It is not unusual for a prospective applicant to ask a credential evaluator to “translate” their credentials. What they mean is really to “evaluate” the credential, though the confusion between the two concepts is quite understandable. First, the applicant sends their original language document, then they receive a target language evaluation report. Your credentials are in Georgian. Our evaluation is in English. Sounds like a translation? Indeed, it does. On the other hand, applicants often ask “when will my verification be ready?” Again, what they mean is “evaluation.” These three terms---translation, evaluation, verification---are sometimes used interchangeably, but they each carry a different meaning and purpose.
Translation, stemming from the Latin “trans” ( across) and “latio” (carrying), has a long history in a variety of disciplines. For example, to Christians, “translation” once referred to the transfer of a holy relic from one shrine to another. In medicine, “translation” is the transfer of a disease from one body part to another. To most of us, it simply refers to the process of communicating the meaning of the source language statement in the target language. It tells us what someone is trying to convey in speech or writing. It's important to note that translation alone does not serve as a substitute for an evaluation. A “bachiller,” “bakalurius,” and “bakalavr” from three different foreign educational systems may all translate as “bachelor” in English, but they may not necessarily be evaluated as equivalent to a “bachelor” qualification within a target educational system that offers bachelor degrees. While translations are a helpful component of every credential evaluation, we do not recommend working with translations alone.
Evaluation, in the comparative education context, is a more complicated notion. It is a process of a systematic comparison of the major characteristics and functions of a source country credential to the set of characteristics and functions of the target country credential. As such, it requires further research and analysis of the foreign education system.
Taking our “bachiller,” “bakalurius,” and “bakalavr” example from above, while they may all share the name “bachelor,” the programs may have many differences:
Perhaps the program duration is significantly different between the source and target qualification.
Perhaps the function or level of the source qualification is not the same in the target system.
Perhaps the nature of the program (too applied, not theoretical enough, too theoretical, not applied enough, etc.) impacts how it is equated in the target system.
A credential evaluator has to answer these questions before reaching a final equivalency recommendation.
Unlike translation and evaluation, verification usually focuses on the document’s authenticity and not the language, characteristics or function of the qualification. Translators do not inquire into the authenticity of the document. Credential evaluators, on the other hand, will utilize a variety of tools to determine whether the documents presented to them are genuine. So verification is a component of credential evaluation, not a substitute.
Language is fluid and words can have multiple meanings. So it is important to have an understanding of the potential terms used in credential evaluation when communicating with your student or evaluator. Minimizing misunderstandings in what can sometimes be a confusing and complicated process is beneficial for everyone involved.
Majka Drewitz is a Research & Evaluator Supervisor. She has been with ECE since 1999. Majka authored ECE Insights: Evaluation Tools for Russian Credentials and co-authored the third volume of ECE’s Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean series.
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