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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

Literary translation has always been considered one of the hardest forms of translation because of the complexity of the problems a translator can run into. The most complex form of translating literature is translating poetry which does not seem that hard at first. The American poet Robert Frost once said that “poetry is what gets lost in translation.“

What makes translating poetry challenging?

There are a lot of things one should pay attention to while translating poetry. For the poem to keep the original message and meaning, the translator needs to keep them all in mind which is not an easy task. We have chosen some of the key obstacles and challenges that translators will inevitably encounter in every poem:

We will briefly explain each point further in the text so you could gain a better understanding of what has to be done to get a quality poem translation in the end.

Poem structure

While reading every poem, it is easy to spot its structure, that is, how many lines it has, how many stanzas, is it written in free or structured verse, etc. Furthermore, various poets have specific styles they use and which make them recognizable. This is where the structure plays one of the key roles. For that reason, the translator has to keep the original poem structure in their translation. For example, if a line has ten syllables in the original poem, the translation should be the same.

Rhythm and rhyme

In the last paragraph, we mentioned free and structured verses. Free verses do not rhyme or have the same number of syllables, that is, there are no rules. The bigger problem for the translator are structured verses that are connected with rhyme and have specific number of syllables. A poet uses them to create a unique rhythm of the poem which gives it an additional meaning. It is already hard to come up with a rhyme that has a meaning in one language, but to translate it to another and keep the meaning is truly a daunting task. Translators should have an extremely large vocabulary and imagination. We can use the well-known Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare for comparison.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date

Hoću li te s danom usporedit ljetnim?Ti si krasniji i blaži si od njega;

Svibanjske pupoljke stresu ljuti vjetri,

I prekratak rok imade ljetna žega.

Using metaphors

A metaphor is a figure of speech used for expressing a figurative meaning. It is one of the most used devices in literature and poetry is unimaginable without it. It is used to express comparison but without the actual comparison and using of the words “like” and “such as”. For example, when we say someone is “golden”, we do not want to say they are made of gold but that they popular and successful. “Temples” on our heads also have a metaphorical meaning. The problem is, of course, that the language construction determines the use of metaphors in it and we can almost never translate them literally. Some of the possible solutions are replacing the metaphor in source language with one of the metaphors in target language or translating the metaphor by describing it. Of course, when we take into account that we have to keep the same structure of the poem, translating metaphors becomes a much bigger problem.

Cultural differences

Culture specific terms are often used in poetry. That poses a problem because those cultural features get lost when translating into another language (another culture). In other words, they lose their meaning because they do not represent the same thing to people in a different culture. If you take a look at what various colors represent in different cultures, it will become clear why it is one of the important issues in translating poetry. For example, let us take the color white. In the Western culture it represents purity, peace, innocence and brides wear them to their weddings. However, in China and some other Asian countries, the color white represents death, sorrow and it is usually worn to funerals. From that it is clear that the translator would have to choose a different color when translating such a poem in order to convey the same meaning to the target audience.

Poetry is a very complicated artistic expression that comes from the soul of the poet and its aim is to leave a deep impression on the reader. Thus, the translators’ task is to convey those powerful emotions and images in another language so that they have the same effect in it. Of course, that is very difficult sometimes and now it became a bit clearer why Robert Frost made a statement we mentioned at the beginning of the article. However, with their efforts, the translators have to prove him wrong.

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