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SDL Trados Certification

The announcement in April, 2006, of a partnership between SDL and Trados to combine their respective machine-assisted translation (MAT) tools surprised few in the industry. But now we have SDL Trados Certification, the first of its kind for the translation profession. What does it mean for the industry, and in particular for translators?

Certification is quite old within the technical world, particularly hardware and software. Microsoft, Cisco, Novell, Macromedia, and many other hardware and software vendors offer a variety of certifications for their technologies, and vendor-neutral technical certification exams, such as the Network+ or Security+ exams, also exist as a neutral benchmark for an individual's ability as a network engineer, security specialist, or what have you.

SDL and Trados seem to be attempting to create a similar certification for translators. What they are offering is "translation technology certification," not language ability certification, as they thoughtfully note on the web site. This certification will "demonstrate your proficiency and knowledge in the use of translation technology tools to the industry and more doors will open," or so the site claims.

The certification process itself is involved. First, you take an online Placement Exam that ranks your proficiency with the various tools. There are three levels of training offered, and you start where the results of your exam indicate. Courseware and sample files are available for download for each training level, and once you are ready, you can take the exam to go to the next level online. After the last exam, you become certified, and are given a link to use to prove to translation companies and agencies that you have passed the exams. What all this costs the translator is not mentioned on the site, though of course ownership of the Trados SDL Tools is required.

And here's where it gets complicated. First, this certification is for SDL and Trados, and nothing else. It will not address other, competing technologies such as WordFast or Catalyst, both of which are gaining ground against SDL and Trados, nor will it deal with proprietary technologies, such as Logoport, Lionbridge's new "Trados-like" virtual translation memory tool. Obviously, the industry has not agreed on a single standard for MAT tools, and as yet no other vendor is offering, or even planning to offer, certification of any form.

Second, what does certification prove? In the world of IT, certification is often viewed as a bit of a scam. The people offering the certification make a lot of money off of exam fees, study guides, preparatory sessions, and even annual membership fees. However, hiring managers in IT often say that certification doesn't prove much beyond whether or not someone can pass a test. Of course, Microsoft, Cisco, and other other major players all claim that their certification exams prove knowledge and ability in someone who passes, as does the ATA in a certified translator. No one, to my knowledge, has done the necessary follow-up testing of people who pass versus people who fail to see if any of these certification exams have differing levels of knowledge and ability, or differing rates of success in their careers. The ATA's salary survey from last year did note a small difference in income level among certified versus non-certified translators, but that can be explained in a variety of ways.

Third, SDL and Trados combined are a very expensive investment for translators. At $895, the suite may represent the single most costly component of their office setup. The rest of my business software combined does not cost that much. A respectable desktop computer can be had for that much. And most translators, particularly during their first couple of years in the industry as freelancers, don't make above $30,000, so it's a huge investment for them. Competing products cost a fraction of the SDL Trados Tools, or are free.

So a cynical view of this certification may be that it is a market grab by Trados and SDL. Companies large and small are moving away from these tools in favor of less expensive or proprietary ones. Translators resist them because of a perceived lack of value. Certification might change this landscape to Trados' and SDL's advantage.

A more reasonable view is that the entire industry is steadily evolving toward greater levels of automation and MAT use, and certification of some sort is inevitable. Whether or not translators will bother with it, companies will care about it, or other forms of certification for other tools will become available all remains to be seen. For now, this is something to watch, because it may mark a turning point in how the industry judges translators.

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