, or if they wish to reach out to potential customers in Austria in German.

Translators and interpreters

A translator (Übersetzerin – female, Übersetzer – male) works with written texts. An interpreter (Dolmetscherin – female, Dolmetscher – male) works with the spoken word. You may also hear people talk about “translators” when they really mean interpreters.

Can I just use machine translation (MT) such as Google Translate or DeepL?

If you just want to understand the gist of something not too crucial you read online, or you are trying to book a hotel via e-mail, MT is an invaluable resource.

If the subject matter is complex or in any way important, do not use MT. Also, do not use MT to translate content on your website as MT content negatively impacts your rankings in search engine results.

The law in Austria

In general, translation and interpreting are not protected job titles (see also What is a regulated profession?) in Austria. This means that in Austria, anybody can call themselves a translator or interpreter.

A major exception to this is the Österreichischer Verband der allgemein beeideten und gerichtlich zertifizierten Dolmetscher (ÖVGD) which covers in-court interpreters, and beglaubigte Übersetzungen (certified translations) in Austria. In theory at least, anyone who provides either of those two services must be a member of the ÖVGD. The rules are sometimes bent for languages of limited diffusion (LLD) – languages not so commonly spoken – but English does not fall into this category.

Certified translations

Do I need a certified translation?

The difference in cost between a certified and a non-certified translation can sometimes be substantial, so it is worth checking with the person working your case whether they really require a beglaubigte Übersetzung (certified translation) for any given document, or not.

Do I need a translation at all?

There are some officials who will accept some documents in either English or German, so it may be that you do not require a translation at all. Before asking, keep in mind that we are in Austria, English is not an official language in Austria, and that officials are under no obligation to speak, understand, or receive documents in English. As native speakers of English, we already enjoy significant privileges in Austria which speakers of other foreign languages do not enjoy. We have it easier, even, than speakers of native minority Austrian languages such as Carinthian Slovene, Burgenland Croatian, or Austrian Sign Language.

Certified translations for use in Austria

If an Austrian institution or office requires a beglaubigte Übersetzung (certified translation), it means it must be done by a member of the ÖVGD. A map with all of the English<>German ÖGVD members (as of January 2021) can be found here. A list of the other languages available is available from the ÖGVD website.

The actual translation work may not always necessarily be done by the ÖVGD translator you hire. Sometimes it is outsourced to a budget agency, “intern”, or other un(der)qualified translator, and simply rubber stamped by the ÖVGD translator. For the majority of cases where you simply need a certificate translated, this is likely to be unimportant; either you are married or you aren’t, either you have the degree you say you do, or you don’t. It is unlikely that even a very bad translator would manage to change a marriage certificate to a death certificate.

Sometimes, however, the details in a certified translation really matter. If, for example, you are presenting a court judgment concerning you, accurate translation of every word is something which really matters. If the stakes are high (applying for a job, residency status, citizenship, etc), it is essential that your translator appreciates, for example, the significant difference in meaning between ABH and GBH, or damage and damages.

Certified translations for use in the UK

If you need a certified translation for the UK, this is quite different. Any translator can certify a translation to satisfy UK authorities. Further information on how to do so can be found here.

Non-certified translation

Who can do a non-certified translation?

Legally, anybody can. If you need a translation of good quality, be aware of the following:

Are there qualifications to be a translator or interpreter in Austria?

Yes, though keep in mind that they are not a legal requirement for someone to advertise themselves as a translator or interpreter. A translation or interpreting degree in Austria involves three years of BA Transkulturelle Kommunikation (Vienna, Graz) or BA Translationswissenschaft (Innsbruck), followed by two years of an MA in which will contain either Übersetzen (translation) or Dolmetschen (interpreting), or both. There is also a one-year Zertifikat comprising MA courses which usually covers one foreign language in either interpreting or translation.

Interpreter training is further subdivided into conference interpreting (generally simultaneous – the one with the headsets), and dialogue interpreting (the interpreter interprets back and forth between what you say and what the German-speaker says).

Note that the BA is in and of itself not a certification of readiness to be a translator or interpreter, and omits the words Übersetzen or Dolmetschen.

A good translator or interpreter will not shy away from talking about their qualifications with you. Ask!

Does a translation agency offer any kind of quality safeguards?

Not always, unfortunately; the quality depends very much on the individual agency. Some agencies will only accept highly qualified or very experienced translators to work for them, and your translation will be done by one of these translators and then checked by another. Other agencies will take on second-year BA students as “interns” and put them in an editorial role where they check over the translations of the “real” translators. Keep in mind, anybody can legally call themselves a translator in Austria.

Can any bilingual person do a translation?

Not just any, no. The reasons for this are varied and complex but put simply, bilingual people have a unique skill set whichcan be developed into an amazing translation ability or (especially) interpreting ability, but simply being bilingual does not make someone a translator or interpreter, nor is it a prerequisite to being an excellent translator or interpreter.

Are there any professional bodies who regulate translation and interpreting?

Not regulate, no; anybody can call themselves a translator or interpreter. At a national level, Universitas Austria represents qualified translators and interpreters. Full membership of Universitas requires either an MA in translation or interpreting, or an MA in a related field plus demonstrable experience.

Are these the only reliable translators and interpreters?

No. Not all qualified or experienced translators or interpreters are members of the ÖVGD, Universitas Austria, or any other professional bodies.

A lower level of academic qualification does not mean worse at every type of translation; a 25 year-old with a BA might be better at dealing with your niche translation requirements than a professor with decades of experience.

Some translators work full-time in companies or government bodies (“in-house” translators), some work in translation bureaus or agencies, others may work entirely on a freelance basis. 

Regardless of which translator or interpreter you consider hiring, don’t be afraid to ask about their academic qualifications and professional experience. A good translator or interpreter will never shy away from talking about their career, or what their particular strengths are or aren’t.


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