What is necessary in order to produce a high quality legal translation?
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:51
Member (2002)
German to English
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Oct 14, 2007

Is there anything in particular, in your opinion, that is essential to making a legal translation particularly good? Are there any points to be taken into consideration that particularly apply to producing a high quality legal translation? If so, what are they? Is there a difference between what is needed to produce a high quality translation of any other kind and a high quality legal translation? A difference in approach, perhaps?

I would welcome your comments.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:51
English to Spanish
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Many things Oct 14, 2007

...too numerous to mention at this time. I do a large volume of legal translation, EnglishSpanish (both ways), and feel that it is a very important advantage to have a complete understanding of the legal systems involved and the terminology used. In my case they are very different (English Law vs Roman Law).

The vast majority of my work involves the United States and Mexico where I have that advantage. If other countries are involved it is less. Some work I would not even touch, for instance English to Puerto Rican, it is totally different, but Puerto Rican to US English, no problem.

I also have a lot of good references, and since I work both ways, I can pick up and use good equivalents in both languages.

More than anything, you must have long experience and specialize. Nothing beats experience. Sorry, there is no easy road.


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The Misha
Local time: 13:51
Russian to English
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Henry said it all Oct 15, 2007

You can't do it right if you do not understand completely what it is you are translating. I guess, that makes you a part-time lawyer.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:51
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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More phraseology Oct 15, 2007

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
Is there a difference between what is needed to produce a high quality translation of any other kind and a high quality legal translation?


I'm speaking as someone who has struggled with legal translation and who has seen other people do it effortlessly. I think one of the keys is the phraseology.

In all fields one must be practiced in knowing how to write a phrase in the original into a phrase in the target, but this is especially true for legal translation because there are so many standard phrases. Not knowing these will cause you to produce a translation that doesn't sound natural and you'll spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out how to translate small pieces of text.

Having a large corpus of translated text can also help. An absolute must is to have a pedantic reviewer/proofreader.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:51
Member (2006)
French to English
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Understand the basic argument Oct 15, 2007

It depends what you mean by a "legal translation", but in the case of court pleadings it's crucial to understand the basic argument, the point at issue, if you are to produce a coherent translation. This is often highly "pettifogging" and complex, especially if you're assigned only part of a document, as seems to be happening to me quite often these days - jobs being so "desperately urgent" that they have to be divided among several translators, or appeal cases for which you do not have the original judgement or pleadings being appealed against.
It's also reassuring to have a reliable legal dictionary.
Kind regards,
Jenny.


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eesegura  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:51
Spanish to English
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Reliable legal dictionary... Oct 15, 2007

Jenny Forbes wrote:

It's also reassuring to have a reliable legal dictionary.
Kind regards,
Jenny.

Jenny, which one(s) do you use for SpanishEnglish translations?

Thanks,
Liz


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 20:51
English to Lithuanian
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I would emphasize legal education Oct 15, 2007

Not a formal education, but rather "legal erudition" (well, it would be great if a translator could afford a lawyer's diploma). It is a practical UNDERSTANDING what is the source is all about and how to put it clearly into the target language (to concentrate on the relay of the legal meaning rather than of the linguistic meaning).

Well, dictionaries might be really helpful, but have in mind that legal systems of countries (as well as definitions and concepts) might differ and that means that just looking into a dictionary to find a term can not be enough - one thing is to understand it from the linguistic point, yet another is to understand what does that sentence mean from the legal point. Let alone that many (more and more) texts are written by non-English speakers and, say, if a Swedish lawyer writes a contract in English, it can have many things "directly put" from Swedish concepts into English concepts.


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LoyalTrans
Local time: 02:51
English to Chinese
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inequivalent templates Oct 16, 2007

[quote]Samuel Murray wrote:

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:


In all fields one must be practiced in knowing how to write a phrase in the original into a phrase in the target, but this is especially true for legal translation because there are so many standard phrases. Not knowing these will cause you to produce a translation that doesn't sound natural and you'll spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out how to translate small pieces of text.





Absolutely agree. However, with my previous expreriences (I basically only do Eng->Chi translation), sometimes it is really painful to translate well-established (standard) English legal documents into loyal yet readable Chinese. This is because we don't have that many "standard" templates, and therefore in most cases, we as the legal translators are creating these templates via translation.


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 18:51
Dutch to English
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Rem tene, verba sequentur Oct 17, 2007

Master the subject and the words will follow. If you're truly proficient in the subject, the phraseology you need is at your fingertips.

By saying this, I am not suggesting all lawyers would automatically make good translators - in fact, far from it. But I'm assuming, for the purpose of trying to answer Astrid's question, that the language skills/knowledge are otherwise in place.

Without a very thorough understanding of the law (and the differences between the law of both the source and target text countries) - which can be gained in a number of ways - giving legal translations to self-professed legal translators, who are arrogrant enough to think they are suddenly legal experts because they can handle a standard lease/employment contract, can be nothing short of a recipe for disaster.

Legal translation is not a bandwagon to climb onto thinking you'll make a quick buck. I know, I've unfortunately seen and had to fix up the purile efforts of those who have the cheek to call themselves legal translators. As Henry rightly said, there is no easy road.

I don't think having a pedantic reviewer is the answer. If you don't yet possess the necessary skillset for legal translation, you just shouldn't touch it professionally, period (same applies to medical, etc). It shouldn't take ages to look for the phraseology, it should be (almost) second nature.

Everyone has to start somewhere, I know. But the sensible way to approach it would be to acquire the knowledge (there are a number of good CPD courses around, without having to take a whole law degree, otherwise practical experience working in a legal environment is an option) and work first under a mentor before unleashing yourself onto an unwitting public.

So, to answer your question Astrid, and departing from the assumption that the translator in question is otherwise a professional and able translator, I'd say the most important thing for making the switch to and producing a high-quality legal translation is: rem tene, verba sequenter.



[Edited at 2007-10-17 08:52]


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:51
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
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Legal translation Oct 17, 2007

Astrid,

Having read all the interesting replies that have been given so far, I'm wondering what you, as a specialized legal translator, would say is necessary in order to produce a high quality legal translation. Also, how would you recommend that an aspiring legal translator go about gaining the expertise needed to begin translating in the legal field and succeed as a legal translator?



[Edited at 2007-10-17 22:39]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:51
Member (2002)
German to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your input Oct 18, 2007

Many thanks to you all for your input. The article on the subject will be available in due course.

Astrid


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Akikorossella  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 19:51
Japanese to Italian
+ ...
Degree Jun 7, 2011

In my opinion it's essential to have a Degree in Law.

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