Signing agreements in languages you don't understand
Thread poster: Mirko Mainardi

Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:41
Member
English to Italian
Apr 25

Hi everyone,

I was recently contacted by a Japanese company, which proposed me a collaboration. After agreeing on rates and passing a short translation test, their VM informed me they had sent me two physical copies of an NDA to sign (one for me and the other to send back to them via traditional mail)... written in Japanese.

They also said they would send me a "summary" of the NDA in English, but still, I feel very uncomfortable signing something I cannot understand and told them I obviously cannot agree to, and sign, something I can't even read... and that what I could do is read, and agree if I found it acceptable, the English version they would send me, IF that was the legally binding one.

Their reply was that many Japanese companies require signed physical documents, which must be written in Japanese, and they asked me to wait for the documents to arrive, read the English summary and let them know if I had any doubts, so that we could discuss them.

I also know that sometimes, when agreements are translated in other languages, they also include a specific clause that explicitly says that version is a translation from X, provided for the receiving party's convenience, and that it's the "original" version written in X that governs.

My questions to the community are: has something similar ever happened to you? If so, what did you do? And if not, how would you handle it?

Thanks.


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
I wouldn't Apr 25

I wouldn't sign anything I couldn't understand. A translated summary is not good enough if it is not legally binding. As a minimum, they would have to provide a translation for which they guarantee accuracy, and accept that in case of discrepancy, Japanese clauses that are less favourable to you than the translated ones are unenforceable.

"many Japanese companies require signed physical documents, which must be written in Japanese"

That doesn't mean they are legally obliged to do so.


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Elif Baykara  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 14:41
Member (2015)
German to Turkish
+ ...
It is out of question. Apr 25

Why should someone sign an agreement without understanding?

Given the general acceptance of English, I wouldn't find strange that an agreement is in English only. But you should never sign an agreement if you do not understand the content completely, let alone the language.

Mirko Mainardi wrote:

They also said they would send me a "summary" of the NDA in English, but still, I feel very uncomfortable signing something I cannot understand and told them I obviously cannot agree to, and sign, something I can't even read... and that what I could do is read, and agree if I found it acceptable, the English version they would send me, IF that was the legally binding one.

...

I also know that sometimes, when agreements are translated in other languages, they also include a specific clause that explicitly says that version is a translation from X, provided for the receiving party's convenience, and that it's the "original" version written in X that governs.

Thanks.


They should provide you the exact (English) version. One plausible solution is that they send you the agreement in Japanese AND in English, both in a side-by-side two-column format, stating that the English text is the correct translation of the Japanese one.

Is this a translation company? If so, this practice is a real shame

Otherwise, I would only sign the "summary"

Elif


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Sounds like a Mafia-type agreement Apr 25

Nobody should ever sign an agreement they don't understand !

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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 19:41
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
I wouldn't sign Apr 25

I dont' think you can even legally sign a contract that you cannot read.

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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Eurofication Apr 25

Indeed, if a company doesn't use (god forbid "doesn't like"!) English, they are surely yakuza or even worse, not just a company with documents in their language...

Some more traditional companies require documents exactly in their* native language, which is ok even for Russia and Ukraine, not to mention stiff British or prim Japanese.

Usually for external contracts they make a remark like
This Agreement is made in 2 (Two) original copies of which each is in AAA and in BBB, with all variants having equal legal force. AAA shall be employed in all correspondence as well as in technical information.
, but as far as one cannot understand/trust a translator:
1) use a double-column contract;
2) specify that "AAA (or BBB) version of the present contract is binding";
3) have the translation AAA signed and stamped by notary; or vice-verse.


At least, there're specialists (linguists and lawyers) there, yet ain't it funny translators don't know what to do with translations?

[Edited at 2018-04-25 16:08 GMT]


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:41
French to English
No Apr 28

Of course not.

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Jakeline Souza
Brazil
Local time: 08:41
Portuguese to English
+ ...
No. May 1

I wouldn't sign. Sounds really risky.

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Lian Pang  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 13:41
Member (Mar 2018)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Don't do it May 2

If you are hired as a regular employee at some company, would you sign a contract you can't understand ?

Yeah.


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Hang on May 2

Why don’t they just get it translated? How long can it be?

I would walk away from this, but to be honest I don’t really understand most English contracts I read but I still sign them...


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Eleonora_P  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:41
Member (2012)
English to Italian
+ ...
No way May 2

Elif Baykara wrote:

Is this a translation company? If so, this practice is a real shame

Otherwise, I would only sign the "summary"

Elif


That's exactly the first thing that came into my mind!
I would NOT sign what I cannot understand.


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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
tying oneself in (slip)knots May 3

First of all, a reasonable man should always consult a decent lawyer before signing ANY contract in ANY language--at least because of (1) possible shortcomings, nuances, and (2) unfair practices or abuse.

Furthermore, external contracts bring even more hazards for (3) translation mistakes, overcomplicating interpretations of the agreement, not to mention intercultural discrepancies.


For instance, are you afraid of doctors only because you don't understand Latin, don't know chalk from cheese in running diagnostics, and can't tell pharmacokinetics from pharmacodynamics? What about other specialists in other fields, a big no-no? Yet how people solve such problems, I wonder?


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