What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name? by Sepideh MoussaviIn Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet famously sums up her exasperation with the war between the Capulets and the Montagues by lamenting, “…a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” I think Shakespeare was showing that Juliet was wise beyond her years when she made that observation.

The Human Cost of Bad Translation

The Human Cost of Bad Translation by Sepideh MoussaviMy mother is not fluent in English, and that fact counted heavily against her on a call to an insurance company recently.

The call was about an important question relating to my mother’s account, so I joined her to make the call. The person on the other end of the phone said they had to verify my mother’s identity, and so they needed her to speak, not me, her daughter. The operator asked what language my mother speaks, and put us on hold while they found a Farsi interpreter.

Within a couple of minutes, the translator joined the call and translated between my mother and the operator. The interpreter was from Afghanistan and spoke a dialect of Farsi called Dari. My mother did her best to answer the questions as I listened alongside her. The person asked for her name, phone number, address, and that all went well. Then the translator asked for my mother’s zip code, using a Dari word that my mother did not know. It was painful.

As a certified translator, I know how scary it can be when people don’t understand what is being said to them. When my mother did not respond, the operator informed us she was dropping the call because my mother couldn’t get the zip code right.

My mother needed her question answered right away, so it became my job to find a suitable translator that wouldn’t be accused of “coaching” my mother by the insurance company.

This was a very small thing: a zip code. Five digits. I understand that identity theft is real, and that the process was designed to actually protect my mother, but I think this is an example of someone in an interpreting position that was not fluent in the language they claimed to be.

For translators, getting certified is important because it is a guarantee that they are fluent. Right now, the lack of certified Farsi translators is hurting Farsi speakers in the United States and Canada. If you or a family member are in need of a Farsi translator, make sure the person is a native speaker, and genuinely qualified to speak your specific dialect. Then, I would talk to them to make sure that you understand each other.

In order to make certain of the qualifications of your translator, contact The Farsi Language Center.

Sepideh Moussavi, MSSepideh Moussavi, MS

Farsi Language Center
(212) 304- 4400

The Importance of ATA Certification

The Importance of ATA Certification by Sepidah MoussaviThe American Translators Association (ATA), a well known international organization, offers a translator certification—a distinction that puts all translators, regardless of work status, in a better position to market themselves. For Farsi translators and interpreters in particular, the ATA certification is more than just a suffix.

I am very passionate about the mission of the organization and the importance of these certifications for the following reasons:

  1. It distinguishes those who are qualified to translate from those who are not; and
  2. An increase in Farsi translators will support the Farsi-English pairing. As of now, this pair has not been established at ATA, and the ATA is not recognizing Farsi as a language.

I had previously written about this issue. There is strength in large numbers, and together we can safeguard the language as well as the value of our expertise.

Participation from Farsi translators will shift the status quo—both in terms of the money we can command for our work and the pairing’s recognition by the organization.

To learn more about certification and its requirements, click here.

Please contact me with your questions.

Sepideh Moussavi, MSSepideh Moussavi, MS

Farsi Language Center
(212) 304- 4400


Invitation to Cooperate With the American Translators Association (ATA) to Formally Establish a Language Combination In Farsi To And From English

Dear Farsi Translators and Colleagues:

Respectfully, the translation of Farsi to and from English in the United-States has become questionable. Due to a lack of employment, many young individuals who are familiar with the language but do not possess adequate knowledge and skills to translate, have entered the profession. As you know, the quality of the translations and interpretations produced by these non-qualified translators would disdain one of the most important canons of the ATA Code of Ethics, that is “to convey meaning between people and cultures faithfully, accurately, and impartially”.

I suggest that, if you are seriously considering working as a translator or interpreter of Farsi, please cooperate with the Farsi Language Center’s workgroup to establish a language pair at the American Translators Association (ATA). This will allow us to advocate for high quality Farsi translations and interpretations, to safeguard the Persian language, and to join the rest of the world who have already established and made their languages known by the ATA. Better yet, as ATA certification is the only widely recognized measure of competence in translation in the United-States, being certified can open doors to new business and higher compensations for us, Farsi translators and interpreters.

If you have any suggestions or comments please contact me using the following email address:

Down With Potatoes

One of the most engaging accounts of a literal translation is described in Hooman Majd’s book, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ.

In Iran, the phrase marg bar Amrica ( مرگ بر آمریکا) is often chanted at rallies and seen on signs held by unhappy protesters. The phrase is most commonly translated literally as “Death to America”, but it actually means ”Down with America”. Hooman Majd, a former interpreter for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, has explained that “Death to America” is far too harsh of a translation. As Majd pointed out, Ahmadinejad also handed out potatoes in exchange for votes, after which protesters chanted ”Marg bar seeb zameeni!” They were literally saying “Death to potatoes”, but it’s pretty far fetched to assume that their intention was to kill the spuds.

The above excerpt is from Jost Zetzsche’s book, Found in Translation, which mentions a myriad of instances of literal translations and interpretations gone wrong because of the fine nuances associated with cultural idioms and values.