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How to translate a contract correctly?

Published on 19/06/2020

Globalization makes it increasingly necessary to translate documents of a legal nature into several languages. The demand from companies that want to translate their documents (work contracts, commercial and financial contracts, etc.) is increasing every day. Below, we show you the elements that must be taken into account when translating a contract correctly, according to the legal and linguistic peculiarities.

1. Legal translation

The translation of a contract falls within the scope of legal translation, as does any document that refers to legislation (lawsuit, birth certificate, company statutes, legal notice, etc.). These documents must be precise, well-structured and respect the characteristics of legal texts.

Legal translation


Not only should the lexical, stylistic, syntactic, semantic or even typographical characteristics be taken into account, but also the context. In fact, the same legal expression can be used in different branches of law (civil law, commercial law, labour law, etc.) and have a different meaning in each of them.

Therefore, the translator in charge of translating a contract will have to have extensive linguistic knowledge of both the source and the target language, as well as of the legal legislation specific to both languages.

2. Peculiarities of the translation of a contract

The slightest error in the translation of a contract can have disastrous consequences, to the point of rendering the contract null and void.  A contract, whatever its nature, contains precise legal elements, with its own exact legal terms and expressions.

2. Peculiarities of the translation of a contract


The difficulty lies in translating this precision into the target language, taking into account the following:

  • The location
  • The equivalence of both substance and form.
  • The need for the translation to be completely faithful to the source text.
  • The appropriate formatting of the text, as well as its layout where appropriate.

3. Linguistic resources in legal translation

In order to achieve a correct translation of a contract, the specialized legal translator must sometimes use resources specialized in legal translation. The use of these resources will help to avoid, above all, the errors related to the change of terminology between the target language and the source language. This is particularly appropriate in the case of legal terminology, as it is subject to constant evolution.

Linguistic resources in legal translation

These tools also allow the translator to save time in his work without reducing the quality of the final result. In fact, it even makes it better. These are, above all, legal dictionaries available in many languages, constantly updated and available on the Internet, for example:

mijnwoordenboek.nl: Contextual dictionary available in Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish

eurotermbank.com: Terminology dictionary available in more than 40 languages and with the possibility to search by filtering the category (civil, commercial, international law, etc.).

dictionnaire-juridique.com: Dictionary of French private law that allows you to find precise and detailed definitions, as well as synonyms, abbreviations and collocations of numerous legal words and expressions.

4. Translation of contracts: Mistakes to avoid

Translation of contracts: Mistakes to avoid

Here are some errors that often appear in contracts or legal documents that have not been translated by a specialist translator. We must avoid them at all costs:

  • The presence of legal expressions and terms in the target text that do not correspond to the source text.
  • The literal translation, since we can fall into the trap of using false friends or committing contradictions, solecism, etc.
  • The abuse of generic terms, as we run the risk of obtaining an inaccurate, i.e. wrong, translation.

The translation of a contract requires numerous skills in several areas, especially in the linguistic and legal fields, and does not tolerate any error, however small it may seem. For this reason, companies use a specialized legal translator, if possible trained in the translation of this type of document.

Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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