Translating Aotearoa


July 2014

The Authentication Unit uncovered

The Translation Service, the Authentication Unit, and Births, Deaths and Marriages work very closely to offer a streamlined service – in the form of a one-stop shop – to clients in need of documents to be used overseas, such as birth, marriage and death certificates. Some of the documents that you translate into foreign languages for us are issued by BDM, and will be either ‘Apostilled’ or Seal of the Department of Internal Affairs of New Zealand‘authenticated’.

We also translate a number of documents which aren’t issued by BDM, and hand them over to the Authentication Unit. Any document issued by a government agency or a Notary Public can be processed by the Authentication Unit. Many of those documents are powers of attorney, notarised copies of foreign birth or marriage certificates etc.

Carlee – who took the Proust Questionnaire this month – kindly agreed to answer all our questions and tell you what happens to some of your translations.

Q: Good afternoon Carlee. As you know, our translators do a lot of translations that end up on your unit’s desks. But before we go into more details about the secret workings of the AU, could you tell us what your unit actually does?

A: With pleasure Stefan! Our job at the Authentication Unit is to verify NZ issued documents that people need to use overseas. Often an overseas authority will require this verification as they are unable to tell whether a foreign document is genuine or not. We can verify all original NZ government issued documents, as well as any document that has been notarised by a Notary Public. We are able to verify the signatures and seals on these documents as we hold a vast database with the signatures and seals of government officials and notaries in it. Once we have verified that the document is genuine we attach one of two kinds of certificate to it – either an Apostille certificate or an authentication certificate. These certificates have the official seal of the Department and are recognised overseas.

Q: What’s the difference between an Apostille and an authentication? And why is one more expensive than the other?

A: What kind of certificate you require depends on what country you are using your document in. If the country has signed the Apostille Convention (Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents) then you need an Apostille certificate. Once we attach an Apostille to your document you can use it overseas without further ado. However, if the country requesting your document is not party to the Apostille Convention then you need an authentication. This is a longer and more expensive process as once we have attached the authentication to your document the documents must be stamped by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then stamped by the foreign embassy of the destination country.

Q: What’s all the rage about the e-Apostille?

A: An e-Apostille is an electronic version of an Apostille. Basically it’s a scan of your document attached to an electronic Apostille certificate, which we email to you. e-Apostilles are great as you can email them overseas, saving time and money, since NZ is far from most overseas countries. It also has more security features than a paper Apostille.

Q: Is there a legal requirement for documents to be translated if they are to be Apostilled or authenticated and used overseas?

A: We don’t require people to translate their documents when they submit them to us for an Apostille or authentication – we don’t need to be able to read the document so we can accept documents in a foreign language. However, the overseas authority requesting the document may require a translation, either into their language or into English. Some foreign embassies here in NZ require translations – for example the Italian and Russian embassies.

Q: Are some foreign authorities harder to work with than others?

A: Different countries definitely have different requirements when it comes to accepting NZ issued documents. Authorities in some countries require people to provide translated documents, with individual Apostilles, which costs more for the applicant. Some countries even ask us to translate the Apostille certificate itself, which is not required under the Apostille Convention. We’ve had Apostilles rejected in some countries – one common reason is that they look at the person’s document and expect it to look the way the same document looks in that country. This is not a valid reason to reject an Apostille – countries need to take into account that documents are issued differently in different countries. We have also had Apostilles rejected as an overseas authority took issue with the dimensions of our certificate!

Q: Do you think the way AU and TTS work together could be improved? If so, how?

A: I think we offer a pretty good service. I don’t know of any overseas Authentication Office that offers translations, or one where you can order a marriage certificate, a translation and an Apostille all from one department. I think our service is pretty fast and helpful to customers. We work pretty closely with the Translation Service. We need them to provide excellent translations for our customers so their documents will be accepted overseas without any hiccups. We want to be sending the highest quality documentation overseas so we can maintain NZ’s good reputation for trusted documents, and we rely on the Translation Service to help us with language related issues.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

Do you have questions for Carlee? Leave a comment and we’ll grill her again.



