The unique terminology of legal texts, along with cultural differences and linguistic specificities, can pose a real challenge to translators. Legal translation is not only a translation between two languages and two cultures, but also between two legal systems. Whether you’re entrusting your legal translation to an agency or a freelancer, make sure they are reliable and professional.
In today’s blog post, we bring you five reasons why it’s important to hire a professional translator for legal translations.
Low-Quality Translation Can Lead to Serious Consequences
A legal translation affects the client’s life directly, business and/or private. A translator’s lack of experience and preparation can have serious consequences for the client. The person translating should, at the very least, have basic knowledge of the legal systems of both the source language and the target language, the types of legal acts and their functions. Besides, the translator should understand the legal concepts and terminology of the area being translated. Unlike some other types of translations, legal translations do not allow for “text interpretation”. Adding or omitting words and phrases or replacing them with words of similar meaning won’t contribute to the translation quality. Quite the opposite. A legal translation carries much weight. This is why it is important to keep precision in mind and translate what is said, not what the translator thinks is being said.
One Word Can Have Multiple (Legal) Meanings
Words with multiple meanings are everyday phenomena in all types of translations. However, due to its effects, legal translation is a whole different story. The job of a translator is to understand the context and reach a decision on the meaning that should be used. If the context does not make clear what the matter is about and what the correct meaning is, consultation with the client is needed, and more information should be requested so as to make sure the translation is correct. In legal translation, you can never make enough checks.
When translating the word agreement from English to Croatian, one might use Croatian words conveying the meanings of contract, treaty, arrangement, consent, acceptance, deal, concordance or harmony (ugovor, sporazum, dogovor, suglasnost, pristanak, slaganje; nagodba, pogodba; podudarnost, skladnost). Although it may seem that these meanings are not that different at first, they have a significant distinctive role in the legal world.
Just how clear legal translations should be can be seen from the fact that the use of pronouns is avoided in legal regulations, hence the subject noun is repeated more often than it usually is in general language. Furthermore, nouns that are singular in Croatian and which don’t refer to a specific person or thing are often translated into English as plural.
Legal Translations Depend on Cultural and Legal History of an Area/Language
The legal language and legislations of a country reflect its culture. For example, someone not familiar with the legal system of Scotland and England may see the word marriage and not be aware of the fact that legal provisions for this term are not the same in those two countries. In Scotland, the legal minimum age for entering into marriage without parental consent is 16, and this minimum age is set at 18 in the legal system of England, that is, 16 with parental consent.
We can see how challenging a legal translation may be in systems where the same term could have an entirely different meaning due to the legal tradition of a certain country. Hence, in the American legal jargon, enjoin means to (legally) prohibit someone from doing something, while in the British version this means to (legally) force. The phrase on the table in the British legal system means that something has been put up for discussion or made available for consideration. In the American legal system, the same phrase could mean that something has been postponed, withdrawn.
Still think anyone can translate legal texts?
Knowledge of Acts, Manuals and Ordinances Is Obligatory
Naturally, the translator will never have the knowledge an attorney has. This is why it’s important to know where to look for reliable and relevant information on a certain area. The emphasis is placed on the reliability of information. It’s important to keep up with news from the industry, official websites of competent authorities, ministries and other institutions to be aware of all the changes and guidelines that may be different depending on the area of law and/or institution for which the translation is done.
This is particularly important for EU institutions that are very specific in their guidelines for translators. Our experience tells us that using manuals when doing translation for EU institutions is a must. Furthermore, there are certain rules when it comes to translation of legal regulations of the Republic of Croatia and a reliable resource for all translation dilemmas is the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
Consistency in Terminology
Legal translations are usually big in size and have (very) short deadlines. That’s why it’s essential, when splitting the project among several translators, for the terminology to be consistent. In translation agencies, due to organization of work and experience, this should function without any major problems. At Sinonim, our work is based on the principle that the same translators work for the same clients, since they are familiar with the material and are consistently using terminology throughout the translation. Consistent use of glossaries is also obligatory and, additionally, each project has a project manager who, besides taking care of terminology and division of work, also takes care of deadlines, communication with the client and makes sure the translation is of high quality.
Regardless of whether you ultimately decide to entrust your translation to an agency or a freelancer, check their qualifications, experience and ask for references. Good legal translators are hard to find, but once you find them and agree on mutual expectations, they can become your main support and a reliable partner when it comes to preparing any case.