Legal Terminology in Translations

Legal translation requires tact, logical reasoning, a solid understanding of legal terminology, and keenness for colloquialisms to supply a proper translation in a target language.

When translating a document from a language into the target language, the translator should always be a native speaker of the target language with experience in legal terminology.  It is best if the translator is a lawyer or paralegal, as they will have years of experience with legal terms used in the documents.

Providing a good translation is never about a literal word-for-word translation; too many concepts do not transfer exactly across national boundaries.  Translating court-related documents must consider differing legal systems, laws, and cultural contexts. 

At The Translation Company, we have native language speakers on staff who will be able to apply these points into consideration to ensure that your document communicates the same message in one language as it does in another.

Tact and Logical Reasoning

Translating legal documents from one language into another requires careful use of language. Phrases, expressions, and words may be everyday talk in one language but may be insulting or embarrassing in another. 

A good translation will choose diction that is both accurate and appropriate without compromising the meaning.  Sometimes source documents have errors that are not readily apparent.  In those cases, a translator must use logical reasoning to determine what the actual intent is in the original (source) document. 

A poor choice of words can infer unintentional meanings.  This is unacceptable in a translation when the ramifications can be residual and cost great sums of money.

Different Legal Systems

Legal terminology differs from country to country, so it is important for the legal translation to be correct for the target language.  For example, in the United States, all criminal cases have the option of a jury trial.

In many other countries, this is not the case, and instead, the evidence is presented in a series of closed hearings before a judgment is rendered.  In those situations, translating the word “trial” can confuse since, in the other country, there will be no “trial.” 

Any translated legal document must show a complete understanding of the legal system for which it is intended.  Otherwise, the document may not be understandable to the court reading it.

Colloquialisms and Accepted Usage

Regions differ in generally accepted word usage, and vernacular understood in one area may not be invalid in another.  In the United States, if you are in the northeast, you stand online; everywhere else, you stand in line. 

A can of coca-cola can be referred to as soda, pop, or soda-pop, depending on your location.  These small differences can create challenges for a translator.  A quality translation needs to be understood regardless of the region of origin.

Technical Aspects

Legal terminology is often specific and technical. When providing a translation in the legal field, a translator must be prepared to translate concepts that have no direct translation and require a different set of words to accurately describe the situation.

To obtain quality translations, a company should only work with certified translators that are experienced in the legal field of the target country, such as those available at The Translation Company.

Fluency in a language is not enough for professional translation; a translator must also have years of experience with the native language and local legal system.

Many languages are spoken on a wide scale and can possess subtle differences even in the same language. For example, translating a legal document into Spanish for use in Mexico can be very different from a legal translation intended for Spain due to variations in a language’s syntax.

Terminology Mistakes Have An Exponential Cost

A technical mistake in a court-related translation can lose you a case and inflict liability issues, plus court systems have very little tolerance for mistranslated legal documents.

In some countries, only translators appointed by the courts are allowed to prepare translated documents for use in court. In such instances, a certified translator, who is prepared to testify as to the author of the translation, must sign and endorse the translation.

Not only can a mistranslation lose your case, but it can also open up liability issues. If the law firm is responsible for the translation, they are also responsible for the mistake. If they contract a translation company, the company can be held liable to avoid these mistakes, use a professional translator that is a native speaker of the target language, and be educated in the target country’s legal system.

This way, the translator will be fully qualified to translate terminology and legal concepts from one language into another.

Legal Differences Can Impact Translations

Differences in law-related translation can even occur in countries that speak the same language.

Two lawyers who speak French fluently but practice in different countries will produce the same document using different legal languages. In different countries, the laws are different and similar terms refer to different things.

When you use translators that are not fully aware of the subtleties of the law, you face issues with false cognates – terms that sound similar but have vastly different meanings. Make sure you get the best translations for law firms and companies operating in the legal services industry so that you can best represent your client.

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