How translators have fun

Mox is a young but well educated translator. Two PHDs, six languages… and he hardly earns the minimum wage. Find out more about Mox’s adventures on his blog.

Two image comic strip showing two men sitting at a desk laughing; in the first image one says 'Now try  it's raining cats and dogs'; in the second image the other says 'Ah, how did we have fun before the invention of Gurgle translate?'

To capitalise, or not to capitalise

The English language, or rather, English speakers love their uppercase letters. Usage of capital letters is evolving rapidly, and differs from one region to another, but from a general point of view, it The alphabet in lower case and upper caseis fair to say that uppercase letters are proliferating in English texts. Does that necessarily mean that you should keep them in your translation?

The mere fact that I am asking the question probably gives the answer away… The use you make of uppercase letters in your translations should be guided by the way they are used in the target language only. For example, some language commissions or national printing offices have issued specific typographical rules that anyone wishing to publish a text should follow. You can also do a search in Google – for example, the search ‘uppercase letters + rules’ returned this page which gives a set of guidelines on using capital letters in English. Another solution is to look at what a leading and respected newspaper published in the target language does, and follow its lead. If you wanted to find out about the way capital letters are used in Spain, you could have a look at El País for instance; for Argentina, La Nación or Clarín could be useful resources.

The crux of the matter is that you should assess the need for uppercase letters in your translations critically. Don’t simply reproduce them because they are in the original!

Leave a comment to ask us questions if anything is unclear, or to share your tips and tricks with other TTS translators.


Who is Carlee?

Picture of Carlee by a snow mobile in CanadaCarlee is the current team leader of the Authentication Unit, which works very closely with the Translation Service. After about 8 years at the helm of the unit – she’s very vague about the number of years she spent here, she has developed a one-person office into a three-women show, and raised the unit’s profile on the international stage – the Authentication Unit has been invited to attend a conference in Uruguay in October for instance. She’s now decided to take one year off to pursue other interests and will soon be volunteering for the Department of Conservation on an island up north, before going back to school to find out all the ins and outs of museum information management. We will all greatly miss her laughter and high spirits, but wish her all the best in her environmental and museological endeavours.

Luckily, she’s kindly agreed to answer our questions before she leaves. You can also find out more about the Authentication Unit in her interview.

Q: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A: Living in a tiny eco kitset house filled with books, on a tiny piece of land somewhere up north, and reading in the sunshine.

Q: What is your greatest fear?

A: Oh, so many. Heights, planes, a lifetime of unrequited love, rising oceans and climate change, just to name a few.

Q: Which person do you most admire?

A: I admire Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher who started the Life You Can Save movement.

Q: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

A: Self-consciousness.

Q: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

A: I dislike negative people.

Q: What is your greatest extravagance?

A: Straight out of university I purchased a $200 ‘laminated’ denim jacket. I had never owned such a shiny or expensive garment. Since then most of my money has gone towards trips overseas. I spent hundreds of dollars to see polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, on the spur of the moment.

Q: On what occasions do you lie?

A: I’m dropping lies all the time! To make friends feel better about decisions they have made, people they have married, books they have read, clothes they are wearing, etc. Just the usual social lies. And especially in restaurants. No matter how average or even bad the meal I was, I say it was good.

Q: What makes you happiest?

A: Exploring new places. I won’t say travelling as I hate the actual travelling involved. I want to be teleported to places.

Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

A: I would like to be really good at one thing, instead of mediocre at lots of things. I regret not becoming really great at rollerblading, or playing soccer, or running.

Q:What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A: Work-wise this is easy to answer – turning a small one person office in an insignificant country into a world leader in the field of issuing Apostilles. I hope my greatest personal achievement is still to come!

Q: If you died and came back as a person or thing, what would it be?

A: One of the early female explorers, like Isabelle Eberhardt or Isabella Bird or Nellie Bly. Or perhaps as the fictional character Miss Fisher – independently wealthy lady detective.

Q: What is your most treasured possession?

A: My books.

Q: Who are your heroes in real life?

A: I aspire to be like people who live simply and slowly, and spend a lot of time involved in their communities.

Q: What is it that you most dislike?

