Translating Legalese : The Disaster of Direct Translations

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Translating Legalese : The Disaster of Direct Translations
Translating Legalese : The Disaster of Direct Translations

Translating legal documentation is a complex task. It is also a risky affair if attempted by anyone other than a professional translator who not only understands the meanings of the words and terms in the document, but also has a fair idea about what the law is all about. Direct translations may harm your document in more ways than you think.

It is not difficult to imagine why.

A professionally translated legal document protects the rights of entities affected by that document, whether it is a business contract, a privacy policy or any other legally-binding agreement. For that reason alone, you definitely want to avoid a word-for-word translation.

Language barriers can and have impeded legal interpretations and resulted in undesirable outcomes. From the judge’s perspective, the involved parties have not done their due diligence. To be on the safe side, it is best to ensure that you serve legally compliant documents to your foreign partners and expect the same from them.

A famous example of inaccurate translation is the Warsaw Convention. The inconsistencies in interpretation between the French and English versions has resulted in confusion and dismissals. In this case, the translator is believed to have added glosses and offered certainties missing from the source text.

A news article published a few years ago shed light on disputes between Chinese and foreign firms resulting from translation errors in contract terms. Especially prevalent in the shipping industry, the article noted an example where ‘drydocking’ was wrongly translated as ‘tank washing’ and ‘except fuel used for domestic service’ as ‘except fuel used for domestic flights’, at the time of translating from English to Chinese.

When translating legal documentation, it is helpful if a context can be first built around it, that is, where and how the contract/law will be used. This can provide the translator more awareness around the impact of the documents and prevent him/her from adopting a ‘flexible’ approach, whether that is a direct interpretation or a propensity to not be fully faithful to the original text. It is also important to state that the translated document should follow the writing style of the target language. Breaking up sentences or combining two lines has the potential to create complications or inaccuracies.

A professional translation agency offering legal translation can be trusted to overcome interpretation difficulties and – where turnaround is expected to be quick – avoid a delay that could render the document null and void. A reputed service can:

  • ensure completeness and correctness of translated documents;
  • enforce the validity of translated documents in the country of the translator/origin and in the foreign land/recipient’s country;
  • offer assurance that the translated documents will stand up in court; and
  • sign a non-disclosure agreement to ensure the confidentiality of documents.