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What Are The Main Challenges Legal Translators Face?

One mistranslated word in a legal document could alter somebody’s life of forever, change the meaning of a patent and render the protection invalid, or even cause a war. This is no exaggeration: imprecise legal translation has actually led to full on global conflict.

You just have to look at the inaccurately translated Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship of 1889 for an example of this. The Ethiopian version stated that the African nation would be “entitled to avail itself of the Italian government in its external relations”. In Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, this sentence used a verb expressing possibility, whereas the Italian version expresses obligation. The result? Tensions boiling over and the start of a near two-year war that led to over 25,000 deaths on both sides.

This is an extreme example of the ramifications that could stem from a mistranslated legal document, but even in day-to-day legal translation, the consequences of inaccuracy can be severe. Below, we will look at the main challenges legal translators face, and how they can ensure they do not make such critical mistakes themselves.

Accurately translating different legal terminology

It is well known that English legal-speak is particularly verbose. Legal professionals must have years of experience in understanding complex legal documents in their native language, let alone foreign languages. With legal terminology similarly complex in other countries, and considering legal translators have to get to grips with these nuances in two languages, their job is extremely challenging. This requires substantial experience to develop total understanding of different legal terminologies, as well as having the skill to translate them with total accuracy.

This is why at Global Voices, our legal translators are experts in the field of law and have spent no less than five years honing their skills and knowledge. This has enabled them to gain a profound understanding of global legal terminology, ensuring that our legal translation service is of the best possible standard.

Correctly translating between different legal systems

To translate legal documents, translators must have a strong understanding of the legal systems in countries that speak the languages they are translating into. Legal systems vary hugely across the world, and some laws and concepts that exist in some countries have no equivalent in others. For instance, equity—which differentiates from common law in that decisions are based on fairness instead of by reference to legal doctrines or statutes—is only fundamental to the law of a handful of countries, such as England, Australia and Canada. Similar legal concepts between nations can also be phrased entirely differently in their respective languages.

In order to navigate these difficulties, translators must therefore have more than just language skills. At Global Voices, we therefore only employ legal translators who have both a masterful grasp of the languages they’re translating and a profound understanding of various legal concepts.

Precisely translating the ins and outs of different languages

As we have seen in the introduction, the nuances of different languages can cause profound difficulties when it comes to translating between them. For instance, whilst legal English makes use of a passive voice in a highly formal tone, other legal languages are often use the active voice instead.

There are also considerations such as idioms, colloquialisms, and syntax that need to be carefully translated. For example, commas, accents and colons can considerably change the meanings of certain legal phrases, so a legal translator must be extremely thorough when translating between documents. If done incorrectly, there may be inaccuracies and inconsistencies between the texts, which could create an ambiguity in interpretation and lead to some of the issues outlined earlier. Legal translators therefore must employ all of their linguistic knowledge and experience to avoid these costly errors.

Here at Global Voices, our experienced legal translators are well placed to provide expert legal translation for a variety of different needs, including intellectual property and corporate law translations. Get in contact today to see how we can help you.

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