How to Translate Legal Documents
If you’ve ever managed to get past the third line of a legal document without putting it down to pop the kettle on or chuck it in the recycling bin then you’re heading for big things.
They’re usually full of banal legal terminology, pernickety jargon and long-winded words that make it unnecessarily (longest word I’ll use, I promise) complex and difficult to compute.
Nonetheless, legal documents are an integral part of our everyday lives and mould how our society and businesses operate.
From the moment we are born, we are given a birth certificate. Our first job – a work contract. And when we finally pass, our last wills and testament are shared with our loved ones. A large proportion of our definitive life events are usually backed up by a legal document which reinforces their significance in our societies.
The impact of globalisation and worldwide trade has highlighted the importance of being able to accurately translate a legal document from one language to another.
The number of industries that rely on foreign trade grows exponentially day by day, so being able to translate important documents at a faster rate means higher productivity, which essentially means more money.
Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of firing your document into Babel Fish and bob’s your uncle. There are numerous disparities from one country’s legal system to the next, as well as various differing grammar and punctuation rules.
A legal document must be translated correctly to avoid any unwanted consequences or misinterpretations that could potentially affect a business deal, court case or immigration application.
At Global Languages Services (GLS), we have a wealth of experience in legal translation as well as a diverse team of professional legal translators on hand to turn that Korean marriage certificate into Spanish or that English court document into Hebrew!
Tips for Translating a Legal Document
To save you the strain of undergoing a high-intensive D.I.Y crash course on how to learn a new language in 30 days, we’ve provided a few tips to put you on the right track for a stress-free and infallible translation process.
Get in touch with a Certified Translation Agency
It may sound simple, but having a chat with a certified translation service about your needs is the best way to see if they are the right fit for what you’re looking for.
Our professional translators at GLS are qualified in over 40 different languages, so there shouldn’t be too much trouble finding an experienced translator to overcome your legal document translation needs.
You might be thinking, why can’t I just ask a native speaker of the original document language to do it for me?
In some cases – for example, immigration documents – the authorities don’t allow anyone but a professional translation service to translate documents.
There’s also the small challenge of finding a freelance translator who is familiar with the legal system in both the source language and the target language.
Professional certified translators are trained to know the legal terminology and have the knowledge to construct sentences that accurately reflect the meaning and intention of the original document.
With legal documents, there is no margin for error as a wrong term or slight misunderstanding could have negative consequences.
Double-Check your Translator is Experienced in the Legal Translation Process
It’s one thing to translate a postcard from a pen pal in Kenya and another to dissect a legal contract with financial implications.
Legal documents also have an obligation to comply with their target country’s legal system which is why it’s crucial to hire a certified translator who’s up to speed with legalese knowledge for both the source language and the target language.
The slightest mistake or misjudgement could lead to a complicated legal process which adds a certain level of complexity and pressure on the legal translation process.
Set the Tone
It’s extremely important to ensure that your translated document reflects the tone set out in the original document.
For example, you may receive an urgent court document that doesn’t come across as serious and pressing in the target language as it should. Misinterpretations like this can cause additional consequences and potentially aggravate the situation.
English legal documents are often written in a permissive and lax tone which has the potential to confuse when translating into a language that predominantly uses an active voice.
It’s not uncommon for legal documents to have stringent timescales, so it’s crucial to find a linguist who has a wealth of experience in language translation.
The law tends to wait for nobody, so finding a legal document translation service with the knowledge of how various legal systems works and the ability to perform a speedy yet accurate translation is invaluable if you’re racing against time.
Beware of the Syntax
Syntax is the glue that binds the meaning of our languages together.
Misplacing a comma here or a full stop there can alter the entire meaning of a sentence without you even realising.
This might not be too much of an issue when you’re sending a WhatsApp message in a group full of friends, however, it can end up being slightly more detrimental if you make the same mistake on a time-sensitive legal document.
Punctuation and grammar rules are other features that differ from language to language. Not only does this increase the likelihood of mistakes, but it also confirms that the individual translating the legal document must have an educational and/or professional background in both the source and the target language.