Education advice for wannabe FR/GE into EN legal translator
Thread poster: sarahann

United Kingdom
Sep 13, 2014

Hi there,

I'm a language student from England studying German and French at university.

I am very interested in becoming a translator. I enjoy translating technical texts in my spare time and I'm applying to German translation agencies for my year abroad. I'm particularly interested in specialising in legal translation; it's just the subject I've enjoyed translating the most.

Aside from my life-long addiction to courtroom dramas, I have no qualifications that have anything at all to do with law. Therefore, I was wondering whether it would be advisable to pursue a qualificiation in my spare time - I was thinking something like an A-Level in law? Would something like that, besides of course the knowledge I would gain, help me professionally? Are there any other qualifications (perhaps one that you already have) that you would recommend over an A-Level. Perhaps one that could be done online (although it's essential)?


I'm aware that I should probably begin studying up on German and French law specifically.
Do any of you by any chance know of any books in French and German that give a somewhat introductory explanation of law in the respective countries? Something similar to an A-Level textbook for example?

Any advice would be very much appreciated.

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Karen Stokes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:06
Member (2003)
French to English
Suggestions Sep 14, 2014


I can't help with German but here are a couple of suggestions for French to get you started:

Elliott, Jeanpierre & Vernon (2006) French Legal System 2nd edition. Pearson
Elliott, Geinaert & Houssais (1998) French Legal System and Legal Language. Longman
Weston, Martin (2001) An English Reader’s Guide to the French Legal System. Berg

(The Weston may well be out of print but you might pick up a secondhand copy or find one in a university library).

If you want to do some reading on legal translation generally, try:

Alcaraz & Hughes (2002) Legal Translation Explained. St Jerome Publishing or
Cao, Deborah (2007) Translating Law. Multilingual Matters

There are other things on my bookshelf, such as English, French and German Comparative Law (Raymond Youngs; pub. Routledge) and Eva Steiner's French Law (pub. OUP) but if you're coming at this from scratch I'd start with the earlier suggestions.


[Edited at 2014-09-14 15:23 GMT]

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Andrea Muller  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:06
English to German
+ ...
Some German suggestions Sep 15, 2014


For German legal terminology and procedure, you could try some of the BDÜ books:

And I like these little books: ('leicht gemacht' Gelbe Serie). I think they are meant for German law students, so there are lots of problem questions, which I find less useful, but they still provide a good summary of the general principles. And they are not expensive.

I am not sure how much a theoretical qualification like A-Level or even a law degree will help you. Practical experience would be more useful. You might learn all about the law of contracts, but this is not the same as being able to draft a contract - as I have repeatedly noticed myself.

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Anja Schuck  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:06
Member (2013)
Italian to German
+ ...
advice Sep 19, 2014


I don't know anything about the French legal system but have the German and Italian bar exam and I realized that both specializations are very helpful for translation in the field of law. From my point of view a basic understanding of both legal systems is absolutely necessary to translate a legal concept from one language to another. A “Garantie” in German is not automatically a “guarantee” in English. It depends on the legal concept behind it.

First thing to keep in mind are the different legal systems (common law (UK/USA) and civil law (Germany) legal traditions). There are for example common law legal concepts which don't exist in the civil law systems and vice versa, which means that it is necessary to "describe" the sense of the word/concept.

I used for a better understanding of the common law and civil law legal traditions "Englische Rechtssprache - Ein Studien- und Arbeitsbuch" by Karin Linhart. It's written in English and German and gives you a basic idea of the differences with translation examples.


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Diana Obermeyer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:06
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
German Sep 19, 2014

There is a short course for court interpreters and legal translators in Germany. It's highly enjoyable and provides a neat overview of the German legal system, terminology and even grammatical particularities.

It's called "Deutsche Rechtssprache" and can be done either through attending 1 day/month seminars with the BDÜ
or an intensive weekend course or a weekly webinar series, both

There may be other providers in other parts of Germany. I only know the ones near my hometown.

I think that is a really good starting point.

[Edited at 2014-09-19 13:44 GMT]

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