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7 Things Translators Working With Legal Translations Should Know

1. What’s a legal translation?

A legal translation takes place when legal documents are translated. Examples of legal documents include:

  • wills;
  • birth and marriage certificates;
  • litigation documents;
  • business documents like contracts;
  •  patents;
  • laws.

If a translator wishes to perform legal translations s/he must have expertise in the field of law they wish to translate. For example, if the documents to be translated are contracting to pertain to businesses then the translator needs knowledge of business law if a proficient translation by a business client is required.


    2. Legal translations are not the same as other translations

    Legal documents do use specific terminology that isn’t used anywhere else. A translator needs to know that specific language in both the source and targeted languages otherwise mistakes and misunderstandings could take place. If mistakes are made, for example when translating a contract, it could have serious consequences for the business which might be difficult to undo.

    3. Legal translation laws aren’t the same in all countries

    Legal translators are often treated differently depending on the country. Some legal translators need licenses that are only accessible if the translator has completed a legal translation qualification. In other countries a state body takes the responsibility for certifying legal translators using their own testing methods. In Italy, all legal translations have to be certified by either a paralegal or lawyer. In the U.S., the American Translator’s Association (ATA) provides certification courses, and to get a certification to be a legal translator, every legal translator must be certified by either a state or federal court.

    4. Translation and interpretation are two distinct fields

    Many people get mixed up with the roles of translation and interpretation. Interpreters are responsible for translating mostly oral language but some can translate sign language as well. Interpreting takes place in real-time, unlike translation which takes place in a translator’s own time.

    5. Many legal translators use reference material to help with translations

    Legal translators often need to refer to reference material to aid their translations such as specific legal regulations, laws, and codes to check the facts in a translation. They

    6. Legal translations may differ depending on the country speaking the language

    English, Spanish, and French may be commonly spoken languages, but the context in which they are spoken differs because so many countries with different cultures and laws share common languages. For example, Spanish is spoken widely in the United States as it is in South and Central America. Many Spanish speaking countries may share the same language but not legal systems. It is vital for a legal translator to be fluent in the laws of the countries they may be asked to perform translations.

    7. The translation is worth $46 billion annually

    In 2018, the worldwide market for translation services as around $46.5 billion. There is no indication this is likely to slow down and the spread of COVID-19 has heightened the worldwide demand for legal translation services this year as scientists and governments share the results of their responses for containing the pandemic. It is not just legal document translations that are important but translations of video and audio narrations, voice-overs, and dubbing in podcasts.

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