A: I dislike a thousand things! Right now I particularly dislike the lazy and superficial info-tainment website Stuff. Wellington deserves better.

Q: What is your motto?

A: I wish I lived by a motto. I am sure my life would be different if I did.

Would you like to be featured in our blog? If so, leave a comment below.

Happy International Translation Day!

Translation Day, 30 September, is a day for us to celebrate translation’s long history of bringing cultures and ideas together. Translation is as old as the development of writing itself and even today, it fuses technological developments with the ancient art of interpreting and transferring meaning from one culture to another.

Through history, translations from the Rosetta Stone through to Pali

Portrait of Saint Jerome sitting at his desk
Jerome is the patron saint of translators

and Latin scriptures have provided inspiration and guidance to generations while a lack of good translations still leaves us in the dark about the thoughts of other cultures and generations. As translators today, like our ancient predecessors, we still wrestle with the age-old issue of providing trustworthy and reliable communication that people have confidence in.

It’s the translators who keep the voices of the past and present alive so they can speak when they need to be heard. It’s the translators who provide clarity and confidence where there would otherwise be doubt, mistrust, misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Translation has a long and rich heritage and it is a profession we can all be proud of!

This month’s issue will introduce Carlee Reid from the Authentication Unit, a small government office that the Translation Service works with to help prepare New Zealand official documents for use overseas. The mysteries of this office are explained later in this newsletter along with a discussion of the translation issues such as the evolving issue of capitalisation in English and some further information about selective translations.

Best wishes and happy translating!


Found in translation 6

All translations are not equal. A good translation is one that conveys the same meaning as the source text and sounds natural in the target language (if that is the desired outcome of the translation). Some do just the opposite. Here are some of the greatest howlers found in translation, taken from the Daily Mail online. We hope you enjoy them.

If you come across funny mistranslations, leave a comment to share them with us.

  1. The earth is moving
    In a Chinese bathroom, a sign which appears to be warning people of a slippery surface, warns of a far greater risk: ‘Be careful of landslide’. Most English-speaking bathroom visitors would probably look for another bathroom.
  2. Informative sign
    Passengers in an airport were advised that a plane to Xiamen was ‘delayed due to some reasons’. After all, everyone has their reasons – why not planes?
  3. Save the environment
    A sign in a Chinese park speaks to your animist self: ‘Don’t tread the grass as they also have life’. Now that’s a metaphysical statement.

The secret lives of revisers

Do you know exactly what a reviser does or should do? Many of you carry out revision tasks for us, as our translation process includes a revision stage in accordance with the EN 15038 standard for translation services. But do you know exactly what revision entails?

We can start by stating what it isn’t:

  • revision is not a retranslation, i.e. you should not do the translation all over again;
  • revision is not proofreading, i.e. you should not only read the translation and make sure that it sounds good.

Quality approved tickAs a reviser, your task is to compare the translation to the original text to make sure that the translator understood the source text correctly and transferred its meaning adequately into the target language. This means that you are responsible for making sure:

  • that everything has been translated – no omissions should be left unmarked;
  • that the terminology has been properly researched and used;
  • that there is no spelling or punctuation error;
  • that numbers have been transcribed accurately – for example, the number 1,250.30 in English is 1 250,30 in French;
  • that the formatting of the translation reflects that of the original;
  • that the tone and style of the translation match those of the original text and are appropriate for the intended readership.

In doing so, a reviser needs to respect the original translator’s work and style, and accept that the same meaning may be expressed in different ways. For example, ‘I slept through my alarm clock this morning’ and ‘My alarm clock didn’t wake me up this morning’ express the same idea; both options would be acceptable.

In that regard, our personal stylistic preferences are irrelevant. The role of a reviser is to eliminate errors and by doing this, improve the quality of the translation. If the text submitted to you doesn’t contain any errors, then you shouldn’t make any corrections. You can however make rephrasing suggestions if you think that they would significantly improve the quality of the translation.

From a practical point of view, please use track changes to mark your corrections (if you don’t know how to use track changes, read this page), and use the comment function to make your suggestions (learn how to use comments here).

You may also find it helpful to use the error categories mentioned in the article on assessing translations (translation and language errors), as well as a third type of errors: compliance errors – these relate to the non-adherence to instructions, style guides, required format etc; a blatant disregard of instructions would qualify as a major compliance error, while a slight deviation from the instructions given is a minor one.

Thinking of revision in those terms may help you distance yourself from your personal preferences and focus on errors per se. As mentioned earlier, it shouldn’t prevent you from suggesting important improvements – you only need to be able to distinguish between improvements and corrections.

Finally, if you believe that the quality of a translation is too poor to be revised – but that should only happen on rare occasions, shouldn’t it? – let us know and give some examples. Do not start translation afresh without being instructed to do so by the project manager.

We are in the process of developing an ongoing quality assessment system, which should be implemented by the end of the year at the latest. This will involve a few changes in the way we do revision, but the basic concept of revision will remain. Compulsory training in that area will also be provided.

A marriage certificate from 1928

This month, we are travelling back in time. Our selective translation is that of a marriage certificate issued in Denver, Colorado in 1928. I have no idea who the two lovebirds are, but their marriage certificate will show you what to do when the name is shortened to the initial, when the place of birth isn’t specifically stated, and how to use square brackets wisely.

The sample selective translations of this series are here to illustrate our guidelines and help you improve your selective translations. We hope you enjoy these mock translations as much as we enjoy doing them. Feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

Disclaimer: This mock selective translation wasn’t requested by Immigration NZ or Citizenship.

Click the link and find out about the art of selective translations:

Marriage Details – American couple from 1928

The key to translation assessments

Many of you will be familiar with the way we recruit new translators. Anyone who is interested in applying to become one of our panel translators needs to fill out an application form and do a translation test. When possible, we will ask two of our existing panel translators Images of a checklist showing ticks and crosses(i.e. you) to assess the translation and help us decide whether that person is a good translator and should be added to our panel.

To a certain extent, the assessment process is very similar to a revision (see the article on revision in this issue). Both tasks require you to compare the target and source texts, and make sure that the meaning has been translated correctly. While a reviser makes corrections and suggestions, an assessor only makes comments to mark up errors and explain why they are errors (if you aren’t sure how to use comments, read this page).

To help you with this task, we recently established a new quality assessment system and defined two types of mistakes:

  • Translation errors: these are related to the transfer of meaning. They may be omissions, additions, mistranslations etc. – the rendered meaning is different to the original;
  • Language errors: they relate to the language used in the target text, i.e. spelling mistakes, improper syntax, inadequate language level etc.

There are two severity levels: errors may be either minor or major. For example, the colour of a car in a short description in a novel may not be a major piece of information to the reader – if the car is red in the translation when it is burgundy in the original, it won’t be of great consequence, and would normally be considered minor; however, in a theft report to the police, the colour of the car is an essential element and any mistake in that regard would be major. Another example is punctuation. While it may generally be considered a minor issue, in a sentence like ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’, the lack of a comma determines what will be served for dinner…

Your comments should contain an error code, as well as a note explaining why this should be considered as an error (in English).

 Error type  Translation  Language
 Severity  Major   Minor   Major   Minor 
 Code  MT  mt  ML  ml

For example:

‘A grey, blue-eyed cat jumped into his lap and started puring.’


  • his – MT: wrong possessive pronoun. The character is female
  • puring – ML: spelling mistake. This should be written ‘purring’.

Here’s an example of what you should not do:

A grey, blue-eyed cat jumped into his lap and started puring.’


  • A grey, blue-eyed cat – The cat was grey and had blue eyes and jumped into her lap.
  • his – her
  • puring – purring

Two general questions round up the assessment process:

  1. What is the intended purpose of the original text? Can the target text be used for that purpose?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 = doesn’t sound natural at all; 5 = well written and sounds as if it had been written by a native speaker of the target language), how natural does the translation sound?

As you can imagine, the assessment process is very important. If we ask you to do one, it means that we trust you to give a fair and informed assessment of a test translation that we can then send back to the applicant, so that he/she may become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. As with a revision, you should only focus on errors, and accept that different translators have different styles.

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